Growing up with a father who was a physician, Molly Curtis always knew she wanted to work in health care. “My dad was a Navy doctor when I was young, then worked in civilian medicine until he retired this year,” Molly explained. “In college I majored in health science, and I thought about becoming a physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner. Then I decided I really wanted to start direct patient care as soon as I could, so I got my RN.”
Molly graduated with her nursing degree in 2013 and went straight to work in the Labor, Delivery, and Recovery Post-Partum unit at Sentara Lee Hospital in Norfolk, Virginia where she still works part-time as a lactation consultant. She went back to school to earn her bachelor’s degree in nursing, and continued working at the same hospital as a mother-baby nurse and a labor nurse.
“During World Breastfeeding Week in 2016, one of the labor nurses on our unit who had used the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society Visiting Nurse program arranged for the Society to be part of a health fair at our hospital,” Molly recalled. “That’s when I heard about this program.”
“My first reaction when I learned about the Society’s traditional visiting nurse program was that it was a fantastic idea and that every woman should have access to this kind of care. The more I thought about it, though, I realized that it’s particularly helpful for the military population because they’re going through the process of having a baby often without a local family support system. I started with NMCRS in September 2016. It was the best decision I ever made.”
The flexibility of the position has been great for her family, Molly said, as she has kids of her own, ages one-and-a-half and three-and-a-half. She has also enjoyed learning about the military lifestyle. “I think the lack of nearby support when moms are having babies is the hardest thing. I ask all my clients about their support system. Only in the military do they think of Pittsburgh or Maryland as being close to Norfolk,” Molly laughed. “Support is really valuable in the transition to becoming parents, so I do as much as I can to provide that for them or help them find it.”
About half of Molly’s clients are military spouses and about half are active duty moms. “With the active duty moms, I spend a lot of time talking with them about how to prepare to return to work. I remind them that they have to advocate for themselves—it’s not as important to anyone else as it is to you how you’re going to feed your baby. Nobody else is going to make things come to a screeching halt so you can go pump. That has to be your priority if that’s what you want. The return to work can be pretty brutal.”
While many of her client visits are routine, Molly is always on the lookout for anything unusual. “A couple months ago I went to see a family for the first time where the mom had delivered early and had a history of preeclampsia. I was listing the symptoms of preeclampsia for her to watch out for, and she said she had all the symptoms already. I stopped and checked her blood pressure and told her to go to the ER immediately. She was admitted and put on magnesium for preeclampsia. What if she had had a seizure at home, with a premature baby and other little kids? I’m glad I was there to check on her.”
For some families, longer-term follow-up care is needed. “With one family, the dad was preparing to deploy, and they had twins. One twin is growing great and adjusting very well and the other twin is smaller and has more issues. That’s been hard so I’ve been seeing them regularly. For other families it’s more emotional support and follow-up that they need. I’ve helped moms who are struggling with post-partum depression and connected them with appropriate resources. That requires a combination of following them and them receiving counseling or attending a support group.” It’s often easier, Molly explained, to quickly see challenges that moms are facing when you’re evaluating them in their home. “You get a different picture than when you have someone get herself together for an appointment at the hospital.” Working out of the NMCRS Portsmouth office, Molly sees families in Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Suffolk, and Smithfield.
Having the perspective of motherhood herself does help Molly in her work. “I was a women’s health and post-partum nurse before I had children but having my own definitely changes the way I deliver nursing care. Experience with whatever the issue is—feeding, latching, milk supply, sleep schedule, or how bringing a baby home affects the dynamic of the family—give you a different insight than just textbook knowledge.”
As a civilian who has spent almost her whole life in the Norfolk, Virginia area, Molly feels even more connected to the military community after working for the Society. She has developed a great admiration for the military moms she works with. “I feel like they’re resilient. They have a great capacity to roll with things and take things as they come because there’s a certain amount of their lifestyle that’s out of their control.”
Molly has also gained an appreciation for the Society. “On my first day on this job, our director in the NMCRS Portsmouth office hosted a lunch in honor of our relief services assistant’s length of service. There were only four employees here, but there were many other people at the lunch, who were all volunteers. I remember thinking this was such a positive work environment, that everyone was volunteering their time to be here and celebrating this staff member. Being around people who spend their time serving Sailors and Marines and their families is remarkable. Working for the Society you’re around a certain type of selfless person and that brings out the good side in all of us. It’s special to be around people like that.”
By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso