Motherhood is hard. 7 things I wish I knew before becoming a mom

From "mommy brain" and pseudo-menopause to finding a village, the process of becoming a mother is more than just reading the baby books.

Preparing for motherhood is more than just reading the baby books. (Image provided by Elizabeth Di FIlippo)
Preparing for motherhood is more than just reading the baby books. (Image provided by Elizabeth Di FIlippo)

I thought I did my best to prepare myself for motherhood. I read all the baby books, I downloaded the app that compared my son to fruit, brushed up on CPR and sought the guidance of friends who had breached the exhausting unknown before me. But for all the research and crowdsourcing for which stroller or car seat to buy, everything I was learning was how to care for a baby and had nothing to do with how to care for myself as a new mother.

My first year of motherhood was nothing like I expected it to be. I was completely unprepared for the emotional upheaval and identity shift that took place. From the moment I gave birth in 2022, I’ve felt as though I’ve been walking two separate journeys: one as a mother to my son and the other as someone trying to navigate motherhood. One is full of laughter, love and gratitude that I have such a beautiful boy, while the other is filled with self doubt, guilt and loneliness.

When I think back to my pregnancy or those early days of motherhood, there are so many things I wish I had known or planned for — here are 7 of them.

Throughout my pregnancy I frequently voiced my concerns and fears to my midwife, who assured me that I was an anxious first time mom and that everything would be fine.

My labour and delivery was nothing like I had imagined. I was in labour for 48 hours and sustained a hip injury during the two hours I spent pushing — then my son was born not breathing. The first week in the NICU was a blur as Max fought off an unknown infection. There were no photos from the day he was born, no “golden hour” skin to skin moment that I had dreamed of; the day he was born was the scariest day of my life.

Max on his first days home after eight days in the NICU. (Image provided by Elizabeth Di Filippo)
Max on his first day home after eight days in the NICU. (Image provided by Elizabeth Di Filippo)

Eventually, I was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from birth trauma, something approximately 45 per cent of all new mothers experience. but that didn’t ease the anger I continue to feel about the situation.

Information eases my anxiety; I wish I had asked my healthcare provider to walk me through the plan for different scenarios that could have occurred. I understand that many people don’t want to share stories of complications out of fear of frightening pregnant women — but without knowledge or guidance to support NICU parents or people with birth trauma, the newly formed family begins at a deficit.

Before becoming a mom I had heard about “mommy brain” but had no idea how frustrating postpartum brain fog would be. In the weeks after my son was born, I was losing my train of thought mid conversation, forgetting words and having trouble concentrating or processing information to the extent that I would find myself Googling “Is forgetting your home address after having a baby normal?”

In a previous interview with Yahoo Canada, Dr. Diane Francoeur an OBGYN and the CEO of The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada said the dramatic hormone drop after childbirth impacts the body drastically.

Max after a week in the NICU. (Image provided by Elizabeth Di FIlippo)
Max after a week in the NICU. (Image provided by Elizabeth Di FIlippo)

"You have to realize that when you have your baby, especially if you breastfeed, your ovaries are not working anymore,” Francoeur explained. “It’s like you have menopause. You may have a change in your body temperature and you sometimes have memory loss.”

“Once you deliver, it’s like your hormones shut down. Your thyroid gland will work differently, your ovaries are not going to be working for six weeks," Francoeur said. "It’s all going to come back when you start sleeping again, but it’s normal that all of these changes are happening all at once.”

Every expectant parent has heard the “sleep now while you can” jokes and as well meaning as they may be, sleep is something I would encourage new parents to make a priority. Although there’s a certain level of fatigue to be expected with postpartum life, poor sleep quality and sleep deprivation can have serious impacts on maternal mental health. Poor sleep quality has been associated with postpartum depression and other mood disorders like postpartum psychosis — with mothers with a history of depression and anxiety at a higher risk.

Waking up every 2 hours to pump or feed makes it hard to have a good night’s rest. I hit a wall a few weeks after Max was born where I was so tired I was in tears. That’s when I started asking my family to watch the baby while I slept. I felt like a failure asking for help; like my exhaustion meant I somehow wasn’t “built” for motherhood.

Finding my stride in motherhood took longer than I expected. (Image provided by Elizabeth Di Filippo)
Finding my stride in motherhood took longer than I expected. (Image provided by Elizabeth Di Filippo)

I wish I had set a plan in place ahead of time to prioritize sleep or even considered making myself a priority after having a baby, because as soon as help was in place to help me sleep, I felt like a different person. I wish I knew that it’s not selfish to prioritize sleep, it’s essential.

Whenever I thought about the postpartum period during pregnancy, my concerns were focused on how I was going to feel physically. Was I going to take a long time to heal? Would I be able to breastfeed? What would my body look like? Although those were valid concerns, adjusting to my new identity has been an ongoing process I didn’t anticipate. The mental shift of protecting your child while trying to move through the world and relationships as if you were still the same person felt overwhelming. I didn’t and still don’t know how to blend all the parts of me together into motherhood, but it’s a process I’m learning is common for many women.

In the ‘70s, medical anthropologist Dana Raphael coined the term “matrescence” to describe the emotional, physical and psychological process of becoming a mother. Aurélie Athan, a reproductive psychologist at Columbia University, told HuffPost in 2023 that the period is similar to adolescence and at its core, “a worldview” change that takes time and compassion.

Want to share your parenting journey? Contact us at and you could be featured in an upcoming Yahoo Canada article.

Note to self: Take more photos with the baby awake. (Image provided by Elizabeth Di Filippo)
Note to self: Take more photos with the baby awake. (Image provided by Elizabeth Di Filippo)

Understanding that it will take time for me to become this new version of myself and that it’s a common process in development has helped ease some of my fears. I’m in my awkward stage of motherhood — and that’s OK. It won’t feel like this forever.

When I had my son, I wasn’t just looking at the world around me through the lens of motherhood, I was looking back at my past as well. I was caught off guard by the deep sadness I felt for my younger self, who was exposed to certain things at far too young an age. There were times when my feelings spiraled into anger and I found myself turning to my parents with conversations that were long overdue. The maternal instincts weren’t just kicking in for my son, they were kicking in for me, too.

I'm learning to channel my hurt into compassion for myself and my childhood. Healing is a process; my new life experiences unlock emotions and insights that touch every aspect of both my past and present — and it's a gut punch.

When I was born, both sets of my grandparents were retired and lived less than 30 minutes away. My mom had access to a built-in support network that were fixtures in my life on a daily basis. Now? My son’s grandparents are still working and some live on the other side of the world; although my mom, my mother-in-law and extended family help out when they can, my support network is much different than the one my parents had 36 years ago.

Max at 6 months old. (Image provided by Elizabeth Di Filippo)
Max at 6 months old. (Image provided by Elizabeth Di Filippo)

Having access to help is a luxury. During my postpartum period I was grateful to have a postpartum doula, who helped me navigate the early stages of motherhood and PTSD. It was an expense, but with busy schedules and commitments, she was who I turned to for assurance, companionship and support.

The adage “it takes a village” can take into account different forms of community. My “village” became a mishmash of family, paid help and group texts with friends specifically about motherhood. The “Baby Chat” text thread would ping with new messages at 3 a.m. while we were all up for late-night feeds. It wasn’t in-person support, but it was a lifeline nonetheless.

Motherhood can be exhausting and overwhelming at times, but the joy of watching your child grow, learn and laugh is unparalleled.

There's so much emphasis on preparing for a baby, and not enough emphasis on preparing for motherhood. I wish I had known that pregnancy and early postpartum period required attention and preparation for both of us, and that motherhood is a continuation of my own development that will never be complete.

There have been so many things about becoming a mom that have been a surprise, but the one thing that has sustained me through the hurdles I may face internally is the love I have for my son. I don't think of my son as a cause for any of the hard parts of motherhood, those feel completely separate from him. Motherhood is my journey, but loving Max is a joy and privilege.

Let us know what you think by commenting below and tweeting @YahooStyleCA! Follow us on Twitter and Instagram.