By Kristina Mullis
YOKOSUKA, Japan – People say it takes a village to raise a child.
However, many military spouses living overseas lose that village, and new mothers can often struggle with the transition of a new baby. With forward-deployed spouses, the stress of learning a new country and culture and their families thousands of miles away, adding a new baby to the family can be stressful.
To help ease the transition, the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS) offers the Visiting Nurse Program. Originally started in 1922, the Visiting Nurse Program offers free, in-home visits by registered nurses to provide health education and resource information to active duty and retired Navy and Marine Corps servicemembers and their families concerning any medical condition, illness or injury.
Currently, NMCRS Yokosuka has one paid Visiting Nurse who covers a 50-mile radius around Yokosuka. Karen Fahrney, a nurse with a background in care for mothers and babies, has served in the position since September 2011.
NMCRS Director Jill Warning said Fahrney is an invaluable resource to new moms.
“It’s crucial and vital to have a consistent, supportive voice in the experience,” Warning said. “Hospitals are not designed or equipped to provide that in the same way.”
Warning said clients rely on Fahrney for skills and support such as those of a midwife, doula, nurse, lactation consultant and more, and the fact that the program is free to military families makes it a fantastic resource. She added that while the program itself is great, she believes Fahrney is one of the best.
“She does a great job,” Warning said. “It’s just the way she is. She lives and breathes it.”
And Fahrney’s track record shows just that.
In 2016, Fahrney completed 243 visiting nurse appointments, taught 42 patient education classes to include Breastfeeding and New Sibling classes and supported 138 clients in the NMCRS Budget for Baby class. There is no time-limit for Fahrney’s one-on-one home visits, allowing her to spend as much time as needed with each individual client. That, she said, is one of the parts she loves most about the position.
“I love getting to meet and talk to and know new moms and babies,” Fahrney said. “It’s great to have the opportunity to be flexible enough to work on their time schedule and spend as much time with them as they need.”
Fahrney graduated with her bachelor’s of science degree in nursing from Florida State University and has been a nurse for 22 years, with 16 years of that as a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurse. She said she always knew she wanted to be a nurse and has had a special passion for helping children from a young age.
“I love moms, and I love babies,” Fahrney said.
While Fahrney said she does not have a “typical” day, she varies her responsibilities of teaching breastfeeding and baby basics classes between Yokosuka and Atsugi and often sees a few clients per day, based on how much time she spends with each client. Her main responsibilities include health education – mostly for pre-natal and post-partum mothers and newborns.
Fahrney said she believes military spouses overseas have a larger burden as new moms.
“In the States, they may be closer to families who can offer help – distance and cost of travel makes that unfeasible here,” Fahrney said. “With the added stressors of living overseas and frequently deployed spouses, it can be overwhelming not to have support and try to take care of a newborn, learn to live in a foreign country and take care of yourself.”
Tiffani Pearson, a military spouse in Yokosuka, said the support of the Visiting Nurse program has helped ease the transition of being a new mom overseas.
“Here in Yokosuka, especially, the ships are forward-deployed and dads are constantly gone,” Pearson said. “Most spouses don’t have family close by. Knowing that Karen can come check in on you in what can be an extremely exhausting and tough time makes a world of difference.”
Pearson said she has used the Visiting Nurse Program stateside and in Yokosuka. She added that Fahrney’s support in Yokosuka helped tremendously in an area with fewer resources.
“Karen is a phenomenal breastfeeding resource in a place where resources are very limited,” Pearson said. “We don’t have access to all the breastfeeding programs, groups and lactation consultants here in Japan that you do stateside, so being able to consult with her is a huge help.”
Pearson said she liked Fahrney’s approach to the position, which is focused on working with clients to meet their goals in the way that suits them. She explained there are so many thoughts and beliefs out there when it comes to parenting, but Fahrney helps parents to accomplish what they want while also making them aware of other options that are out there just in case.
Throughout both of her experiences with the program, Pearson said she credits the nurses with helping her surpass her goal of breastfeeding her son for his first year of life and believes the program is invaluable for new moms.
“For first-time moms who are constantly worried about doing the wrong thing, Visiting Nurses are a huge thing,” Pearson said. “They armed me with the tools to be the best version of the mom I wanted to be.”