In this column of Mothersphere, we chat with Alexandra Willkie Pasanen, the founder of Willkie’s (an online boutique for mother and child) and mom to two girls Rosie and Etta. Having her first child during Covid and also launching a business with two kids under two years old presented some challenges to Alexandra’s motherhood journey; however, as you’ll read, Alexandra saw the lessons, opportunities, and gifts in all of it. Quick to realize the power of connecting with other new mothers, plus our own mothers, and to find gratitude for the experience of simply being a parent are just some of the key takeaways Alexandra shares in her Mothersphere.
Q: Firstly, can you share with us a little bit about your family? How many members in your tribe? What are their ages and names?
A: Currently, we are a family of four — five if you include our sweet labradoodle, Tony. Me, my husband Zack, and our daughters Rosie (approaching 2.5 years) and Etta (7 months).
Q: Did you know you always wanted to be a mother?
A: Yes! But it wasn’t something I thought about regularly until my late 20s, even despite working in children’s fashion for many years.
Q: Did you consciously conceive or was it an unexpected blessing?
A: All three of my pregnancies were very conscious. After we miscarried, we spent nine months trying to conceive our daughter Rosie. I knew I wanted two very close in age, so we began trying for a second a few months before her first birthday.
Q: We’d love to learn about your pregnancy. How was your experience carrying? What were some of the exciting moments and some of the challenges?
A: My first pregnancy was much easier, physically, than my second. While I spent the first trimester nauseous and vomiting, it had all but cleared up by around 16 weeks. Even during those early days with frequent trips to the office bathroom stalls, I was so excited to be pregnant that powering through the sickness came naturally. I chalked it up to a first test of my “mom strength” and I was proud of myself for keeping my energy and enthusiasm up.
My pregnancy with Etta was incredibly challenging. I threw up multiple times a day until 18 weeks, when I went on prescription anti-nausea medication. I was losing weight and couldn’t keep anything down. I felt guilty and ungrateful. It was a terrible feeling to be pregnant, this thing I wanted so badly, and to be so deeply unhappy.
Once the nausea was under control, I started to enjoy the pregnancy more, but I had to stay on my prescription until the day I gave birth. Looking back, I was depressed during that time. It was excruciatingly hard feeling so awful for so long, and yet, somehow, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Q: Did you feel any major shifts during this period of your life — whether they were physical, social, or spiritual?
A: Yes, yes, yes! I felt so strong being pregnant and loved the feeling of carrying. But it was all-consuming and truthfully, it could feel difficult relating to people that hadn’t been through pregnancy or childbirth as it was — and is — one of the most defining features of my life. I bonded with other women that were “in it” and while it didn’t always feel good to pull back from certain friendships, it was validating to connect with others who were feeling exactly what I was feeling.
Q: What supportive practices and tools did you use to nourish yourself and your growing baby during pregnancy?
A: I had a lot of trouble taking care of myself during my pregnancy with Etta. Having a toddler at home, being so physically unwell, and launching a business meant very little space for myself. My first pregnancy, however, was different. I made time for exercise, which definitely helped me feel strong and prepared for childbirth. I got regular “mama” facials at CAP Beauty in the West Village. I traveled and hiked and read and ate well. For my next pregnancy, I’m going to try to take cues from my first one, not my second.
Q: Birth is incredibly individual. Each mother’s journey will be unique. However, sharing our stories can provide universal insights for other mothers to be. What is one thing you loved about your experience and one thing you’d do differently?
A: I absolutely loved giving birth, both times. I’m eager to do it again. I want, however, to acknowledge that I am fortunate to say this. Birth is not easy. There are so many mothers whose births did not go as they imagined. There is so much more we should learn about the childbirth process and so much more attention that should be given to mothers in this country.
