If you were passing a hospital on Saturday you might have heard such a roar from the maternity ward you'd have thought you were outside Hampden Park.
But fret not: it was less likely to have been a cry of agony than a shout of approval for Kirstie Allsopp, grande dame of the property ladder, who had earned herself a big cheer. Although I rarely agree with schoolmarmish Allsopp, she was as wise as an oracle when she opined in an interview that childbirth and motherhood have become "terrifyingly political". Thanks to what she described as a national obsession with pregnancy, birth and childcare, mothers are criticised for taking pain relief during childbirth, having caesarians, or feeding their infants formula rather than breast milk. Such flak, she said, is basically "anti-women", and contributes enormously to the guilt mothers already feel.
In commenting on this, I'm all too aware that, having never had children I'm yet another bystander airing their views on this most personal of matters. What gives me the right, you might say, to offer any opinion? And you'd have a point. But by that measure childcare guru Gina Ford ought never to have written a word, nor should an institution of celibates like the Catholic Church dare pronounce on family life or offer advice to mothers and couples. Clearly, like it or not, everybody wants their say on this subject.
For me, the most significant word in Allsopp's complaint was guilt. In the past three decades, a flayed conscience has become an essential part of motherhood, a trend that shows no sign of abating. A recent survey, for instance, showed that lack of sleep caused by young children was a factor in a third of couples' break-ups. Not getting into a disciplined bedtime regime with your offspring could thus ruin your relationship. If a bawling baby doesn't keep you awake, that thought surely will.
Watching harassed women pushing prams, or dropping children at school on their way to work, it seems to me that these mothers are not so much running on empty as fuelled by guilt, much of it unnecessary. To listen to pundits and experts, though, you'd think that bringing up children is a science, not an art.
Most expectant women keep silent until their three-month scan, but if I were them, I'd make no announcement until I was in the delivery room, so keen are people to tell them what to eat, drink, and how to behave. That's as nothing, though, to the deluge of comments once the infant has arrived, a period of unsolicited consultation that can last upwards of 18 years when everyone – grandparents, siblings, bus passengers and the Tesco delivery driver – feels at liberty to chip in.
Having a baby has always been nerve-wracking. But whereas the very real fears of the birth that once haunted women have largely been allayed, they have been replaced by a steeplechase of post-partum hurdles that grows higher every year. Meanwhile, fathers are still applauded for taking any active part in parenting, and inadequate dads rarely given a dressing-down. That distinction is reserved for women.
A degree of parental guilt is healthy, of course, nature's way of making sure a child is well cared for. It is, however, neither natural nor right for motherhood to become a playground for commentators and theorists, a lion's den in which women, when at their most emotionally and physically vulnerable, are effectively torn apart. There have always been bad mothers, and always will be, but the majority are not only good but, by comparison with earlier generations, extraordinary. Mums now are as knowledgeable as midwives, as perceptive as psychiatrists, and as eagle-eyed as snipers.
A few generations ago, bringing up children was seen as a chore as well as a delight. Family life was not fetishised as it now is, nor were women made to feel terrible if they started to look like mums rather than models. Today, however, with so much medical, psychological, and educational advice to absorb, from pre-natal to post-graduate days, it's no wonder modern mothers are exhausted. What they deserve is credit, not censure. There are plenty of other good targets crying out for that.
We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules, which are available here.
Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.