One of the many faces of postpartum depression | Orange County Boudoir Studio

Okay 2016...I’m officially done with you. Yes, there have been some pretty fantastic moments, but overall, it's not been my favorite year. No, I’m not talking about the general state of the world - I’m talking about stuff much closer to home. Much more personal matters.  

Like many moms these days, I’d consider myself fairly well read in the baby development department. I’m the kind of person who needs to understand what is happening so that I can deal with it. If I understand WHY my kid is being a jerk at this particular moment, it helps me cope and not take it personally.  So, when I was pregnant I was well informed of the likelihood of postpartum depression and the signs – yet when it hit me, I had NO clue how much it was affecting my life.

Photo cred: Roxy Rodriguez

Photo cred: Roxy Rodriguez

I had this idea in my head of what “depression” looked like. I pictured someone lying in bed all day, crying non-stop with a desire to harm themself and/or their child – which wasn’t me.  I also thought PPD only affected “new” moms during the first 6 months postpartum.

For me, it hit later, around my sons first birthday. I started therapy the first time around then, and began a major life re-evaluation (which is when my career change began – you can read all about that here). Finally, I started to grasp the reality that I was dealing with postpartum depression. I thought it was just a super mild case though, and figured that with time…I’d be all good, not something that was bad enough to need medication.

As with many things in life, the vision in your head often doesn’t represent real-life. In my reality, postpartum depression took the form of anxiety (not the I-can’t-get-out-of-bed-because-I’m-too-sad vision I thought it was). You know that nervous feeling you get when you’re about to do something scary or uncomfortable? I was feeling that from the moment I woke up, until I’d fall asleep at night. Some days would be worse than others, and occasionally it would subside – but for the most part, it was always there.

Self portrait project circa June 2016

Self portrait project circa June 2016

With the anxiety came a lack of motivation and an inability to focus. I honestly thought I had developed a case of adult ADD because I simply could NOT focus. I’d sit down at my desk each day to work, and within moments have 10 tabs open. I’d get up for a bathroom break and notice the dirty laundry, and decide to throw in a load. On the way back, something else would distract me. It was a never ending cycle of getting sidetracked by anything and everything. I’d have a million ideas, but never the “umph” I needed to act on the ideas and execute them.

It wasn’t just me that this was affecting either. It was bleeding over into all my relationships and hindering my business goals. I was irritable and short-fused, which didn’t pair well with parenting. I rarely found myself enjoying the time with my kid. Instead, I was constantly trying to keep my cool and not blow up on him. My husband? Well, same with him. I was a ticking time bomb that may start crying at any moment, so he would just steer clear. That’s the thing about depression – it’s the fucking gift that keeps on giving, to everyone around the person who’s suffering.

It wasn’t even just those closest to me. On a broader scale, it looked like me being a flake with a lot of unfinished plans. Loads of unanswered text messages, emails, direct messages and comments – because, well, I don’t know. Because I simply didn’t have the motivation. Or I was scared; afraid of being rejected or shut down.

Now, I’m not a lazy person – but I was starting to question that. Was I lazy? Why didn’t I do all these things that I wanted to do? I could imagine the type of mother and wife that I wanted to be – who I thought I was at my core, but that girl was nowhere to be seen. I no longer enjoyed things that I once did. I could envision the business I wanted to build, the service I wanted to provide…yet, I kept getting in my own damn way. I felt like a wind-up doll, who wasn’t fully wound. My frustrations led to me feeling down on myself, which only led to more anxiety and a cyclical spiral of self-doubt.

This past summer, I finally started seeing a therapist again. (If you’ve ever had a desire or curiosity to see someone – DO IT. Seriously, it’s so helpful to have someone to talk to. Someone objective and not emotionally entangled in your life and relationships, and able to give you sound advice. I strongly believe that the biggest problem with our world now, is that we don’t pay enough attention to mental health and prioritize it. One doesn’t have to suffer a tragedy to have emotional wounds.) After a few months of weekly meetings with my counselor, I was starting to feel better. She helped me devise sound strategies to dealing with the anxiety, and how to better communicate what I was feeling with my husband.

Then I suffered a miscarriage at 10 weeks.

All of the progress that I had been feeling, took a bit of a setback. While I’d maintained a reasonably limited “attachment” – knowing that unfortunately, miscarriage is terribly common – it still hurt. Getting pregnant is something that happened for us rather quickly and easily, and I’d already had one healthy, successful pregnancy…so I was overly confident. Going from being pregnant for nearly 3 months, to suddenly not being pregnant was a shock.  I was sad, and the anxiety was back.

