I can’t believe it’s been a month since we met Nellie. It’s true what they say: the days are long but the years are short. On one hand it feels like we have been doing this forever, and on the other it’s as if Nellie joined our family yesterday. There’s still so much to learn about each other! Adam and I are more confident as parents, but we are still experiencing new things every second of the day.
Nellie Jay Dinota Linsalata was born on December 7th. Her first name is inspired by turn-of-the-century badass New Yorker Nellie Bly: a pioneer of investigative journalism, world traveler, and philanthropist. Her middle name is in honor of our great grandmothers, Josephine (nicknamed Jay). Both emigrated from Italy and settled in the same small town on Long Island 100 years before Adam and I would meet three states away in Scranton, PA.
She’s our tiny little burrito and we love her so. She is currently sleeping in her bassinet and I have a few minutes (maybe more?) to myself, so I thought I’d reflect on these past few weeks. It’s been such an intense few weeks and I know I’ll want to look back on this one day.
Here are five things I’ve learned in my first month as a mother.
1) Breastfeeding might be natural, but it’s not easy.
Breastfeeding Nellie has by far been the wildest part of this first month. I was completely unprepared for how obsessed I would become with the task. During my pregnancy when people would ask “are you going to breastfeed?” I would usually tell them that I was going to give it a shot. I was pretty laissez-faire about the whole thing — if it worked, great. If it didn’t, I’d find another way to feed my child. (By the way, I don’t recommend asking this question to pregnant women or new mothers.)
Those first couple days in the hospital were actually amazing. Nellie latched pretty well and I felt an immediate sense of confidence that I was able to feed my daughter. The only problem was that I was in pain, a LOT of pain. Nellie was jaundiced, weak and small, so her latch was shallow and my nipples were quickly destroyed. By the time we got home I was a 10/10 pain level while nursing: sweating, crying, and writhing in pain. Our pediatrician gave us a list of lactation consultants and Adam went down the list trying to find someone who could come that day - I needed help immediately or I’d have to find another way to feed Nellie.
The lactation consultant we hired helped - she showed me how to latch better and recommended I stop nursing for a couple days, let my body heal, and start pumping and start finger feeding Nellie (to avoid a bottle until nursing was well established). The strategy worked in that I healed pretty quickly, but I had a lot of trouble getting back to nursing. There were times were Nellie would be screaming and arching away from me and I’d be sobbing crying on top of her trying to feed her - sometimes for 30+ minutes. I couldn’t believe how strong my internal desire was to make it work, and how absolutely crushing it felt that I couldn’t do it. I was miserable; hooked up to a pump while Adam was simultaneously feeding Nellie next to me.
I was determined to make it work (again, totally surprised myself with how passionate I quickly became about this!) and enlisted as much help as I could. It turns out NEARLY ALL NEW MOTHERS struggle with breastfeeding (shout out to the two-hour course I took on breastfeeding that spent exactly zero minutes talking about this). Thanks to my childhood friend Danielle (another professional lactation consultant) who gave me the pep talk of the century, and an army of women on the internet sharing challenges and learnings, I was able to power through and now things are going really well. If I could give any advice to expecting mothers who are considering breastfeeding it would be a) to have a lactation consultant ready before you give birth and b) consider joining a support group - online or in person. I know a good one if you are interested (run by Danielle).
Sometimes when I’m up for those 1am and 4am feedings I wish Adam could step in with a bottle of formula, but I know it’ll be worth it in a few weeks (or months) when she’s sleeping through the night. I enjoy it more than I thought I would, and I’m so glad Nellie and I figured it out together. (Disclaimer: no disrespect to women who pump or give formula. You are also warriors. I just felt this route was the right one for me!)
2) It’s out of my control.
Motherhood (for me) has not been all rainbows and butterflies. I can’t even describe how much my heart sinks when people ask me “so, isn’t it amazing?!”
Um, I would probably chose a lot of different words first. Challenging. Intense. Interesting? Life-changing. Soul-altering. All-consuming.
I love my daughter. And I have loved the little glimpses I’ve gotten of who she will be in these first few weeks — I cannot wait to watch her grow up and interact with her and teach her new things and let her teach me new things. And to be clear, I’m extremely grateful that Nellie and I are both here and both relatively healthy. But the first month has been really tough. She’s completely dependent on me and I’ve never experienced this kind of responsibility before. I can imagine that motherhood really is amazing, but the first few weeks have been HARD.
We’ve also had some (minor) challenges with Nellie’s health. She was jaundiced at the hospital which kept us there an extra day (not a big deal and lots of babies have it, but it was life’s first punch of “you are not in control" that I had to take), and she has terrible acid reflux and gas which has caused some long, colicky evening episodes. She also has a weak/immature windpipe which makes her gasp for air pretty often - especially at night and when she is sleeping on her back. Pretty benign for her, but anxiety-inducing for us. Seeing her in pain and not being able to help is the worst feeling on earth. And it’s not just a mental response, it’s physical for me. The sounds of her crying (even when she’s not hungry) makes my boobs ache, my stomach hurt, and my heart break. The postpartum hormones are real — I am literally, physically, reacting to this little babe.
