Merissa Earle and daughter Z’Nyah. (Picture by Krystal Hoyte.)
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During the summer of 2017, University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus student Merissa Earle was full of excitement. She was enjoying life and preparing for her final year of studies for her Bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance. The finish line was in sight and she was fully preparing to cross it after five consecutive years of studying at the tertiary level.
“I was looking forward to my final year and finishing UWI in 2018. I didn’t really have plans for the summer other than going to a few Crop Over events because I am not a party girl, and I was really focusing on the upcoming year,” the former Coleridge & Parry School student said.
But in June of 2017, the then 20-year-old Merissa found out she was pregnant with her first child, and she was aware life as she knew it was about to change.
“I never thought I would have had a child this early. I was a bit scared when I found out because I was in school and I didn’t know how I would provide for her although her father is working. It was just a really scary experience at first,” she told EASY magazine.
The next step she said was telling her boyfriend and her mother that she was pregnant; a process she said went way easier than she expected.
“I told her father, then I told my Mum. It didn’t go too bad because I think she already knew. She always knew when my menstrual cycle came, so she knew before I told her. She was never hard on me or anything. She supported me from day one. All she wanted was for me to finish school and she said she would help me as much as she could until I finished UWI.”
After taking time to process the news and her new reality, Merissa said the one thing that never crossed her mind was giving up.
“I always had this mindset that I would get my Associate and Bachelor’s by the time I was 21. When I found out I was pregnant, I didn’t really think of dropping out of school or anything like that. I have a friend that had a child when she was going school and that didn’t deter her and she still got good grades. So she motivated me. So I said if she could get it done I could to,” she remarked.
During the interview at her Upper Carleton, St James home, Merissa rocked her daughter Z’Nyah Amor Chandler to sleep while surrounded by her mother and older brother.
Merissa said thankfully her first trimester happened while still on vacation from school, so she didn’t have to worry about sickness. She said she knew going back to school was going to be a bit tough, but she had one goal in mind.
“By the time school started, morning sickness was pretty much over; so I was happy about that. Going back to school, it wasn’t bad but I started to show late like in December, and so at school people were staring because I had a belly . . . but I didn’t really pay them any attention. I had one focus and that was to get through my exams and finish school,” Merissa added.
She told EASY magazine she got though the first semester well and was ready to do the same with the second, which began at the end of January. But Merissa was in no way prepared for the rough road ahead. Her daughter was born on March 7, mere weeks before she was about to sit her final exams.
“Before she was born, I had this image in my head that all newborn babies do is sleep and I would be able to get my work done and finish my group projects; but when reality hit, it was another thing. While Z’Nyah brought joy, she was in this newborn phase where she was just cranky all the time and constantly crying. Sometimes I would get frustrated and overwhelmed but my Mum was always there to help me. Her dad was also always there to reassure me that I could get through it. Some days I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore and I felt like giving up,” she said while gazing at her daughter.
The very soft-spoken Merissa enjoyed the unwavering support from close family members, including her mother who never left her side.
“My Mum is my superhero. She took vacation to accommodate me in terms of helping out with the baby when I had exams. My boyfriend, his mother, my brother, my cousin and her husband were also always there to help me with Z’Nyah when I was trying to finish up stuff with school. I really needed that time to finish off my work,” Merissa said with a nod of appreciation towards her mother who at this time was still listening in on the interview.
Merissa said she was also very grateful to three of her university friends who helped her out tremendously in getting back on track after she had the baby.
“I had a strong support system in terms of my friends at school as well. My friends helped me catch up on classes that I would have missed. They reassured me that if I needed any help they would be there,” she added.
And it was as though baby Z’Nyah knew that her young mummy needed a break, because just before Merissa started her exams, Z’Nyah was a lot less fussy.
“I got through the exam period better than expected. A week before exams started, she began to calm down a lot more and would fall asleep on her own and I was able to get more things done,” she said.
Merissa also got the full support of her church family throughout her pregnancy.
“I grew up in the church and, of course, they believe that you should get married and then have children. I never really thought about getting married first or so on. But I never had any negative vibes from the members of the Westmoreland Church of the Nazarene. They were always positive and encouraging. I had a strong support system at church from the members. My pastor told me not to stop coming and he constantly encouraged me and I went occasionally,” she admitted.
“It takes a village to raise a child . . . because raising a baby is no joke. So I’m really thankful to everyone who showed me and is still showing me love and support. It helped a lot,” she added.
Now that exams are over, Merissa said she finally has the time to bond with her daughter, even though she will soon be heading out to work.
“It will be a bittersweet moment when I have to leave her to go to work. I really enjoy singing to her. But my favourite thing to do with her right now is to show her love by kissing her and cuddling with her and talking to her.”
The young mother who enjoys dancing and volleyball, said she hoped to one day become a financial controller or forensic accountant. She is at present looking forward to graduating in October of this year, once all goes well.
“Normally I would do five courses. I never failed a subject. I always had good grades. This final semester though I only did four courses because of her. So now I have one course to do in the summer,” she said.
Merissa said this entire experience has taught her nothing but patience and that she could do anything she put her mind to with the help of God.
She encouraged other young mums-to-be to put God first.
“Trusting in God really got me through this process. At first, it’s going to be hard, but with a good support system you would get through it. Trust in God and you would overcome any tough situations. Becoming a new mother really shows you that there is always something good at the end of every tough situation,” she added. (DB)