Every time she calls a client, Sandy Thompson casts aside all judgment. “I put as much comfort as I can into my voice,” she explains. “I don’t judge. I try to put people at ease.”
As a visiting nurse with the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, Sandy makes house calls on young, military moms who are diverse in age and experience. “Some clients are 19 or 20 years old and pregnant. Some are active duty Sailors, and some are military spouses. Many don’t understand a lot about the military, their benefits, or how military medicine works. I connect them to programs and resources that provide helpful support for new parents.”
“In recent years I’ve seen more women who are having their first child in their late 30s to early 40s. That’s a big life change,” Sandy said.
Sandy encourages balance when parents of newborns go online for answers to their questions about pregnancy, infant care, and breastfeeding on the internet. “I think it’s great to seek out information, but not everything on the internet is reputable,” Sandy said. “Some moms get overloaded with information and start to become anxious. I remind them to trust themselves. Not everything I do is tangible like checking baby’s weight and other signs of normal development. I also providing emotional support, encouragement, and coaching to help parents become more independent in their new role.”
Before joining the Society in 2008, Sandy worked for 23 years as a nurse in intensive care units, as a surgical nurse, and as a traveling and a contract nurse. She also served as the WIC (women, infants and children) nutrition program representative. Sandy always wanted to be a nurse. Growing up, she looked up to her grandmother, a nurse, and her parents, who served families in need through their church. “I was groomed to be a nurturer,” she explained. “I attended St. Joseph’s Hospital School of Nursing in Syracuse, New York, and knew nursing was what I wanted to do.”
Although she’d been a Navy spouse for 21 years, Sandy had never heard of the Society until a friend shared a newspaper ad for a visiting nurse position. “As a working mother, I was attracted to the flexibility of not being tied to an office,” Sandy recalled. “I knew I had a lot of experience and wisdom to pass on to military spouses like me” she said. “That’s what you want to do as a nurse, meet people’s needs then and there when they need help. Having raised children and being a military spouse really helps.”
As far as learning the ropes of maternal and infant care, Sandy and Helen Keilty, who started as a Society visiting nurse at NMCRS Norfolk the day after Sandy began, jumped in together. “We educated ourselves. We took all the classes offered at Portsmouth Naval Hospital. I earned my lactation certification through online courses. I picked it all up as I went along.”
“It’s pure joy to help somebody,” Sandy said. “It’s very gratifying to take the fear out of their face, to tell them they’re not alone and that they know more than they think they know. To see a mom grow confident and feel successful is everything.”
Sandy also makes home visits to active duty and retired USN and USMC service members, their spouses and widows. She recalls a home visit to a spouse with bilateral breast cancer who was undergoing chemotherapy. “She was facing really terrifying things,” Sandy said. “I visited her once a week to check up on her, ask her questions, and let her vent. I was there for her and her family. She completed two rounds of chemotherapy and is back to work. That’s huge.”
Sandy is grateful for her work with the Society. “This is one of those golden jobs you hang onto. The mission is great, I work with fabulous people, and I’m very supported. It feels like a team.” She appreciates the opportunity to help each client and knows that her care causes a ripple effect. “When I help someone through a difficult point in their life, I hope they remember and pass that care on to someone else.”
Thank you for your years of dedicated service to the Society, Sandy!
By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso