So how do you prepare for motherhood? There are some women, mostly clad in hessian, who claim that it’s instinct and you’ll know exactly what to do with your baby as soon as you clap eyes on him or her. There are other women, mostly clad in Jimmy Choo, who may need a little more direction than just push, pray and pethidine.
I felt completely unprepared for what I was about to be thrown into, a fact that became very apparent after the girls in my office decided to throw me a surprise baby shower at about 24-weeks. Holding a pair of tiny scratch mitts in one hand and a bumper pack of nappies in the other, I was left fighting back the tears and wondering why on earth my incontinent baby would need special gloves to prevent self-harm? I had zero idea what I was doing and felt that my unborn offspring deserved better of me, a scouse mum who thought meconium was a type of skin cancer.
So what were my options? As far as I was aware, there were just two: the free NHS sessions or the very pricey National Childbirth Trust’s version.
My husband, a direct descendent of Ebenezer Scrooge, recoiled in horror at the price of the NCT’s intensive three-day course, opting immediately for the freebies in our local ‘Children’s Centre’ – a place so hellish that ironically, once you’d stepped inside, you were instantly put off having any children of your own.
The centre was also where I had to attend my midwife appointments and it wasn’t exactly in what I’d call a ‘desirable’ location. At the time we were living in quite a rural village on the outskirts of Manchester, which just so happened to border with South East Chavsville. One visit, in particular, I had an enlightening conversation about breastfeeding with a delightful young woman in the waiting room, who appeared to be missing most of her teeth and had apparently decided to forgo showering that month. Having politely nodded my head and muttered “you don’t say?” a few times, I decided that she probably wasn’t going to make it onto my BFF baby short-list on the basis she thought breastfeeding was disgusting and shameful.
As well as wanting to learn how not to break the baby – my husband and I wanted to meet like-minded people for potential pre and post birth socialising, – so after hearing of my waiting room horror story, he decided that Toothless Tess probably wasn’t going to be his cup of tea either, and with that, hell froze over as he blew the cobwebs off his wallet and forked out for NCT.
Now, my lovely yet sometimes incredibly tight husband works in professional football. Some people, mostly men, find this quite an exciting career choice, I, on the other hand, find it quite annoying (apart from the fact it pays the mortgage) as it means that every weekend, bar eight in the months of May and June, are complete write-offs for any kind of social activity that doesn’t involve 11 men kicking a ball and falling over a lot. So with my husband as likely to commit to a weekend of deep breathing and contraction chitchat as Katie Price to a long-term relationship, I reluctantly accepted that I was more than likely going to be flying solo to antenatal classes.
I have to admit, I was a little nervous / sceptical of NCT – I’d heard mixed opinions about the charity, with some friends now absolute converts, while others were firmly in the ‘never again’ camp after being berated by their hippy-dippy class leader for wanting the birth of their first child to take place in a hospital (I mean, come on – we can’t all have biblical happy ending in a stable). As well as being worried that I’d be chastised for wanting a pre-labour spray tan and bikini wax, I was also scared about what I might see, would it be like looking at the sun for too long? Would a birthing video or demonstration of a forceps delivery cause my retinas to burn out and my vagina to impose an emergency lock-down, with nothing allowed in or out for the foreseeable future?
After having a brief word with myself on the morning of the course, I put my preconceptions firmly to one side (until lunchtime at the very least) and with promises of making it along to the afternoon sessions, I waved goodbye to my absconder of a husband and set off to be educated. I’d had a brief read over a chapter or two of ‘What to Expect when you’re Expecting’ in preparation of any on-the-spot questions and at least felt one-step ahead of any potential homework, being already pregnant and all.
My first epic fail was turning up minus my Pilates ball, pillows or pile cushion. On arrival I sat in the car watching all the doting men escort their heavily pregnant partners, along with a labour ward’s worth of birthing paraphernalia into the venue. As per usual, I was totally unprepared and all I had was my own ass fat to keep me comfortable throughout the day, which to be fair, was fairly substantial. Looking a little like Shamu, I managed to flop my giant pregnant self out of the car and waddled towards the working men’s club for a day of what I was sure was going to be the world’s best advocacy for safe sex, seven months too late.
In the room 14 chairs had been set out in a semi-circle, six of which were occupied by women in varying stages of pregnancy and in a further six sat a group of terrified and awkward looking men wishing that, at that precise moment in time, they could be anywhere else in the world at 9am on a Saturday.
Feeling a little like the odd one out, I wobbled in and planted myself on one of the remaining chairs, smiling at the curious faces in the room and waving, rather over enthusiastically, with my engagement and wedding ring-clad hand.
Our group leader introduced herself as Jane, a lovely lady who did not look at all like the beardy weirdy, new-age hippy I was expecting, – not a sock and sandal in sight, although it was winter, so maybe a little too cold for such footwear?
Standard cringe-inducing ice-breakers completed and white name labels affixed, all-be-it wonky and slightly peeling off on one side, we cracked on with the nitty-gritty of the day. Ground rules were established and lists were drawn up to ensure we all got the most out of the course – essentially it was a bit like a cheesy team building day at work, minus the joy of knowing that you’d all be getting drunk afterwards, but at least you wouldn’t have to worry about fending off the sexual advances of Dave from IT.
First on the agenda – knowing you are in labour. An interesting fact about labour is that it’s unlikely to present itself in the way Hollywood portrays it, i.e. a comical yet romantic situation where suddenly your waters break all over the floor of a posh hotel or restaurant. Farcical hilarity ensues and with one or two none-sweaty pushes later you have a beautiful gloop-free baby and no one has had an accidental bowel movement. Apparently this is not the case and we have been grossly misinformed as a nation.
Labour, is going to hurt like hell, that is what we were told, in so many words. It will also be long, well definitely longer than in the movies, because let’s face it – who wants to watch 20 hours of screaming, cursing and explosive bodily fluids from every possible orifice? Hardly the foundations for an award-winning blockbuster, although not too dissimilar from Alien…
So after discussing what would happen in the early stages of labour (essentially lots of pain, being told to man-up over the phone by a midwife, going to hospital only to be sent home again by said midwife and then warned not to come back until your baby is practically waving hello to you from in-between your legs) we got on to the good stuff and what everyone had been waiting for…pain relief.
Before cutting to the chase, we were encouraged to have a little group brain-storm on what we felt might be nice, natural alternatives to hard-core sedatives. People half-heartedly banded around ideas such as “how about a nice massage from your partner?” Seriously? I was pretty sure by that point in the birthing process I’d more than likely be verbally, if not physically, abusing my husband for his part in my suffering, therefore his wandering hands could take a hike.
Unless planning on a water birth, or the more obscure hypno-birthing route, it seemed as though my pain relief options were limited to the following:
- Warm bath
- Tens machine (but get out of warm bath first…)
- More paracetamol
- Gas and air (hopefully hospitalised by this point)
- Pethidine / Morphine (woo-hoo!)
- Epidural (although caveated with fear of catheter insertion)
To be honest, I was dubious of 1-4 as it sounded like a weak suggestion for alleviating cold symptoms, bar the tens machine. Gas and air I was also sceptical of, I know it’s supposed to be ‘laughing gas’, but really, how can any concoction of drugs, never mind one mainly comprised of air, make a scalpel to the perineum amusing?
We had a short break for lunch and then cracked on with breathing exercises and positions for ‘coping’ with labour. Now, unfortunately for my husband, he chose this precise moment to bound into a darkened room filled with seven mooing women in a variety of odd Karma Sutra-esq positions, all being told by Jane to imagine that their vaginas were opening up like beautiful flowers. Not one for role-play, or the most uninviting orgy in the world, the poor lad looked like he was about to turn on his heels and run for the hills. To be fair, I didn’t blame him. A beautiful flower? Who was she trying to kid? It was more likely to resemble a car wreck, post jaws of life, than a bunch of geraniums.
(Not our group, but an accurate portrayal)
A couple of harshly directed eyebrow movements finally convinced him to step foot over the threshold and with a few angry whispers and a touch of emotional blackmail, I managed to get him back on side. Unfortunately for me, next up was a group exercise where we had to squeeze a peg continually for one minute to replicate the duration and intensity of a contraction, all while deep breathing and bouncing on giant ball.
Much eye-rolling and huffing ensued from my sceptical and financially worse-off husband, the only time he looked enthused throughout the whole day was when Jane sent him off to the bar with the other men for a pint while she talked to us women folk about something “private”.
Private had me worried. We’d been talking vaginas for five hours straight at that point – what else was left to be sacred?
Then I was educated with two simple yet traumatising words – perennial massage. I won’t go into the ins and out, of which there are plenty, but put it like this – it’s not quite what my husband had in mind when I invited him into the darkened bedroom with a bottle of olive oil. There were tears from both parties and not a word has been spoken about it since. Google it (but not on a work computer).
Day one completed and I had a notebook brimming with important information, including:
- Apparently men need a lunch box packing in advance of leaving for hospital (obviously top of the priority list…)
- Your waters will probably need breaking with something that resembles a knitting needle – pleasant
- Keep moving – give birth in a corridor if needs be, do anything to stop your midwife from shouting at you
- Don’t give birth on your back, you compress your pelvis (naked on all fours is much more dignified)
- Remember to breathe (in lots and lots of gas and air and anything else going)
- Remember to keep peeing, if you don’t the catheter will come for you
- Take any drug offered to you – no one likes a hero
- Don’t pack a white dressing gown or slippers (there are some things in life that Vanish will never get out)
- If you think your lady parts resemble a beautiful flower now, they won’t after childbirth
- Olive oil should only ever be used for cooking
Day two rolled around and off I set again, on my own, to the next terrifying installment of parenting 101.
The morning was spent dwelling on the petrifying prospect of C-sections, forceps and a weird suction device called a ventouse, which essentially involves a doctor hovering your baby out of you.
After a peculiar 15 minutes of guessing which lemonade bottle contained pretend amniotic fluid, and which one held urine – we moved on to the hotly anticipated ‘how not to break the baby’ section.
With my husband arriving in the nick of time, we grabbed our odd looking Chucky doll and set to trying to remove its clothing without causing dismemberment – not as easy as it sounds.
Clothes off (dolls, not ours), we attacked the nappy and much to our delight, our plastic offspring had kindly decided to have a cheeky curry for dinner the night previous, presumably after being out on the tiles, resulting in, essentially, a chicken korma for us to clean up. I sincerely hoped that this was not an entirely accurate depiction of baby crap.
Baby cleaned, re-dressed (with only minor shoulder and hip dislocations) it was time to decipher the ancient language of hysterical wailing. Trying to determine the hunger scream from the sleep scream was near impossible, how on earth were you supposed to tell the difference? Deciding that I probably wasn’t going to be winning any awards for my baby whispering skills, I made a mental note to just call my mother if needs be.
Breastfeeding was also another hot topic, and something that was catered for in a separate session on the Monday evening.
Everyone was dying to ask one particular question and we got right to the end before I had to stick my hand up and take one for the team…
“Can you drink alcohol while breastfeeding?’
This was met by a very frowny face indeed and it was then that I realised why no one else had asked previously. Official answer from NCT was a big fat no, however ‘Bad Mothers R’ Us’ retreated to the safety of the corridor at break time to have a “what did your midwife say about it?” chit-chat over a bourbon biscuit and weak orange squash. The general consensus seemed to be that it would be ok at the beginning of a feed, on the basis that the wine surely wouldn’t have had a chance to get into the milk supply in such a short amount of time. It sounded of scientific enough for me – baby on boob, glass in hand. Perfect.
I have to say, my only criticism of NCT, bar the odd role-play scenario and actual knitted placentas, was the breastfeeding session. Essentially it was a video of a woman breastfeeding, and to be quite frank, we could have all seen that down at our local Costa Coffee on a weekday morning. There was also a weird 20 minutes spent trying to suck the juice out of an orange with a straw, which was all just a bit sticky and confusing.
There was also another list making session, this time on ‘nice things’ that men could do to help us women while we were breastfeeding – let’s face it, the only really helpful thing they could do would be to start miraculously lactating from their moobs at around 2am, 4am and 6am.
So, my verdict – would I recommend NCT to other women looking for reassurance ahead of childbirth? Yes, I think I probably would. I achieved most of what I set out to by attending – I made friends, reassured myself about the impending doom of childbirth and learnt lots of scary words to traumatise my non-pregnant friends with.
(Stocking filler anyone? Available from Etsy…)
If you want to make yourself feel better about childbirth or just punish your husband for a past sin, check out their website and book yourself in!