PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. (March 16, 2023) – In honor of Women’s History Month, Presidio of Monterey public affairs shares the stories of three women serving the Monterey military community who epitomize resiliency, strength and commitment to our nation. These women bring nearly a century’s worth of collective experience within the military community and positively impact the lives of service members and families each day.
Over the years, they have observed countless changes for women in the military community while serving as active-duty service members, volunteers, spouses, mothers, military children, civilian employees and leaders. Their achievements and contributions significantly benefit our nation through the positive impact these women have in the communities they live in. Here is the story of Zoe Merritts, edited for length and clarity.
1) What is your history serving and working around the military community?
I joined the Navy in 2012 as a nurse after watching both my parents serve for 21 years. I was a maternal/infant nurse where I took care of mothers and their newborns at Camp Pendleton, California. I then transferred over to same-day surgery and post-anesthesia care unit for the remainder of my time. My family: husband is a Marine at the Naval Postgraduate School, and my two boys, ages 3 and 5, and I were stationed at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California, where I came back to working for the Marines as a nurse at the on-base child development center. I worked there for one year, and then moved over to the New Parent Support Program, where I was able to then transfer to the Army while stationed at NPS for the past 15 months. I’ve been serving the military in some sort of capacity for a little over 10 years.
2) When did you first begin serving or working with the military community and how are you serving today?
Currently, I run the New Parent Support Program with the Army. Since taking the job 15 months ago, I’ve really been able to put my mark on the program. I have created the Baby Boot Camp class which teaches expected parents about pregnancy, labor and delivery, newborn care, mental health, and Shaken Baby Syndrome. I have also created to support groups: New Parent Support Group and Lactation Support and Education Group. The New Parent Support Group was small at first—one to three mothers and the young babies. Now, every Wednesday, I see roughly seven to 14 mothers and their babies attending. The group is really to connect these new families to one another to have “tribe.” As part of New Parent Support, I do home visits as well. During home visits, with families, I help them achieve their goals. This could be anything from nutrition to sleep to child development to self-care for parents. The program is made to make sure parents and families are set up for success. I want to see them thriving and knowing they have the abilities and tools they need to do so. I also put on events and collaborate with other community resources such as the Birth Network of Monterey, Parenting Connections, Blue Star Families, and many more.
3) What do you find most rewarding about serving the military community?
I love being able to connect people to resources and to other families. The military can be very isolating, especially when you just had a baby. The New Parent Support Group has become a family. Most weeks, one mom is bringing in clothes or diapers for another mom and everyone is sharing resources and advice. I love to see the connections being made. The same goes with the Lactation Support Group. I remember being a new mother and having no idea how to breastfeed. Those first few days to months are crucial, and new parents need the support and education about breastfeeding to have the will and motivation to continue. I have had so many new mothers come into the group or during an at-home consult just need reassurance that they are doing OK and their babies are thriving. Giving these women the encouragement that they absolutely deserve is rewarding in itself. Most of the time we focus on the babies and children in a family, when more time/energy should be focused on the parents. The military is stressful on the entire family and being able to support the parents as they are starting their new journey can help immensely.
4) Throughout your career working with the military community, what types of changes have you seen for women? What has changed most?
Just in the past few years a lot of legislation has changed to help women in the military. The increased maternal leave has been the biggest win. I remember when women were only given 42 days of leave after having their babies. Six weeks is not enough time to heal mentally and physically after a baby. So much bonding and learning occurs in the fourth trimester (0-3 months after birth). The increased leave allows for this to take place and for mothers, when it is time to head back to work, hopefully have an easier transition. I also have seen a positive switch towards encouraging breastfeeding and breast pumping while at work. Allowing women to be able to pump while on active duty increases maternal bonds with their babies even when they are separated.
5) You have a wealth of experience working as a woman in the military community, and you are a leader. What advice can you offer to other aspiring female leaders in the military community?
Find something you are passionate about. I had no idea for quite some time what I wanted to be, and to be honest, I still haven’t completely figured it out. I do know that after I had kids, I felt extremely depressed, lonely, and isolated. I don’t want other women feeling this way. I want them to have someone whom they can talk to and feel safe with. A lot of what I wanted for myself, I was not finding. My advice would be to start small with your aspirations. Just helping one person can lead to helping several more people later on. People talk, they can help spread the word on important matters. So just talking and helping one person, in turn, will set in motion the help for more. Lastly, just listen. People wanted to be heard. They want to tell their stories and be understood about their personal experiences. I think that is where we can make the most difference. By listening, we can learn a lot more than by just acting on what we think might be best.