When Taylor and I had our 2019 planning meeting back in early December, one of the big takeaways was our desire to feature women who inspire us. We are both surrounded by incredible humans who bring light and joy into our daily lives, and we want to share them with you. Thus, our idea for the Glitter Guide Journal was born. Each month, a woman we love and admire will share her heart in a personal essay centered around a word that holds special meaning to her. I couldn’t be more excited to share our first entry with you from my dear friend, Merrill Melideo. In short, Merrill is an angel human. But even she doesn’t fully understand how magical and special her heart is. Anyone who knows her will tell you the same thing. Merrill is here to share her story and her truth, and we hope you’ll love this year-long journey as we share more women and more stories each month.
Yesterday, I held a newborn baby…a delicate little 2-day-old cherub with the tiniest nose and the softest skin. And as I held her in my arms, my body seemed to remember exactly how to settle into that familiar newborn hold and I felt a wave of emotions: first was pure love. This baby belonged to my best friend of thirty years, my soul sister. I had already loved her wholeheartedly since she was in the womb. But then I felt an unsettling sadness, and as I sat with that emotion in my heart and searched for the cause, I realized that holding this baby brought me back to my own time with a 2-day-old and I was face-to-face with my postpartum experience all over again.
When I was pregnant with my now 3.5-year-old son, I didn’t have many friends with babies around me, so I voraciously read every pregnancy book I could get my hands on and learned everything that I could about what was going on with my body. If you had asked me then at 39 weeks if I felt prepared for this baby, I would have said “bring it on!” Every book was chock-full of tips for a healthy pregnancy, information on the stages of the baby’s development week by week and what to expect during labor.
But the truth is, while I felt prepared for the birth, I didn’t give a single thought to what would happen beyond that.
My first contraction happened at 6:30 p.m. on a Saturday…it felt like a menstrual cramp and was over pretty quickly. An hour later, the same thing. I remember thinking “OK, this isn’t so bad,” but 20 minutes later, that third contraction brought me to my knees and reality set in fast. We drove to the hospital early the next morning and after an incredibly intense unmedicated birth, Leo was born at 10:21 a.m. on Sunday. My body had been through hell, the ring of fire is REAL y’all! But when they put that screaming baby on my chest, I remember thinking “I did it. The hardest part is over!” You guys, I literally thought the hardest part was over. I was in for the biggest shock of my life.
Literally everything from that moment on gave me anxiety. That first night I was holding him and stroking the soft hair on his head when I felt something strange and screamed for my husband to come check it out. I was panicking thinking that I had crushed his head before Tim reminded me about the soft spot. I couldn’t even sleep because he was either keeping me awake with all of his little grunts and snores or he was too quiet and I was afraid he had stopped breathing. Days and nights blurred together in a series of cluster feedings, diaper changes and failed swaddle attempts. But we started establishing a routine, and luckily, Leo was a pretty easy-going baby. The days were good. We would go for walks around our cute little neighborhood in New York, try to get back to some sense of normalcy. But as soon as evening came, like clockwork, I would feel a sensation of pure dread start to creep in. It started deep in the pit of my stomach and would spread like fire throughout my entire body, making me shake all over and feel light-headed, and ending in me crying heaving sobs. It wasn’t triggered by any particular thing, which made it even more frustrating. And it would leave me feeling even more exhausted and confused.
By three weeks, the awful panic attacks had subsided but other challenges kept popping up. My body was still in a lot of pain from labor, the endless hours of cluster feeding had me feeling drained in more ways than one, a bout of mastitis knocked me down hard. As time went on, Leo got fussier and we got more and more frustrated. When I look back at my journal from this time, I just cry remembering how difficult it was. One entry went like this: “I think overall I’m just frustrated that this isn’t what I thought it would be. Sure, I was expecting it to be hard, but I was also expecting to be so in love with him that it would all seem worth it. And that is just not how I’m feeling at all. Yes, I love him…because I made him and he is a part of me and a part of Tim, but there really isn’t anything beyond that yet. And that sounds like such a shitty thing to say! I wanted to be this blissed-out earth mama talking about how I’ve never felt a love like this before and how my life has been changed for the better, but if I’m being honest with myself, I don’t really like it one bit. I’m really angry. I’m angry that it’s not coming as naturally to me as I thought it would. I’m angry because I want to love breastfeeding but instead it’s become an annoying task. I’m angry because I loved our life before and we didn’t even want this in the first place. I hope I can look back on this and be appalled at myself for writing such hateful things. I hope that one day soon I am that blissed-out earth mama and that all of this was entirely worth it. God, I really hope so.”