Both my experiences were at NYU Hospital and both girls were delivered by the same doctor. I am privileged to have felt so taken care of, so safe, in the hospital. The feeling of arriving to deliver my babies was joyful. I am blessed to say I wouldn’t change either experience. Not even the 36 hours of contractions (with Rosie), the failed epidural (with Etta), the pushing, the shaking, and the crying. I loved the hospital experience: I enjoyed being surrounded by other birthing mothers; I loved the nurses and appreciated their care and excitement; I valued the assistance I was provided with nursing; I relished the attention that was given not just to me but to my girls.
I’m only six months postpartum, so perhaps I’m still feeling hormonal about it!?
Q: Over the first 40 days of your little one being earthside, how did you feel? Did you have a supportive network around you or did you remain fairly private?
A: Truthfully, the first 40 days of Rosie’s life were fraught with anxiety. Covid came, and in those early days with a baby that was just days old, we were scared. The blessing in disguise was that we left the city, moved in with my parents, and I had their support in those critical first weeks of motherhood. My mom and I bonded in a new way that I will always be grateful for.
Postpartum with Etta was different. With a little one at home, and a new business to manage, there was no “maternity leave.” But in many ways it was also easier. The stress of knowing how to give a bath, swaddle, even change a diaper simply wasn’t there. And I luxuriated in those early newborn snuggles in a way that wasn’t possible the first go around. I understood, this time, that those days were fleeting, so I held on to them even more.
Q: Since becoming a mother how has your self care changed?
A: I have to define self care in a whole different way now. Self care is now five minutes to read a book, five minutes in the car alone, five minutes of silence. And that’s ok, so long as I appreciate those moments, and take them when I need them.
Q: What are some of the resources — be they books, nutrition, practitioners, or rituals that you’d recommend to other expecting moms or mothers in their parenting years?
A: If you are able to do it, I recommend a postpartum doula, particularly for your first pregnancy. There is so much attention paid to the new baby (of course!) so it’s nice to have dedicated support for the new mother. My doula, who unfortunately is no longer practicing, helped me navigate getting out of the house with Rosie for the first time, cooked me nourishing meals (like bone broth and lactation cookies), helped me with pain management, watched Rosie while I took my first shower, and generally validated everything I was feeling.
I also found it helpful to join “mom groups” and to hear from other women who were experiencing, in real time, the exact same things I was experiencing. I was lucky to find one organically, made up of friends and friends of friends, but there are plenty of online resources as well.
I also really loved this book, The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother. Spending time learning about your own experience, not just that of your baby, is empowering.
One piece of advice, if I may, is to not feel the immediate need to see others. I felt pressure with Rosie to have friends and family over immediately, and looking back I was too raw to have so many people in my space. With Etta, I isolated myself a bit more, and that felt really good and peaceful, for both of us.
Q: What rituals or routines do you implement to foster a deeper connection with your little ones? If you are a mom of multiples, do you set time aside to be with each of them individually?
A: I’m not yet at a point with my girls where I can set time aside with each individually, though truthfully I can’t wait for that (and I sense they will love it, too). In the meantime, I think it’s important for my older daughter to learn what it means to have a sister — to sometimes have to stay home, take walks, share time with me, and share books and toys. And for Etta, I think the experience of being around an older sibling has made her so social in a way that Rosie never was. She loves to watch her sister play, she finds her hilarious, smiles at her constantly and just wants to be in her presence.
We have a lot of routines, which both girls respond really well to. Set nap times, meal times, bath times, and bedtimes. These rituals help us all feel grounded, and we all thrive off a sense of consistency.
Q: Motherhood often means finding peace within the chaos. We are big believers in managing our mood in order to show up consistently as the mother we know we are and want to be. What are your favorite products from THE FULLEST Shop that support your mood and help you stay centered?
A: The Warm Feelings™ saffron latte is so delicious. I wish I had known about it in those early postpartum days when I was craving anything warm and nourishing. Drinking it just feels good.
Alexandra Willkie Pasanen is the founder of Willkie’s, an online boutique for mother and child curated from small, sustainable, ethical brands found all over the world. Alexandra spent years working in the New York City fashion and art worlds, before settling in the NYC suburb of Bronxville with her growing family and opening her own business.