Reclaiming memories of motherhood

Families enjoy Ocean Grove beach, circa 1950s. Created by Rose Stereograph Co. Courtesy of State Library Victoria. 159670

IF you became a mother between 1945 and 2015 and had your first child while living in Ocean Grove, local historian Dr Carla Pascoe wants to hear from you.
Dr Pascoe is seeking participants who would like to be interviewed about their experiences of early motherhood.
A lot of things have changed about raising children and becoming a mother since the 1950s. We no longer ban expectant fathers from labour wards in case they become a nuisance during childbirth. We don’t tell breastfeeding mothers to drink plenty of stout to increase their milk supply. We don’t put whiskey in a baby’s bottle to help them sleep longer. And we don’t expect new mothers to know everything about looking after a baby by instinct.
There have also been a lot of social and economic changes to Australian motherhood since the end of WWII. The median age at which women have their first child has risen from 23 to 30 years of age. Technology has given Australians more control over whether they have children and when they have children. More women are combining motherhood with paid work than ever before. And Australian families have become much more diverse – we now have more single parents, divorced parents, same sex parents, step parents and unmarried parents.
But what about the experience of becoming a mother for the first time? Has this changed over the past 70 years? The truth is, we know very little about whether the feelings, perspectives and everyday experiences of new mothers have changed.
We do know that the lives of mothers in the early 21st century seem to be more complicated as they often juggle work and mothering in a difficult balance. We also know that there is more parenting advice available than ever before and that some new mothers find this
confusing. There are more women diagnosed as suffering from perinatal depression or anxiety.
But does this mean that women find it harder to become a mother now than they did in the mid-20th century? Or rather that we are more comfortable talking about the challenges of motherhood than we were in the past?
Dr Pascoe of the University of Melbourne is exploring these questions in her research project. She is carrying out interviews with women who became mothers between 1945 and 2015 in three different Victorian locations: Fitzroy, Malvern and Ocean Grove.
Carla is also collecting other historical sources relating to motherhood, including letters and diaries that talk about experiences of motherhood or old family photos of mothers and children.
If you would like to be involved or to find out more about the project, contact Carla at or on 8344 1520.