So you are having a baby and before the little one arrives you start thinking about how to prepare.
Many people recommended going to an antenatal class like NCT and for a long time we were not sure this was for us. Neither Si or I would come across as shy people, mostly because we aren’t ones to stay quiet and we feel no way to tell people what we think, but in reality the idea of spending time with a bunch of strangers fills the pair of us with dread.
Am I the type of person that feels the need to say something at a conference or work event If I have something to say? Yes. Do I spend the whole time my hand is up waiting to be asked, having a complete panic attack with my heart pumping manically and ending up with a total red face and neck anxiety response? Yes, yes that’s me!
But in the end we decided it was our first kid and it seemed to be the done thing for parents nowadays, so we forked out the £200 for what we imagined would probably be 6 sessions of pure awks.
So NCT- What is it good for? (Absolutely nothing?) Let me walk you through the full experience and set the scene, in case you are also considering this option for yourselves.
The first meeting we head to the community building that the sessions are being held in. We are 15 minutes early because my anxiety at being late means I’m always stupidly early. It’s cold and I’m massively pregnant but the door is closed. I need to pee because at this stage in the game peeing is my talent. We decide to go for a wander. Nothing worse than being outside if someone else is also early and we have to strike up a convo. Fuck that.
We wander the streets like weirdos and head back with 5 minutes to spare. Still early but the NCT teacher lady (Yvette) lets us in and we are directed to a little kitchenette to make ourselves a drink. You know those little kitchens you get in community centres and little staff rooms?! There are teas and coffee and biscuits. Another couple come in as I’m making our tea. Si has gone to the toilet. I say hi. I want to take a biscuit but I don’t know what the biscuit etiquette is. Are they free to take? I don’t want to be the one to break the seal. I waddle through and sit down with our tea. The other couple come through with mouths full of beautiful biscuits and a spare in hand. I am both annoyed and jealous but I cant very well get up and go get one now I’d look like a weirdo. I will send Si on this important mission on his return!
That first meeting was all ice breaker games and introductions. It is all rather cringe and I’m sure everyone probably feels the same way.
On the way home on the bus Si and I discuss our thoughts. What did we think of the other couples? Who were our faves and who were we not so sure of? We were pretty certain that none of them were 100% our kind of peeps. General consensus was it was all very secondary school drama club and we weren’t at all sure it was for us. Everyone seemed so posho. Everyone was married. Everyone owned a house. We were none of those things and I felt we stuck out. Not at all helped by the fact we look like raving hippies!
But week by week it got slightly better, more bearable and less awkward as we got to know people more. There became a sense of comradery in the group. A collective belonging. A group mentality, even if it still was the most awkward and you dreaded each task and who you may be paired up with.
Week by week we did more activities to help us learn stuff, to challenge our pre-existing views and test our knowledge. Each session would start with some kind of icebreaker such as looking at photos and giving catchphrases or taking in turns to share some funny pregnancy anecdote. And then we would be put in pairs or groups to do an activity. You know how it is at these kind of things when they insist on separating you and mixing you up so you are working with somebody new each time? I fucking hate that. It’s the bloody worst. But of course the method behind the madness is to force you to make connections with other members of the group.
I often felt I wasn’t really learning anything I didn’t already know, like learning about different birth methods and pain relief. Or how to lay a baby in the cot. It was all kind of common sense and I didn’t automatically see the value in it. There were a number of times I felt a bit robbed of my precious 200 quid. And I also couldn’t see why people I actually liked and respected had urged me to go through this and had raged about how ace NCT was.
I remember one session the men and women were separated into different groups. I remember Simons face of despair. A whole entire session where we would have to hang with the others. This session was an interesting one as it really enabled everyone to connect in a different way. The tasks were all around the assumptions of each partner. The guys all had to carry rucksacks on their front with the equivalent weight of a baby to feel what it was like. It was actually an amusing and fun time and you could see something was shifting in everyone.