Things really boiled to a head when I went in to see my OB a few weeks after the miscarriage for a check-up, and broke down crying while talking to my doctor. After she told me that she personally ended up on Prozac after suffering from PPD after her daughter was born, I decided to accept the help. I was done struggling with postpartum depression/anxiety, and living my life at half power.

In addition to starting a super low dosage of Prozac, I joined the gym. I was determined to take this tragedy, and use it as motivation to get my life back on track. To take control of my happiness, and not be so damn stubborn and deny the help that I (now realize) was so very necessary.

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Within a month, I felt like a whole new person – or, instead of a new person, like MYSELF. For the first time since my son was born (over 3 years ago), I felt like my old self and realized that I was still in there. The brave and bold woman I knew at my core, was still in there…she was just stifled. I felt strong enough to take risks once again, and had the motivation to execute the ideas that had been simmering on low for so long. 

I’m a big believer that things happen for a reason. At the time of the loss, it was hard to imagine why that pregnancy wasn’t viable. I’ll never know for certain what the cause was, but I can’t help but think I wasn’t strong enough to handle it – emotionally AND physically. I needed to get myself on track before I could care for another little human.

I wish I could say I was “all fixed” now and no longer struggling, but that’s miles from true. In fact, I write this at a time when I feel myself backsliding. The difference is that I now know what’s affecting me, and the symptoms associated with it. Instead of letting it paralyze me, I choose to hit it head on and no longer hide in the shadows. Hopefully by putting it out there, I can cope with it – and maybe help bring attention to postpartum depression. It can have many faces, and affects every single woman in a different way. If this sounds like you, or someone you know – please seek help. Or, if you just want to talk to someone else who’s dealing with it, I’m here. Feel free to reach out to me. 

Here's the 2017! To understanding myself better with each passing year, and learning to use my own weaknesses to help empower other women. 

She secretly always wanted to do this || Orange County Boudoir Photographer

One of the things that I believe is an absolute MUST for your boudoir experience, is professional make-up & hair. You're beautiful just as you are, but having someone do your make-up is part of what helps you take on that sexy alter-ego that I know is hiding in each and every one of you. I don't consider this optional, which is why it's built in to all of my sessions

When I started my boudoir photography business here in Orange County, CA, I started the search for the perfect make-up artist to compliment the intimate portrait experience that I provide. Someone with a personality kind of like me, and someone I'd like to have a drink with outside work. The "glam" portion of the photoshoot should feel like hanging out with your girlfriends, so if I'm not friends with the make-up artist...then, well, that would just be weird. 

I happened upon Veronica when I was searching for someone with experience working with all skin tones, to accommodate a client at the time. I quickly learned that not only is she an incredible artist, but a down-to-earth, super rad lady. We bonded quickly over our shared love of Game of Thrones. 

Something that I feel passionately about, is that I want all women that work with me to experience a boudoir shoot with me. I want the person who's going to be doing your make-up, to know what she's talking about when she says "you can relax, Mandy will show you exactly what to do." Someone you can relate to you, because she's #beentheredonethat. I also want to do everything I can, to help empower the women around me to be the best damn version of themselves possible.  

If you're looking for an amazing make-up artist in the OC/LA/SD area...I highly recommend Veronica Fensel Make-up Artistry. You can check out Veronica's gallery down below, and hear straight from her what it was like:

"I have watched women get glammed up and pose for boudoir shoots for years, and have secretly have always wondered what it would be like to do one myself!

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orange-county-makeup-artist

"Immediately upon leaving the shoot I felt like a sexier beast than when I walked in. I really did feel like a model during the session, and I think Mandy's encouragement during the shoot was the reason I felt that way! Then when I saw my photos, I felt especially beautiful seeing how amazing I looked during a time when I didn't feel so beautiful to begin with.

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orange-county-boudoir-photographer

"I had been feeling down and less confident about my appearance for several months before the shoot. My face was breaking out, and I was at my heaviest weight. I was, however, determined not to let my insecurities stop me from doing something I'd always wanted to do!

"My favorite part of the experience, was my improved self image."       

"My favorite part of the experience was my improved self image.

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orange-county-boudoir-photographer

"I was blown away when I saw my images! I rarely think I look good in pictures, and while I was expecting to like a few, I didn't expect to love every single one!

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"Mandy is one of my absolute favorite photographers to work with as a hair/makeup artist, and as a model! She consistently produces beautiful images and is just a real and positive person who is so fun to hang out with!"

(P.S. I adore working with you too, Veronica.) 

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Are you a make-up junkie wondering how she got her look? Veronica has shared all her make-up details with us. 

"For my foundation, I used Mehron Celebre Pro HD creme foundation in order to easily cover my acne scarring and blemishes. It is a full coverage creme, so I used a damp sponge to sheer it out in places that didn't need as much coverage. To cover up under eye darkness, I used MAC Prolongwear Concealer in NW25. The NW range from MAC has pink/peach to orange undertones which is great for correcting and covering blue and purple tones under the eye. Both of these products last a really long time, especially when you use a sponge or powder puff to press in translucent power on top to set it. To add some warmth and definition, I used Nars "Laguna" bronzer using a large flufffy powder brush around the perimeters of the face. On the cheeks I applied Nars "Orgasm" blush to brighten up my complexion. 

On my eyes, I used shadows from the Lorac Pro 2 Palette. From the palette, I used the color 'Nectar' in the crease as a transition color, and then blended inwards with 'Plum' and 'Cool Gray'. For a pop of shimmer on the lid, I used the colors 'Chrome' and 'Silver'. I lined the eyes with black gel liner from Inglot, and applied false lashes from the Coquette Cosmetics in the style, 'Leanna'. These lashes are super fluffy and full! Then, in order to make my lips pop on camera, I first filled in my lips with MAC lip pencil in 'Soar; and went over top with MAC lipstick in "Please Me". 

I set everything with Mario Badescu Rosewater spray to help meld the powders and creams together, and to give the skin a more natural glowing finish."

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"Going outside your comfort zone and seeing positive results is so rewarding! If you've always wanted to try something like this, but are more on the introverted side like me, Mandy is the perfect relate-able and comfortable person to shoot with!!"


It's true...I'm a bit of an introvert myself. I like having one-on-one conversations with people, and get terribly shy in a crowd (unless I have a camera in my hand). This is all part of why I love intimate portraiture, and why I'm so passionate about what I do. Connecting with people and helping them step outside of their comfort zone for an empowering experience adds so much fulfillment to my life. 

Are you one of those who's secretly always wondered what it would be like to have your own boudoir photoshoot? What are you waiting for? I'll help you through the whole thing and show you an incredible side of yourself that you may not knew existed. Let's start with a phone call to break the ice! 

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Mandy Merino Photography | Boudoir Photographer Orange County

Hey you! Thanks for stopping by. Want to see fun video with my latest collection of intimate portraits of my brave and daring clients? 

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Rediscovering myself in my 30's :: OC Boudoir Photographer

We often associate our twenties with finding ourselves, right? I know I did! I enjoyed the hell out of my twenties. I started my career, explored, moved around a lot, made new friends, had tons of adventures and eventually met my mate. I also dedicated a lot of time in my twenties to thoroughly “investigating” who I was.

My ideas about life and love are very bohemian, and often completely hippy-dippy. I think the relationship you have with yourself is one of the most important, if not THE most important. If you don’t know who you are and what you want in life, how can you choose a partner/friend/career/home that you’re going to enjoy. Right at thirty, I married my amazing husband and thought I had a good handle on what I wanted out of life as I entered the next decade of my life.

One of my favorite photos from our wedding. Photo by Adam Padgett Weddings. 

One of my favorite photos from our wedding. Photo by Adam Padgett Weddings. 

A couple years later, I found myself at a crossroads. I was married, my son was about to turn one, I had a good paying job that allowed me the freedom to work from home, and we were all healthy. Everything was seemingly perfect, right? Except, I wasn’t happy. I was kind of miserable. Which made me feel angry and silly for being such a whiney-privileged-white-girl with far fewer problems than many struggle with, yet still feeling so unsettled.

I started doing some soul searching to try to pinpoint the source of my unhappiness. I mean, I thought I knew who I was and wanted in life. After a lot of tears, self-reflection and heart-to-hearts with my husband, we decided that my current job was mostly at fault. I didn’t love what I was doing and was certainly not passionate about it. It was a decent paying job with a lot of perks but still just “a job” and was actually stressing me out in a major way and consuming 60-80 hours a week at times.

I was tired of watching the nanny take my son for walks and to the pool. I wanted to be the person doing those things with him. For years, my dream was to be a stay-at-home-mom. I relished the idea of menu planning, organizing playdates and being Little-Miss-Suzy-homemaker. “I could rock the shit out of that,” I thought. We crunched the numbers, and decided the best thing for our family was for me to stop working full-time. It would be a sacrifice (hello, it’s Southern California and cost of living is cray), but one that we thought would be best.

So, I quit my job. Gulp. It wasn’t an overnight thing, though. I ended up freelancing part-time for several months to help them during re-staffing, but my hours cut waaaay back. I gained two full days a week with my son, and we started establishing our new routine of park explorations and playdates.

Awesome, right? Sadly, no! Instead of finding the contentment that I was expecting, I found myself lonelier than ever and completely isolated. Plus, this overwhelming sense of guilt and confusion. Many women (myself included) dream of being able to stay home with their little ones and raise them. “Why wasn’t this making me happy?” “Am I a monster because I don’t enjoy spending 24-7 with my son?” By this point, it was time to call in professional help. I could no longer deal with my own feelings and couldn’t see things clearly. Fortunately, I found a great therapist with whom I shared an instant connection with. It only took a couple sessions before I had a light bulb moment!

I’M AN ARTIST! However, over the past few years I’d stopped doing anything creative. My previous job had no creative outlets and I wasn’t pursuing anything on my own. I thought becoming a mother had turned me into the type-A, controlling person that I had become. WRONG! As I learned in therapy, creativity without an outlet can sometimes foster itself as perfectionism. Ding, ding, ding! That was sooo me.

I have always loved art and music, but I had never realized how much they define me. Those aren’t just hobbies or interests for me. They’re a part of my soul; part of who I am and where I find peace and contentment. Armed with this brilliant information, I decided it was time to make a change.

Photography had always been a passion of mine. A “someday maybe…” full-time profession. My first job out of college gave me the opportunity to learn digital photography and shoot corporate headshots, events and products, so it wasn’t new to me. I knew my way around a camera. It felt like a no-brainer that it was time to take the leap and try once-and-for-all.

I set out to start shooting again; anything and everything I could get my camera on. I wasn’t really sure what my vision or voice was as an artist, so I gave myself permission to explore. In this vein, I started attending various meet-ups with other photographers where they would get together and photograph one another. When I stumbled upon a boudoir meet-up group, I was intrigued…but didn’t really know much about it. As many, I thought, “oh, they’re just sexy photos,” and is exactly what I told my husband when he asked where I was going.

Nervous and scared, I went to meet a group of strangers. In a park. To take “sexy photos”.

One of the very first boudoir "style" photos I ever took.

One of the very first boudoir "style" photos I ever took.

I came home that night with a passion that I had never seen in myself. I had never had SO MUCH FUN with a camera in my whole life. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. It wasn’t a group of girls being vein and taking sexy photos of each other. Instead, I found a group of women who are passionate about art, who love and embrace themselves as they are and encourage one another. I was hooked and so in love with that collection of images.

From there, I was ravenous. Hungry for more! I set out to learn all that I could and practice as much as possible. I started spending my “laundry days” folding clothes and watching countless online classes on posing, lingerie, lighting and the business of boudoir. All other types of photography basically flew out the window for me. “Am I crazy?” “What will my family and friends think?” These are the questions that swirled around in my head as I debated taking the leap to dedicate my business solely on boudoir photography. Fortunately, my ever-supportive-husband re-confirmed things for me. “You should go for this! I see a hunger and passion in you that I’ve never seen before.”

When I decided to follow my heart and stop worrying about what everybody else thinks, it was like the clouds parted and things clicked. It filled so many voids in my life (more on this subject in a future blog post). I had always loved hair, make-up, fashion, and playing dress-up. This was an opportunity to combine my talents and interests in an exciting new career path. Little did I know how much it was going to change my life and revitalize my own self-confidence.

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That’s not to say it hasn’t been a rocky road filled with fear, doubt and difficulty. Some days I still ask myself what the hell I’m doing and wonder if I’m cut out for it, but then I’ll receive a glowing testimonial from one of my clients and they re-confirm things for me. I’m doing so much more than making art with my photography; I’m HELPING women reclaim their femininity (sometimes discovering for the first time) and realize what badasses they truly are. 

A boudoir photoshoot with me is so much more than taking a few sexy photos. It's an experience, from beginning to end. For some, it's therapeutic and maybe one of the scariest things they've ever done. For others, it's a celebration of who they are and acceptance of their unique beauty. As Dita Von Teese once said, "It's not about seducing men. It's about embracing womanhood."

That's ^^ me. One of the first images from my boudoir selfie project.

That's ^^ me. One of the first images from my boudoir selfie project.

I'd love to hear YOUR story. Get in touch and let's chat. 

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