By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
If you’ve never given birth, it’s easy to underestimate the intensity of the physical and emotional transition to parenthood. “It’s just a dark path and nobody shines a light on it,” explained NMCRS traditional visiting nurse Sandy Thompson. “I tell moms, ‘you’re not crazy. Your body will heal and you’ll return to yourself.’”
Thompson knows that those first days, weeks, and months of parenting a newborn can be beautiful but grueling. “The moms can’t tell day from night and they feel like they don’t have choices,” she said. “You empower them with personal choices. You show them that they do have skills. You’re cheerleading and building confidence. You’re pulling out people’s gifts.”
That ability to bring out the best in people surfaced early in Thompson’s life. “I always knew I wanted to be a nurse,” she recalled. “My grandmother had been one. I chose a career where I could show compassion.”
After nursing school, Thompson quickly mastered the art of medical multitasking when she worked the night shift on a busy surgical floor at the University of Rochester. “Here you are, a brand new nurse, and you’re on the night shift and there are only two of you taking care of 25 patients, including five to eight post-op patients!” she said.
Thompson’s next job as a contract nurse working for CareFirst took her to California, where she married a naval officer. Despite traveling the world with her then-husband, Thompson had never heard of the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. She had two children (now 21 and 23 years old) and worked intermittently in nursing while the family was living at a variety of duty stations.
After settling back in Norfolk, Virginia, Thompson was seeking a new opportunity when she found the Society eight years ago. “You go in, assess the situation quickly, and have that personal interaction,” explained Thompson. “I love the flexibility and being able to have that one-on-one interaction with the client. You meet someone at their point of need. You want someone to help you get over the rough spots. I’ve learned to do that well so I can share my skills. I lived through the pressures of being a military spouse, which is a huge lifestyle to adapt to.”
In addition to her extensive nursing skills, Thompson took the required courses to become a certified lactation consultant, so she can help new moms learn to breastfeed. “There’s a lot of joy in this job. I’m not dealing with life and death and I’m not the last in line at the hospital between a patient and the morgue. And, it’s nice to know you’ve made a difference in someone’s life.”
“The role of the Society’s traditional nurses—the mother-baby nurses—should not be minimized,” Thompson emphasized. “The health and well-being of a family is important to a Sailor’s readiness to go to sea. We’re back here to help while they’re gone. It’s a very valid need that we’re meeting.”
At the end of the day, Thompson always tries to give her clients perspective. “You have to have a great sense of humor to be a parent, to get through those tough moments. Then they add up and become your jewel. When you’re being compressed into that diamond it’s no fun, it’s painful, but it gives you the guts and character you want in life.”