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Guilt Culture: An Extra Large Helping for Mothers


mother holding a baby

by Sarah Hughes


Reading the recent press coverage about Rebel Wilson, who had attended a party within a week of her daughter being born via a surrogate, really got me thinking. Infact, it got me questioning what year I was actually living in… because in 2022 did we really have this amount of journalists and social commentators ready to judge a woman over this? And not just male journo’s or online commenters either; the criticism, the sheer outrage came in thick and fast from both sexes.


As a proud UK northerner, I have to tell you that a father going out to the pub with his mates within a week of his baby being born, is not just expected, it’s accepted and applauded. Wetting the baby’s head is entrenched in British culture. But only for the men, you understand. And let me make it clear that I have no problem with this. My ex-husband did it following all three of our sons' births and it really didn’t bother me. It never occurred to me that potentially I could’ve done the same, had I been physically well enough. However after one traumatic labour and two c-sections, I was never in a fit state for at least a month to cross the door for a coffee, never mind head off to dance the night away.


Rebel Wilson however didn’t have anything physically to recover from since her baby was born via a surrogate. She didn’t have pain or discomfort, sore enlarged breasts and the inability to sit down without a rubber ring to consider did she? So what’s to stop her from heading out for a few hours to celebrate the arrival of her daughter?


Amongst the other abuse that has been directed at her is the accusation that she ‘should be at home bonding’ with her child in the first week. Again, I can’t help but draw a comparison to how we treat Dads on this matter. If they go off to the pub to ‘wet the baby’s head’, do we all suddenly worry about their ability to bond with their child? How these few hours of downtime might sabotage their relationship with their baby? No. We do not.


Mothers piled into the comments section of newspapers describing how they could not have been paid to leave their new baby when they were so young. How even with an army of nannies on hand, Rebel shouldn’t want to be separated from her tiny baby. Was there perhaps an element of jealousy here? After all, the rest of us probably don’t have the means, motive or opportunity to attend Leonardo Di Caprio’s birthday bash (whether our child is 10 days old or 10 years old).


There was also a distinct undercurrent of smug superiority from ‘natural’ mothers. As if they undoubtedly felt different from Rebel. As if they loved their children more, due to having carried and birthed said children. My own personal thought reading it was that maybe because Rebel didn’t have all the post-birth anxiety/panic-inducing hormones raging around her system, she was rational enough to know it was perfectly fine and safe to leave her daughter for a few hours. It’s not something I

could’ve done in the first week of any of my sons' lives… but that is because I was largely a crying, hormonal mess.


Whatever your take on this; I can understand to a degree people feeling uncomfortable or conflicted about it. Motherhood, in fact, parenting full stop, is of course a complicated topic. We are all so emotionally invested in it and we are all products of our own upbringing and life experiences. But the bigger question around this to me is about judgement - why do we want women to feel so guilty about

everything? Why do we feel like we need to impart our self-proclaimed wisdom and tell other women how they should be doing it?


Of course, celebrity women are judged more harshly than most, and there’s a school of thought which says, if you put yourself in the public eye you have to be willing to take a lashing of the public’s tongue. I don’t buy into that either… just because Rebel Wilson has been so open about her fertility struggles and about how much she longed for a child, that surely doesn’t give us carte blanche to tell her how to raise that child.


We do it to mothers day in, day out. The judgement. Those ‘selfish’ ones who don’t even try breastfeeding, or the ‘defeatist’ ones who give it up too soon. The ‘overly ambitious’ ones who go back to work too quickly. The’ lazy’ ones who give up their career as soon as they have a kid. The ‘uptight’ ones who won’t let their children eat sugar, the ‘woefully neglectful’ ones who do let their children eat sugar. I’m not saying we can’t have opinions on any of this stuff; of course, we do… of

course, I do. It’s just what we do with those opinions that matter, and how us verbalising (or typing, if you’re a troll) those opinions affects the mother, the human being at the heart of it all.


Studies have shown that there is a direct link between feelings of shame and guilt and the onset of postnatal depression. Having been a new mother three times, I can testify that there is a big old goldmine of guilt stored up inside that Mums can tap into all by themselves, and do, far too frequently. We don’t need the reserves topping up by others around us. And Rebel doesn’t need hers topping up by the world’s media either.

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