I remember reading on Alaina’s blog that she tried to shift her mindset around the tough crying episodes to get through them. Crying is the only way newborns are able to communicate with us, so it’s up to us as parents to try and understand what they want to tell us. Is she hungry? Gassy? Is she overstimulated and tired? The first two weeks was a complete guessing game but I am absolutely starting to get the hang of what she needs. On New Years Eve, my mom (the baby whisperer), my aunt, and Adam and I tried for an hour to get Nellie to calm down while she was fighting gas pains, and I finally said “I know what she needs.” I took her outside with a receiving blanket and we stood on the porch with fresh air and the sound of the rain - she finally chilled out and fell asleep in my arms. I was exhausted, but proud.
3) My support system has been my survival and I’m very blessed to have it.
My husband is an incredible partner. I’ve always known it, but there are days when I look at him and say “I could NOT do this alone.” He usually responds with yes you could, and you are, but like, I’m not, and I can’t. Especially during those colicky evenings when Nellie will scream in pain and I want to crawl into a corner and die. If he wasn’t there, it would be so much harder. Single mothers are truly superheroes.
And THANK GOD for my mother. She’s a high-energy human and not usually the calmest cat on the block (sorry mom) but her energy around this baby is so peaceful and in control that it makes me feel human again. Two nights already she has played “night nurse” and kept the baby overnight in her bedroom and only woke me to nurse. I haven’t slept that deeply in over a month and it really keeps you going!
We’ve also had so many friends and family stop by with food, baby snuggles, Seamless / Uber Eats gift cards and words of encouragement. It makes it a lot easier to thrive when you know you have so many people behind you.
4) I’ve never loved and appreciated my body more. Women are amazing!
I had a relatively easy labor and delivery, which gave me a huge advantage in those first couple of weeks and really allowed me to feel strong and confident early on with Nellie. I was terrified of labor for most of my pregnancy. My mother had two emergency C-sections to deliver my brother and I, and I had pretty much convinced myself that the whole thing would be painful, traumatic, and long. It wasn’t.
My water broke while I was sending work emails from my couch at 6:30 p.m. on a Thursday evening — water literally popped and gushed like I had peed myself (very much how you see it in the movies, yet exactly the way doctors tell you it WON’T happen — less than 10% of women have their water break before they are in active labor). A few shots of pitocin, an epidural, and 12 hours later, and Nellie was earthside on Friday morning. Maybe I’ll share my full birth story in a later post.
Afterwards, I was walking around the hospital within hours, in very little pain over the next 24 hours, and literally begged the doctors to let me go home early because I felt so great (they wouldn’t discharge us; more on that later). Three days postpartum I walked 2+ miles around my neighborhood. (I would NOT recommend this, I was prettttyyy sore after). I felt so good over the first couple weeks that I often *forgot* I was still bleeding / recovering. I never considered myself particularly strong physically, but I am still in awe of what my body accomplished in the last month - I carried and delivered a human baby and then sustained her life with nothing more than what my own body was producing. And the biggest shock of all: I ZIPPED UP my pre-pregnancy jeans just two weeks postpartum! I’m still holding on to 10+ extra pounds, but damn if I don’t feel like total babe after 9 months of wearing oversized sweaters and jeans with an elastic waistband.
5) I’ve never been more excited for the future.
If I’m completely honesty, motherhood wasn’t something I always dreamed of. I wasn’t sure I was really called to become pregnant and Adam and I had seriously discussed the possibility of adoption in the future if we ever did decide to grow our family (not because of fertility, but simply because pregnancy did not feel like part of the plan for me). Eventually, we realized that while we didn’t need children today, when we were 70 years old (God willing), we wanted to have 40 year old children, and 10 year old grandchildren. As much as we were content with our life as it was, we wanted our future to be filled with a family that we created. We decided to see what happened and luckily we got pregnant immediately. (This essay by Sheryl Strayed explains it better and spoke to my soul - I have read it countless times over the years - I highly recommend it if you are on the fence about having children!)
Now that I’ve met Nellie I’m so glad we made that choice and I’m so excited for what’s to come. The past week she’s been doing more “awake time” (they are basically asleep the entire first two weeks) and I love being able to “play” with her - even if it is just showing her some black and white photos while she looks at me crosseyed :)
I can’t wait to watch her grow, and teach her about the summer constellations, and take her to the beach, and feed her a croissant in Paris. I can’t wait to hike with her upstate, and dip her toes in the lake for the first time. I can’t wait to kick a soccer ball around with her and show her how to swim. I can’t wait to watch Adam teach her how to fish.
When she was still in my belly Adam and I would play her one of “her songs:” Jimmy Buffet’s Little Miss Magic (and Dave Matthew’s Satellite… damnit Adam). Here’s a little excerpt. (Be prepared to shed a tear if you listen and have / are expecting a daughter!)
Sometimes I catch her dreamin' and wonder where that little mind meanders
Is she strollin' along the shore or cruisin' o'er the broad Savannah
I know someday she'll learn to make up her own rhymes
Someday she's gonna learn how to fly
Oh that I won't deny
I catch a little more dialogue comin' my way
I see those big brown eyes just start to lookin' astray
Your mother's still the only other woman for me
Little Miss Magic, whatcha gonna be?
Little Miss Nellie, whatcha gonna be?