ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. --
Being a servicemember can be stressful, but the responsibility of having or starting a family adds to the already heavy burden. But luckily for expecting mothers and new families, the Air Force provides an important resource for them.
Helen Romeyn, the 28th Medical Operations Squadron New Parent Support Program manager, provides guidance to expectant parents and parents with children up to three years old.
“New Parent Support is a holistic program to help families with any struggles they might have, from newborn questions, child development and even potty training down the road,” Romeyn said.
Joselynn Wagner, a spouse of an Ellsworth Airman who is currently deployed, is one of the many people who have received help from Romeyn. They met in March 2018 and worked together until July 2018, trying to figure out Wagner’s son’s sleeping problem.
“We were having issues getting him to stay asleep if we weren’t holding him, and also experiencing what seemed like excessive crying, which turned out to be what they now call PURPLE Crying,” Wagner said.
“With her help, we were able to get through that tough time of non-sleeping and constant crying,” Wagner said. “In addition to those two big issues, any other little questions we had along the way, she was there to help us.”
Romeyn has been helping care for Ellsworth AFB families since 2003, providing useful information on prenatal growth, child development, parenting skills, promoting family bonding and more. Not all of her knowledge in these areas has come from attending seminars or her formal education; much of it has come from raising two children of her own.
“As I talk to my clients, I use my own personal experiences with child-raising,” Romeyn said. “I give examples of what I did that worked well and how I adjusted my parenting when things did not work well. My children were born in Hawaii and Germany, and during their early childhood years, I did not have family around me, so I had to build skills to help me do this job.”
Romeyn and her husband learned to build a strong friend-based support system at every duty station they had. Through these friendships, the couple learned about normal child development, parenting strategies and ways to manage stresses, which is all information she now passes along to her clients.
“I recommend my clients build a strong friend network to help them decrease isolation to help make parenting fun,” Romeyn said.
She also conducts home visits and is a lactation consultant for mothers who choose to breastfeed.
“My goal is to meet the client’s goal,” Romeyn said. “So the first breastfeeding specific question I ask my client is what they wish to do. Then I’ll give them the education they need, so they understand how their decision impacts how I help them.”
The breastfeeding piece is something Romeyn has personally taken an interest in and has gotten more credentialed in. She has been certified for 11 years now, but has helped with breastfeeding for 35 years.
“It’s not a real part of the New Parent Support Program, but it’s something I do and not every base will have a lactation consultant,” Romeyn said. “It’s a key piece in connecting with clients – it’s that personal interest that helps me get to the client base that keeps my program running.”
An important aspect for a healthy family life is having a support system, especially for new parents. Unfortunately, most military families are far from the support they need – this is when Helen steps in and provides some much needed comfort.
“My experience with [Helen] absolutely made a difference for us as a family that didn’t necessarily have any other support,” Wagner said. “Being in the military, most of us new parents don’t have any family nearby so anytime we would have maybe had family helping us back home, Helen would instead take over that role for us.”
When Romeyn and a client work together to ensure healthy child development, all of the hard work is realized when little by little, problems are resolved.
“I very clearly remember the sheer joy and relief my husband and I felt the first night our son slept in his bassinet by himself,” Wagner recalled. “Telling Helen about that the next time she came to see us was such a wonderful thing – you could see she was just as proud of our son as she was.”
Although Helen has been doing her job for many years now, her passion and dedication still remains the same.
“I started the job because it was the perfect fit with my background in nursing and personal experiences in life,” Helen said. “I realized it was the perfect job for me within the first six months, as I had a better comprehension of the New Parent Support Program. It’s precious to be able to walk alongside young families that are starting their lives and helping them make strong choices to have a stronger life, and it’s a privilege every time I get to go in a home because it’s so private and personal, and it’s amazing to see these families with their little babies. I’m like a paid grandma so I can give them a lot of sage wisdom.”