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Mixed Messages of Motherhood: Sifting Through the Static

Author Caitlin Scholl begins her quest to pierce through the mixed messages surrounding modern moms.

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It’s an understatement to say I was excited when, at 33, I was pregnant for the first time. The baby I was growing was very much wanted because – for as long as I could remember – I just assumed: 

Someday, I’ll be a mother. 

This assumption was probably the result of subtle brainwashing, of course – from my earliest caregivers (no doubt all mothers themselves), to the books I read, the movies I saw, and the lives of people around me. And for decades, I never questioned this message. It seemed natural as rain. 

[Cue symphony]:

Girls grow up to be mothers. This is how the world goes round. Simple. Beautiful. Sacred. 

~ me & my mom, 1986 ~

Like many women I know, I started babysitting when I was around 10 or 11, and over the years worked on and off as a nanny and camp counselor. I thought of myself as a “kid person,” prided myself on my ongoing interest in education and child development, and even taught middle school for a few years out of college. All of these experiences I used as a kind of inner ammunition: I’ll be a great mom! I know how to do this!

And like so many mothers today, all the assumptions I made about what it would be like were either challenged or woefully dismantled from day one. 

Whomever I thought I was, or would be as a mom, was suddenly… different. And for awhile after my daughter was born – years in fact, which is far too long – I felt a sense of unease about my identity, which morphed quickly into self-questioning, disappointment, and negative self-talk: 

~ I should be feeling better ~ This should be natural ~ I need to be a better mother, worker, partner, lover, artist, PERSON ~

~ me & my daughter, 2017 ~

It wasn’t until my second (and last) pregnancy, that I started to really examine what was underlying my difficulty with motherhood, a rite of passage I had looked forward to for most of my life. 

What I found was not so much a problem with myself, but rather a steady stream of mixed messages flying at me from directions. (Goodbye #coolmom, hello #postpartumanxiety.) The spoken and unspoken directives I received about motherhood from my family, my friends, my community, my co-workers and collaborators, my partner, my Instagram feed, mainstream media and society at large were… 

Debilitating. 

Contradictory. 

Often internalized and arising from my own inner space. 

Impossible to weed through and come out the other side with any semblance of a complete, whole self.

Which is why I’m writing this column. I just gave birth to my son three months ago, and part of the healing I’m doing this time around includes a deep dive into the many, many mixed messages that modern moms face. 

I want to explore how we might pierce through the static, shine a light on false assumptions and impossible standards, and create a lighter sense of being for the wild and brave humans who are birthing and raising the next generation. 

Mamas, I see you. 

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