How Melissa Gorga Changed After 12 Seasons on ‘RHONJ’ (Exclusive)

On May 16, 2011, Melissa Gorga made her official debut as a housewife on The Real Housewives of New Jersey. Now, 12 seasons later, the reality star is looking back at how far she’s come.

In an exclusive conversation with PEOPLE, Melissa says that there’s one important change she’s made in her personality since making her mark on the Bravo show 13 years ago.

“My confidence for sure,” she explains, noting how she’s adopted a carefree attitude. “I truly just say and do what I’m really feeling where my first couple seasons, I was also a very young girl.”

(L-R) Jacqueline Laurita, Teresa Giudice, Caroline Manzo, Kathy Wakile and Melissa Gorga on ‘Real Housewives of New Jersey’.

Tommy Garcia/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty

The television personality recalls how she had to juggle raising her then-newborn son, Joey, as well as her other toddler children. At the time, her daughter Antonia was four and her other son Gino was two.

In addition to being a “young mom,” Melissa says she was balancing the show on top of taking care of a household with “an Italian husband” [Joe Gorga] and her in-laws while her immediate family was living “an hour and a half away.”

“I think about that time now,” she continues. “Now that I’m a 40-year-old woman, I am thinking back and I’m just like, wow. How did you do all of that? Navigate all of these rocky [waters] that were presented to me and do it on reality TV. I mean, that was quite a time and raise three babies.”

“I had zero help when I started The Real Housewives of New Jersey, I didn’t have people living with me and helping me. I was doing it on my own,” she adds.

(L-R) Margaret Josephs, Melissa Gorga and Jackie Goldschneider on ‘The Real Housewives of New Jersey’.
Eugene Gologursky/Bravo

In fact, Melissa would even sometime ask the camera crew, “Can you just hold off one second?” before running to the bus stop to pick up her children after school.

“The camera crew would sit around and wait for me to run to the bus stop and I giggle because I made it work,” she smiles. “I made it work at the time.”

Fans of RHONJ have watched the ebb and flows of Melissa’s personal life for more than a decade. Bravo diehards know how she and her sister-in-law and costar Teresa Giudice have traded insults in between uneasy stretches of peace for family’s sake over the years.

(L) Melissa Gorga and Teresa Giudice on ‘The Real Housewives of New Jersey”.
Greg Endries/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank

Years of misunderstandings, plus business dealings between Teresa’s now-husband Luis “Louie” Ruelas and Joe had put a strain in their relationship, but things only got worse throughout season 13 when attempts were made to repair it.

The season ultimately ended with Joe and Melissa deciding not to attend Teresa’s wedding after it was revealed she and Louie had met with Joe behind Melissa’s back to tell Joe about cheating rumors they’d heard involving Melissa (Melissa has vehemently denied the “baseless” allegations).

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While the two haven’t quite mended fences, Melissa tells PEOPLE that she’s focusing on her peace and has no plans to continue their drama.

“There’s just no need,” she said of her relationship with Teresa. “It’s just, that ship has sailed and I’m okay with it. My family’s okay with it.”