There was also a lot of real dumb stuff we had to do too. Ideas that seemed great and amazing at the time but were absolutely pointless. Like using imaginary candle blowing as a way to manage the pain, buying LED candles to add mood lighting and a sense of Zen to the birthing room, blowing bubbles to manage breathing and making a hospital birth playlist.
I kid you not I spent many hours leading up to the big day creating this epic hospital mix of all the empowering, uplifting and zen tunes for the birth on my ipad and packing packs of bubble mix. And do you think those even came out of the bag? Please. I think if Si had suggested music or blowing any fucking bubbles I would have lost my mind.
I can say with certainty after discussing this with all the other NCT mums, we all came back with hospital bags of unused bubbles and fake candles.
Great ideas I was thankful for the NCT classes suggesting were to make a birth plan and to always question any suggestions from the professionals. Making a birth plan together really allowed Si and I to explore what we wanted and why. It enabled us to think fully through our ideal scenario and have a clear idea of our expectations and desires, free of the stress that comes in the moment of labour. It meant we went in clear of our intentions, our non negotiables and allowed for Simon to truly advocate for me in the absence of my capacity to think or speak for myself.
What the classes slowly did was empower me. Empower us. Help us to make informed decisions about what we actually wanted and let us know we were in charge. I recall vividly one class where we talked about physical interventions and challenging what medical professionals say around a sweep, induction, pain relief and other interventions. Being told the words “and what happens if I don’t?” As a tool to help you make informed choice at the time didn’t seem a big deal but in reality was everything.
It meant I went into the whole birth experience feeling I was in charge and I could ask questions and refuse actions that were not necessarily needed. It meant that when it all went Pete Tong and I needed an emergency episiotomy and vontouse and forceps delivery Simon could request delayed cord clamping on our behalf as I was in too much distress to be thinking.
So is NCT worth the money it costs? It is a large investment before a child comes alongside the already large expense of essential baby items. The answer to this depends what you want from it. Did I learn a lot of information I didn’t know and couldn’t have looked up with the help of good old faithful google? Nope, not really.
But the friendship and support it provided in the long term was priceless!
We started off and indeed ended the classes doubting any long term friendships were on the cards. They were all nice enough people but we weren’t sure we really had anything in common other than expecting babies and when one of the mums made a WhatsApp group for the mums-to-be I remember Si laughing at the fact I may have to endure long term chats with the mum group and me dreading the whole thing.
I can’t tell you when it changed but suddenly it did. Those weeks where we all started giving birth were filled with excitement and anxiety and there were people to share it with.
Those early nights with your first baby when you are sat up in bed trying to latch the baby and your nipples feel like they are being shredded by a cheese grater and you are in fear of taking your first dump for the pain that will ensue, there is always another mum sat up on their own also sending hate daggers at their sleeping partner who will answer your message.
When your baby gets a rash or has some weird poop there is a group of people who are happy to look at all your photos and think with you. People you can share your angry feelings, your fears and anxieties with and that will absolutely understand and rally behind you. It’s like having your own little cheerleading squad.
Maybe I was just lucky with the bunch I got but during the maternity leave it was a relief to have a once a week meet. One day a week I knew I would get out. Where it didn’t matter if I was an hour late because the baby was wailing and wouldn’t settle. Where I could shove a burger in my mouth and down a glass of wine with my baby on my boob and no judgements. Where if I hadn’t managed to eat yet due to feeding or the baby crying, someone would cut my food up for me to eat one handed or hold the baby for me.
Yes it may be the ‘purchasing’ of the most expensive mates you would probably never choose in normal circumstances but that company in maternity leave and support network was worth every penny.
And yes, like all my mates said, 5 years on we are still in contact. Yes some of us are closer than others and that’s to be expected but we shared something monumental. And it doesn’t matter that we may have different parenting styles and values or ways of looking at the world. Because the collective experience of motherhood and the friendships it has afforded both us and our children transcends that.
And that original WhatsApp group still lives on to this day.
Images taken from Unsplash and Pixabay (no real pictures of my fellow NCT parents or kiddos here!).