It all started with some well-intended advice.
For anyone not in the know – the NCT (National Childbirth Trust) run antenatal classes around the UK.
After announcing my first pregnancy I received a few messages from friends who were already residing in the mysterious land of those-with-children.
They advised that I sign up to an NCT antenatal course immediately.
I was unfamiliar with such courses and consulted the oracle Google.
Firstly I discovered that NCT antenatal courses were expensive…around £200 for me plus a birth partner to attend six classes.
Was this really a wise use of money when I was about to have a baby?
Surely I could just read a book.
I was quickly corrected by one of the Friends-With-Children.
“You are not going on this course to learn. You are going on it to buy friends. They are very over-subscribed. Get on with it and SIGN UP NOW BEFORE THE SPACES RUN OUT.”
Did she just say BUY friends?
Surely I didn’t need any more friends.
My life was already full of friends I did not have time to keep up with.
I was always feeling guilty about not having called someone back/ replied to a text message/WhatsApp message/Messenger message/ had coffee with someone for ages… there was surely no room in my life for MORE friends.
“What do you think is actually going to happen once you have had the baby?”
Silence from me.
“You will be off work all day, every day, just you and the baby, and you will need friends to spend time with.”
I clarified, since she seemed to have forgotten:
“I have lots of friends.”
“Your friends will have no time for you. They will be at work. You will be alone. You need to go on that course to buy yourself some friends so you don’t go insane. That is why you are paying for the NCT course instead of going to a free NHS course.”
“You are buying professional friends so that you have something in common.”
Silence as I digested this information.
How horribly snobbish.
How embarrassingly middle class.
Now I was buying specifically PROFESSIONAL friends?
Surely I, with my four immigrant working-class grandparents, could be friends with anyone, whatever their job or background?
As it happened I had made no plans to attend any antenatal course of any kind, free or otherwise.
It also had not occurred to me that my friends would all be at work and unavailable to meet me for coffee during my planned materna-holiday.
I actually hadn’t given any thought to the logistics of maternity leave at all.
I was too busy being pregnant and working.
“Sign up for the course now, and when you get there, don’t judge. Make an effort. Try very hard to like these people because they will save your sanity.”
I stopped arguing and consulted Long-Suffering Husband.
“Apparently it is essential that we attend an NCT antenatal course to buy me some friends so I don’t go mad when I’m on maternity leave.”
We signed up for the course.
The online information informed us to expect five weekday evening sessions and one Saturday morning breastfeeding information session.
We put the dates in our diary and forgot all about it.
We were both late.
We were both commuting over an hours’ drive to work and had no way of predicting what time our working days would end.
Realistically we were never going to arrive on time, but we had optimistically agreed that morning that we would “do our best to get there.”
After an hour and a half on the motorway driving there from work, I squeezed into a parking space one dark January evening.
I was starving.
I speed-walked towards a small Church Hall I’d never seen before, out of breath in the cold January air.
A wall of heat hit me as I entered the brightly-lit room, blinking rapidly and feeling disorientated.
I was surrounded by a sea of bright shiny blonde heavily pregnant women and their supportive partners.
There they all were, sitting in a nice quiet orderly circle of chairs with eagerly attentive faces and neatly printed name badges.
My very PUNCTUAL soon-to-be Bought Friends.
As the sole brunette and the sole late person, I attempted to sidle subtly towards an empty seat.
Subtlety is not easy to achieve when:
- You are 6 months pregnant
- You are huffing and puffing
- You are wearing an imposing ankle-length black swooshing winter coat with fur collar and cuffs over a suit, amidst a room full of casually-dressed people who have clearly been home to change since work
- You need to walk right through the MIDDLE of the circle to reach the empty chair on the opposite side of the room, completely disrupting the group activity
I smiled a vague apology in the direction of a small beaming red-head who appeared to be the course instructor.
I studied her as she chatted excitedly to the group.
She seemed excessively … happy. Radiant almost.
She was acting as though she genuinely couldn’t imagine anywhere in the world she would rather be than spending an evening teaching us on an NCT antenatal course.
Surely that level of enthusiasm wasn’t normal?
I was suspicious.
I decided she was probably faking it.
I was certain I wasn’t going to like her… she was making me feel tired with all the chirpiness.
I had arrived at the end some kind of introductory activity and was apparently just in time to tell everyone who I was and how pregnant I was.
I scanned the room quickly.
Turned out I wasn’t the only late person after all – there was no sign of Long-Suffering Husband.
I could just imagine the impression I was making – arriving late, out of breath, and alone.
Like a loser who couldn’t even produce one single friend to be a birth partner.
Everyone else appeared to be sitting calmly hand in hand with their supportive partners, looking at me sympathetically for being so brave as to turn up alone.
(I may possibly have imagined the sympathetic looks)
I introduced myself and explained that I was only 6 months pregnant and that I did have a husband who would arrive at some point when traffic allowed.
(I was less pregnant than the others after choosing the course based on the convenient geographic location of my future friends rather than being honest about my due date, but I thought it wise to omit that information)
I don’t remember exactly what else we talked about but it was nearly time for the tea break when Long-Suffering Husband finally put in an appearance. He looked tired after a long motorway drive.
I was surprisingly unnerved about being there on my own and felt relieved to see him.
Beaming Instructor told us to help ourselves to tea and coffee.
Long-Suffering Husband and I had a brief chat, standing there in our suits as though we were the only two people to have misread the dress code on our party invitation.
I wondered how many biscuits I could eat before people started to judge me.
Beaming Instructor laid out some laminated diagrams and photographs around the room and started to talk to us about childbirth.
The photographs appeared to be significantly more graphic than most of the men in the room had anticipated.
I found myself quite entertained by their facial expressions as they attempted to avert their collective gaze.
My concentration wandered as I tried my hardest to get the measure of the other women in the room.
Did they look like:
- My best friends of the future?
- Women I would relate to?
- People I could confide fears and anxieties to?
- People who would keep me sane throughout maternity leave?
No, they most certainly did not.
- Like a class-full of teacher’s pets
I looked harder and tried to establish if there may be one or two good eggs in amongst the goody-two-shoes.
The trouble was, I really couldn’t tell which one was which.
I am terrible with names and faces and even the name badges weren’t helping.
By the end of the session the only name I had learnt was that of Beaming Instructor.
I did notice a few things about my soon-to-be Bought Friends though:
- One was blonder than the others and was wearing a funky beret.
- One was wearing a nice pair of maternity jeans.
- One had a pair of furry wedge-boots I was quite keen on.
Not exactly the stuff of lifelong friendships but it was a start.
The session went by in an uneventful blur of everyone being very polite and on their best behavior. I don’t think I really heard anything Beaming Instructor said.
The session ended.
Everyone started heading off, arm-in-arm in super-supportive lovey-dovey couples. It seemed we were the only couple leaving separately.
I wondered if the others might assume I was a mistress, bearing Long-Suffering Husband’s illegitimate baby, and that he was off home to his real family?
Long-Suffering Husband got into his (totally impractical for a father-to-be) two-seater sports car and a few of the other Dads-to-be shared a bit of banter with him about how the car would have to go .
We arrived home and sat down for dinner. I considered our evening.
“I don’t like them.”
Long-Suffering Husband looked confused.
“Those friends we have just paid for. I don’t think I like any of them. They’re not really my type of people and this has probably been a waste of money.”
Long-suffering husband is less given to dramatic snap judgements than I am.
He said something annoyingly sensible like-
“let’s see how it goes.”
Instead of heeding his advice I went to bed and stayed up late Googling “What to do if you hate your NCT group.”
I read some amusing and frankly horrifying tales of disasterous NCT groups (mostly in London) and cheered up.
Ours suddenly seemed reassuringly normal.
Perhaps next week would be better.
I had toyed with the idea of not returning to the NCT class during the intervening week.
However, having paid for the classes in advance turned out to be a sure-fire guarantee that that I would be back.
I was determined to get my money’s worth for every single minute we had paid for.
Immediately on entering the room there was a much better atmosphere than the week before. It seemed that everyone now had an idea what to expect and had decided to make the most of it.
Beaming Instructor was back, as chirpy as ever.
It seemed she really WAS that happy. It was for real. She actually loved teaching us.
She had in store for us a selection of group activities and proceeded to mix us up into small groups so that we could get to know each other.
I vowed silently to do my best to appear un-sarcastic and open-minded.
I had already decided the sessions would involve:
- Talk about how birth should be “natural”
- A heavy sell on home births
- Mention of how we would not need any pain-killers
- Doctor and hospital-bashing
- