To NCT or not to NCT, that is the question.

Not that I have that many but, newly pregnant friends will often ask whether I recommend them going to NCT classes (just to clarify, I mean I don’t have very many pregnant friends!). I know it’s an issue of contention & I suppose, I have two answers. The first is ‘YES!’ with a caveat of ‘Maybe not’!

Allow me to elaborate:

I genuinely believe nothing could prepare you for having a baby & the prospect of your life changing irrecognisably. When I discovered I was having a baby, I only had one friend in my close-circle who already had a child & at this point, she was 3. I had never changed a nappy, never given a bottle, never bathed a baby & had no idea where to start. Although I always saw myself having babies in the ‘video montage of my perfect life’ that I like to imagine sometimes, I wouldn’t describe myself as particularly maternal & on the odd occasion an acquaintance had a baby & I went to visit, I would hold the new arrival like a bomb & give them back to their mummies as soon as they cried, wee’d poo’d or puked!

Our local NHS did offer ante-natal sessions. I say ‘sessions’ but it was session. Singular. It was also on a Friday, when both Mr T & I would be at work, so were unable to attend. I did’t personally feel that a 3 hour session would be anywhere near enough time to get to drips with the monumental change that was upon us & so we looked to the NCT for an alternative.

We paid around £150 for the course of classes, which – if memory serves me rightly – was 6 weeks long & included one class a week & also a full day one weekend. Immediately, this rules out some couples, as £150 is a reasonable amount of money at the best of times, not least when you’re buying all of the paraphernalia that a newborn needs & staring down the barrel of crappy maternity pay in the not-too-distant-future. We decided it was was worth it & I am so glad we did. I was already off work, with SPD by the time our classes started, so I had taken ages to get ready, before Mr T got home from work, as leaving the house was a novelty for me at that point! I wanted to look as nice as my ever-expanding shape would allow & even put make-up on for the first time in months.

I still vividly remember walking into the nursery where the class was being held & sizing up the group – literally; to see if my bump was about standard size! It felt like the first day of school again & I will admit, I was hoping people would like us. Our group was made up of 7 couples, including us & everyone seemed a bit apprehensive that first night. Our ‘teacher’, Lucy, was lovely & straight away made everyone feel at ease & the first night we talked about our hopes, fears & outcomes for the course & wrote them all down, plus things we particularly wanted to discuss. Lucy re-visited these regularly to check that we had covered what we wanted & was keen that the group set the agenda, along side her planned sessions. It was so good to find that the other couples had the same fears & apprehensions as we did & I left feeling like we’d made a good decision.

The next session was about actual labour & ‘what to expect’ – with explanations of the various hormones, what jobs they did & how they might make you feel. Lucy was very much of the view that being armed with information is empowering & I have to say I agree, so it was useful to know what may happen at each stage & I think the husbands/partners felt is was useful for them too, as they had a vague idea of what the stages of labour could look like (& why your wife or partner may be alternately swearing at you & wanting a cuddle in 5 minute intervals!).

The following week, we talked about what has got the NCT such a bad press recently; interventions. I knew by the start of the course that Little T was breech & I had been told a c-section was a possibility if that remained the case, so I had asked to discuss that. We went though all of the various methods of pain relief & were given the pros & cons of each. I will admit, the talk of interventions actually concerned me, because my take-out was that pethidine made you sick, too sleepy to push & possibly made the baby sleepy too so would affect bonding; an epidural could mean that labour is harder because you are overriding the pain sensors & you might not feel when you need to push & if you ended up needing a general anaesthetic & an emergency section, you’d be knocked out, not have skin-to-skin contact & not bond & if you have a non-emergency section, you may not get milk & – again – bonding may be affected. Forceps can be dangerous, as can checking the baby’s heart rate by attaching the probe to their head & ventouse can cause bruising on the baby.  I just thought this was the case as I assume any labour that doesn’t need interventions is better than one that does, for all involved, but with hindsight, I do think the cons of all far outweighed the pros, which for all of them is that they are there if needed for a safe delivery.

