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Inspirational Vandenberg Women: Vandenberg spouse fosters love

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Editor's note: This is the second story in a four-part series on inspirational Vandenberg women.

"The natural state of motherhood is unselfishness," said Jessica Lange, an award winning American actress, United Nations Children's Fund Goodwill Ambassador and foster parent. "When you become a mother, you are no longer the center of your own universe. You relinquish that position to your children."

A Vandenberg military spouse took her charge to make children the center of her universe to the next level.

Michelle Ludwig and her spouse, Joint Space Operations Center Relocation Project Officer Maj. Jason Ludwig, are birth parents to two young children, but they also have been foster parents for many more.

"I've always had a passion for helping people, particularly children," Ludwig said. "When I was in college for my undergraduate degree, I was a youth advocate and was then introduced to the foster care system. I was floored that most of these kids didn't know personal hygiene or have basic living skills."

This initial encounter catapulted Ludwig into a degree program specializing in helping families.

"Although my undergraduate degree is in criminal justice, my Masters is from Wheelock College in Boston, Mass., for Child Life and Family Centered Care," Ludwig said. "They are a private college with a public mission -- Wheelock strives to be the premier college educating people to create a safe, caring, and just world for children and families."

Ludwig wouldn't have to wait long to put her alma mater's mission of creating a safe, caring and just world for children and families into practice. The Ludwig family opened their Vandenberg home to its first set of foster siblings in 2011.

"A week after certification we got our first foster - a sibling set," Ludwig said. "The girl was eight and the boy was four. They were here a month and a half and then they were able to go back to their family. Not long after, we received another sibling set... one girl who was almost two and the baby was 3 months. They were with us for about two months and then were reunified with their mother."

Having foster children in the house is a blessing, Ludwig said. But it's not without its challenges.

"As parents, it's important to make sure each one of the children is getting enough one-on-one time with us," said Ludwig. "Being foster parents you're going to have a lot of visits with social workers and specialists so it's important to be in-tune to each child's individual needs."

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families website, the total number of U.S. Children in the foster system has decreased each year since 2005. Although this number has decreased, many children spend their entire childhoods in the system and more than half are listed as having chronic medical problems.
Though foster care is meant to be a temporary home, recently a little boy spurned the Ludwigs to make a permanent decision.

"James came to our home on March 18," Ludwig said. "James' mother was on Methamphetamines while pregnant so when we got him, at two days-old, he had a chemical dependency. James pretty much slept all the time for the first two months of his life. He has also has epilepsy and cerebral palsy."

The Ludwigs quickly integrated James into their family and set-out to give him everything they could.

"We decided that we were going to give this baby the best start to his life," Ludwig said. "Two days after his arrival, we took him to get newborn pictures and got a baby book to start for his family."

James instantly integrated into the Ludwig family and, although adoption was never their plan, it became the only choice.

"The integration of foster children into the family has been difficult for my two biological children," Ludwig said, "Then with James, they just thought he was ours automatically. We didn't do this to adopt -- just want to help kids, but we fell so in love with James."

Like the UNICEF Ambassador Jessica Lang said, "children become the center of a mother's world," Ludwig has dedicated her life to the care and support of children wherever in the world the Air Force takes them.

"I am a foster parent because I love children and I think there is a negative stigma with foster parents," Ludwig said. "There are positives and negatives to any situation and we went into being foster parents because we wanted to know that there would be good people out there to take care of kids who need it. Hopefully, we'll able to continue to make that impact for years to come."