I think overall I’m just frustrated that this isn’t what I thought it would be. Sure, I was expecting it to be hard, but I was also expecting to be so in love with him that it would all seem worth it.
Now let me tell you the worst part about all of this. I thought I was a bad mom. He wasn’t even a month old and I labeled myself that because I wasn’t loving this experience and I thought I was supposed to. When I looked at all the inspirational mamas on social media who seemed to be living for their new role and talking about all the sunshine and rainbows, I thought I was doing something wrong. I started hating myself for thinking awful things about my baby. I felt so ashamed and guilty and all of those negative feelings kept piling up. I really missed the carefree easy life that we had before Leo was born, and as much as I loved him beyond measure, I started feeling resentful toward him, which of course would just take me deeper down that dark spiral of mom guilt. The overwhelming sense of loneliness and isolation took its toll on me, and while I put on a brave face for the world, inside I felt lost and hopeless.
Leo was 8 months old when a friend invited me to a mom support group, and it was the first time I had heard other women saying the exact same things that I had been secretly thinking. Eight months of feeling like I was alone with these dark thoughts, of feeling like I was inadequate and beating myself up for it. And slowly, each week, I started feeling better. This group of women gave me the community that I was so lacking, and the reassurance that I absolutely was a good mom. I realized that we had been completely let down by the medical system; we had endless support during our pregnancy but as soon as the baby was born, as moms we were just an afterthought. I looked back at my baby books thinking maybe I missed something about postpartum care and I noticed that if there was a chapter devoted to the time after the baby, it was just a few pages and mainly covered things like how to give your newborn a bath and maybe a quick, vague mention of “baby blues.” No one told me that I’d be in so much pain after birth that it would be uncomfortable to breastfeed or even hold the baby for too long. No one told me my hormones would swing so violently from one spectrum to the next so that one moment I’d be happily snuggling my baby and the next I would be eating a popsicle wearing nothing but those giant hospital undies and sobbing about nothing. No one told me that when you’re sleep deprived and utterly frustrated, you will doubt absolutely everything that you’re doing to the point of driving yourself crazy. And can we talk about how moms don’t even see their doctor until six weeks after the baby is born? Six whole weeks without checking in on their physical or mental wellbeing. I know that there are tons of resources out there, but if pregnant women don’t know these things can even happen, how will they be able to find the resources in the first place? I can sense a much-needed change growing in the birthing community, and there are a lot of providers, doctors, midwives and doulas that are working hard to make sure these moms are heard, but we need to give these women a voice and take them seriously and share their experiences so that no one feels alone.
The overwhelming sense of loneliness and isolation took its toll on me, and while I put on a brave face for the world, inside I felt lost and hopeless.
Looking back at that time is like looking at a completely different person, and sometimes I am so shocked that I could have ever thought such things about myself and my son. Leo will be 4 this year and while things are still difficult (hello threenager!), I am so much happier now that I go with the flow and try not to strive for perfection. Tim and I have decided not to have more children, but inevitably when I hold a baby I get wistful and think “maybe if we did have another one it would be different, maybe I could be more present and enjoy it more”…but I think what I’m really wishing is for a do-over with Leo. It’s a difficult thing to process sometimes because I know I am the mom that I am, and the woman I am, because of what we went through. I’m working on giving myself grace, embracing my imperfections and making sure that Leo always knows how loved he is.
Merrill Melideo is a photographer and mother living in San Diego, California. She spends her days exploring with her 3-year-old son, Leo, searching for wildflowers and gazing at stars.
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