No matter your age, education, background, or profession, having a baby is a life-changing event and first-time parents have a lot of questions. Even experienced parents may suffer from lack of sleep and surging hormones and need help with a newborn.
All this is what makes April Pearson’s job incredibly important. As a traditional visiting nurse for the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society for the past 15 years, April has been that friendly face, reassuring presence, and provider of resources and knowledge that new parents can rely on.
“People think their babies will come home with them from the hospital, breastfeed naturally, and everything will be great,” April explained. “It actually takes a little while for new moms and babies to get into the groove. Everybody struggles. Moms need time to get to know their baby and learn to read their baby’s cues. Many military moms and spouses don’t often have family nearby who can help, in fact their family may be hundreds or thousands of miles away.”
April’s role as a Society visiting nurse at NMCRS Great Lakes ranges from a basic weight check to following up with babies who require specialists—often at Children’s Hospital of Milwaukee, an hour away from Naval Station Great Lakes—to making referrals and working with pediatric physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech therapists when early intervention is warranted.
“I work very closely with the Naval Hospital’s pediatric clinic here,” April explained. “When I visit a Navy family’s home and observe that something doesn’t seem quite right with their two-month-old, I call the clinic and recommend an evaluation by a physical or speech or occupational therapist. I pick up on things that a new parent doesn’t because they don’t know what to look for. For example, if a baby appears to be tight on one side of the body, that can affect breast feeding and development. I can pick that up by just watching the baby eat, so I suggest we talk to the pediatrician about a physical therapy evaluation. With some babies I’ll schedule my home visits while the therapist is there so we can see what each other is doing to support the baby and the parents. The earlier the intervention for a child who has some type of delay, the better off the child will be in the long run.”
Watching babies eat and helping moms whose babies don’t eat properly is a significant part of April’s work. “I see a lot of moms with breastfeeding issues, whether it’s the baby having trouble latching on, or moms who aren’t producing enough milk or those who have an oversupply. I also see a lot of moms who are ready to wean their babies and try to introduce a bottle, but the baby won’t take the bottle. I usually have at least one case per week with a mom who has to go back to work or school and the baby will be in daycare. We have to figure out how to feed a baby who only wants to nurse. It’s not an overnight process.”
Connecting with other families is extremely valuable for parents with newborns, so April works hard to help her clients make those connections. “I try to get them involved with groups for moms and playgroups,” she explained. “I talk about finding volunteer opportunities to get out of the house. Especially for moms new to the military life, I make sure they have access to support groups and help them find ways to get out and meet other people.”
Because Great Lakes is a training base, many of April’s clients have husbands who are in class all day. “Quite often it’s both the new mom and dad’s first time away from home,” April said.
She finds that first-time moms are eager to learn. They want to be the best moms they can be, and I get to help them through that process. Everyone has their own wonderful story. “My favorite thing is to teach. I just let them talk, and I listen. I love meeting people and hearing their stories and, based on their past experiences, I can help them figure out how to make things work out with a new baby.”
One lesson April has learned as a Society visiting nurse is to set boundaries so she can take care of herself in order to be take care of her clients. “I’ve learned that I have to take good care of myself physically and emotionally so I’m able to take care of other people. That means putting my phone down after hours and knowing that not everything is a crisis. I can’t always do everything I want to do. I used to think I had to fit in as many clients as I could every day, but I’ve learned not to overschedule myself. I make it count with the people I’m with. Being present in the moment with the client makes a big difference to the mom and the baby.”
Congratulations, April, on 15 years of dedicated service to the Society, and thank you on behalf of all those babies and their parents!
By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso