I reflected on how much I missed “Us” (me and my husband) in this article, just a few weeks after our daughter was born. It was a whirlwind of change that knocked the wind right out of me.

I missed my pre-baby life and I was racked with guilt because of it.

It’s taken over a year, but I’m finally able to put some definition around why that season felt so. . .clunky. And it comes down to this: We didn’t feel like a family yet.

Before Ella, we were a couple. A group of friends may or may not have given us the nickname “Niclicia” (Nick + Alicia). Running errands felt more like a fun outing with my husband. We loved brunch on the weekends and spontaneous weekend trips to nearby destinations. And we loved dreaming together about the future—where we would live, what we would do … and of course, how many kids we would have.


In the time immediately following Ella’s birth, we no longer felt like a couple—it was more like two adults playing some sort of tag-team game of caring for our precious baby and helping the other one stay sane and/or get some sleep.

It felt like a 24/7 job with no real breaks.

In my rawest moments, I felt threatened that our marriage would dissolve into an endless list of things to do, chores to complete, bills to pay. Bye-bye, spontaneous life of adventure and fun. See you later, weekend brunch. Bye-bye, best friend and love of my life. See you when we retire.

My breaking point came on a Saturday morning when I said goodbye to my husband as he left for the grocery store. That was something we did together before a baby. Now it was one more thing among many things that completely changed. It became a chore. At the time, we felt like couldn’t bring our newborn outside of our home because she was so very tiny.

But looking back, I think the reason we struggled was much bigger and simpler than that: We just didn’t know what we were doing.

And we were scared to death we would mess it up.

Any veteran parent will recognize that we were in the throes of the 4th-trimester. Baby blues, mama’s recovery, and zero sleep for everyone makes your heart raw and vulnerable at depths you didn’t know were possible. Your emotions run wild and you find yourself ugly crying for things as strange as your mother-in-law showing your son the basement for the first time and you didn’t get to (true story of a friend of mine).

My body had adapted and grown and shaped itself to forming my daughter while my husband cheered me on. Now, it was both of us adapting and growing and being shaped into parents. It’s a shaping of the soul and one that stretches you to the brink of yourself, only for you to find more strength than you ever thought you had. It’s a sweet and difficult transformation.

And make no mistake—it is a transformation. Before I became a mother, I thought it just happened like a light switch. Poof, hello mama! Poof, hello daddy! In retrospect, it seems laughable—how can the deep and holy calling of parenthood happen with the flick of a switch? How can a marriage of two souls shift to become the foundation for a new life in an instant? Like so many beautiful things in life, these things can only happen over time. With lots of mistakes and learning, tears and laughter.

And the component I was missing the most when this crazy journey began: grace and patience with my husband and myself.

Fast forward to this past fall: my newborn baby girl has evolved into a little toddler, with a handful of teeth and an ever-emerging personality. My husband and I are slowly bringing back date nights. We are watching the Mommy and Daddy emerge within the other, which brings a new depth of love and appreciation to our marriage.

And we've learned that there's no fight worth having when the baby wakes up at 1am screaming—each of us (baby and parents) are monsters in the wee hours in the morning.

My husband and I just power through with silent determination, knowing we'll all wake up human in the morning.

The other Saturday, we woke up early (because toddlers don’t know how to sleep in) and made coffee. We let Ella stay in her pajamas and play on the floor while we piled onto the couch, chatting about the week that was. Then we stuck her in the stroller and walked 2 blocks to the grocery store. Ella coo’d and watched us as we picked out produce, bread, and eggs. We packed up our groceries in the stroller and headed back home. She insisted on helping carry the load, so she held onto one of her new food packets.

It was an autumn morning and there was a breeze that kicked up the golden leaves that blanketed the sidewalk. We were going in and out of chatting with each other while baby-talking to Ella when my husband paused, looked at me with a smile, and said, “Can you believe it? This is our family. This is our life."

This is the New Us.

Ella belongs to us, we belong to her. We are a family.

And I write this knowing that this family thing is an ever-evolving process. We will evolve again with each milestone, and we will remold ourselves when another little one comes along.

The greatest victory in it all was learning that there is no finish line, no way to check all the boxes that I've “made it” in motherhood. My mom always says “As soon as you figure something out about your baby, they change on you.” That’s still true—but we’ve gotten better at adapting. Or at least, not being as surprised when the changes come along.

It isn't a light switch, it's a potter’s wheel.

One that will shape what we know as Us again and again and again.

Photo credit: Sri & Jana Photograpy in Chicago.

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When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.


The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.

As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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