After this, we talked about birth plans & having control over your labour & interventions. We wrote what we would like & – after the intervention session – I wanted the stork to come down & place a baby under the mulberry bush at the bottom of the garden!

The last few weeks, we looked at bathing, nappies, poo & feeding. The lady who took our breastfeeding session told us all ‘If it hurts, you’re not doing it right – you just need to persevere’ & I have a vivid memory of wanting to hunt her down & put firecrackers in her bra about 3 days after Little T was born! We also got to ‘meet a baby’ in the last session – one of the couples from the previous course brought in their daughter & we were allowed free reign to ask whatever we wanted. This was worth it’s weight in gold. The daddies also went off with the new dad & asked him their frank questions & Mr T confirms it was invaluable for him too. At one point, Nina, the new mum in question managed to hold her baby, take a Tommee Tippee flask from her bag, pour in the water to warm the bottle & put the bottle in there all with one hand – I now know that 4 of us bought the same flask, based on this demonstration that she hadn’t been aware she was doing! Mr T & I took Little T back in to the next group, to do the same thing & answer some of their ‘real questions’ & thoroughly enjoyed it.

The reality was that not a single member of our group had a birth experience anything like the birth plan they had produced. I did – & still do – feel a bit of a failure for having a c-section, especially when I tell people it was planned, as they think I was ‘too posh to push’. Whether this feeling comes from attending NCT, I will never know, but I know some of the other members from our class feel disappointed that they didn’t get the rose-tinted version they ad hoped for. I do feel it’s great to have a plan, but that the plan should be flexible & subject to change, based on the situation & the health of both mother & baby. What I have heard of happening is mums refusing interventions because of horror stories they’ve been told at NCT classes & I hugely object to that – although some common sense has to be used in the situation where a doctor or midwife is advising you what is best, versus what you learned in NCT class. A little information is a wonderful thing, but too much can – literally – prove fatal.

We still see four of the couples (well three & a half, one is no longer a couple) that we met that dark, damp Thursday night in November & our lives are better for it. We even went away for the weekend with 3 of them (& babies). We are all very different & have different ways of doing things, but life would be boring if we were all the same. Actually, the fact that we’re all doing things differently & our children are turning out fine is testament to the fact that there’s no ‘right way’ to parent. We have frequently been able to pick each others’ brains if something is challenging us & because our babies are all a very similar age, chances are one of the others is having or has had the same problem. The information we learned about ‘baby blues’ actually came in useful for me too, as I felt totally overwhelmed by motherhood & cancelled meeting the other girls two weeks in a row. The third week I cancelled, they turned up on my doorstep anyway, as they said it sounded like I needed a hug. I cried for two hours & so did they, as we all admitted to feeling similar, which was a massive relief to me.

We celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary recently & I commented how these people – who we didn’t even know when we got married – are such a big part of our life. With NCT friends, you bypass the ‘dating’ stage & go straight for the ‘torn vagina, piles, depression & sleepless nights’ phase, which means you share a bond that will last a lifetime & your children grow up together.

So, back to my answers. Should you go to NCT?

Yes, if you want to build lifelong friendships with people who are going through the same rug-being-pulled-from-under-them moment as you. I’m not proud, yeah – we basically paid money for some mates (probably middle class ones, as they had money to spare), but I am so glad we did as they have saved my sanity on numerous occasions!

Maybe not, if you are going to take the empowerment & think you know better than the doctors & midwives. Birth does not need to be complicated, but refusing interventions when needed can have horrendous consequences. I am an advocate of writing a birth plan & being aware of how you would like things to go in an ideal world, then flinging it out of the window in favour of a more fluid go-with-the-flow attitude, with the safety of mother & baby of paramount importance & realise that this is not a failing on your behalf, it’s life. Or more to the point, it’s new life.

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