Pat Tillman Foundation can’t fulfill its mission to empower military veterans and their spouses without the generosity of our supporters across the country. Nationwide, over 400 Tillman Scholars are striving to impact our country and communities through their studies in medicine, law, business, policy, science, education and the arts. Every “Tillman Tuesday,” we are committed to highlighting the individual impact of a Tillman Scholar, focusing on their success in school, career and community—all thanks to your support. This week we learn more about one of our newest Tillman Scholars, Lisa Rich, who recently began a nursing master’s program in midwifery and women’s health at Yale University. Originally from New Mexico, Lisa, her husband Jeremy, and their four kids have moved extensively over the past 15 years as part of the Marine Corps family. Now, while pursuing her own career as a midwife, Lisa is focused on providing an amazing birthing experience for expectant mothers stateside and abroad.
How did you and your husband meet? How long has he served in the military?
“We met after his first enlistment at a local establishment and I accidentally gave him the wrong phone number. Fortunately, he knew which car was mine, so he left me a note with a flower and his number. We were married three months later because we knew we wanted to be together and just loved each other so much. Overall, my husband served 20 years active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps, and recently retired on July 1st. We’ve done two deployments together, but he was gone all the time traveling about six months out of the year for smaller operations. He spent 13 months in Iraq and 8 months during the initial invasion.”
What do you feel is the biggest challenge being a military spouse?
“The biggest challenge is the fact you really have to stay positive and always be conscious of how you frame things for your kids. You need keep things upbeat while being sensitive and not dwelling on it. It’s hard to always be the person who has to stay positive; if you’re negative it makes it a lot harder. It’s also hard to talk to civilians who don’t necessarily understand the challenges. Being diplomatic with outsiders can be a challenge at times. But I don’t dwell on things, and I tend to be one of those people who just tackles one thing at a time and controls what I can. I only have so much time on this earth and I don’t want to spend it being sad.”
Through deployments and other challenges, what have you learned about yourself as a military spouse?
“I learned that we’re all stronger than we think we are. We are stronger than we give ourselves credit for. I learned that there’s really not much that you can’t get through if you just put your head down and do it. I’ve also learned how important time and family are, and why it’s so important to make use of the time that you have together.”
As a scholar, your focus is on maternal health – both at home and globally. What inspired your unique interest in Midwifery?
“Originally it came from my experience 14 years ago during the birth of my first son. I was 24 years old and I didn’t know anything about motherhood or changing a diaper! I was traumatized by it and remember thinking, ‘this could be better’ as my experience really bothered me. I started to research and read everything I could about birth and that’s when I really became entranced by the whole experience and wanting it to be better for others. I knew I wanted to be a Midwife, but we moved every couple of years for the military, which presented a few obstacles. Eventually, I began to think about how I could be closer to birth, so I became a Doula and everything fell into place from there.”
What has it been like working with new moms as a Doula?
“It’s very rewarding to be with someone during one of the most memorable times of their life, especially watching them get through a situation that is very challenging. Knowing that I’m 100% there for a mother makes the experience all that much better for her. There’s such awe when a baby is born and it still gets me every time. It never gets old!”
Did you intend to focus on military spouses when it came to Midwifery?
“Due to his service obligations, my husband has only been present for one birth of our four kids. But I really believe moms shouldn’t have to go through birth alone like I did with my kids. When we were living in Jacksonville, North Carolina – a military town – I realized that if there was somebody who needed me, I certainly would want to help them in any way that I could. My interest in helping military spouses grew out of my own experience.”
Right now, you are also focused on working with pregnant women who are homeless. What has that experience been like for you?
“I have been volunteering with an organization that provides a place for homeless women throughout their pregnancy. They can stay there for up to two years. A lot of the population that the organization serves is recovering from substance abuse as well as physical and sexual abuse, so it’s been an eye-opener on how the system works and how the health department works. It’s more than I’m used to. We meet to talk about the birth and post-partum experiences. It’s more like patient advocacy. I take them to all their prenatal appointments and try to help them understand what the doctors are saying. Although it’s more involved than I had originally prepared for, it has been a great and extremely rewarding experience. I wouldn’t trade it.”
What made you decide to pursue your Master’s program at Yale and what is your long-term goal?
“It was always my plan to pursue my Masters. I didn’t have time for nursing school during my husband’s military career. I earned my Bachelor’s Degree, and the plan was to become a certified Midwife and practice for a few years with the goal of one day opening up my own freestanding birth center. There’s an International Health component at Yale so I am concentrating on that in my studies. One of the things people don’t realize is that one of the biggest needs locally and globally is maternity care. Women need a place to go—and they need a support system. I want to pay it forward for other women.”
How did you learn about the Tillman Scholar program and what made you decide to apply?
“I am Pat and Marie’s age. I was always caught up in the story about him leaving the NFL to join the military. In fact, I was very captivated by it. I remember taking my kids to the park and hearing the news on the radio the day that Pat was killed in Afghanistan. I was sitting in my car and just had to catch my breath. As a military spouse, I remember feeling for Marie at that moment. I’d think about Pat’s passing from time to time and wonder how Marie was doing. Then I read about the Pat Tillman Foundation’s scholars program. It came up in a scholarship search and I knew immediately I wanted to apply. I didn’t think in a million years I would get it! But I had felt such a draw towards everything Pat and the scholarship stood for.”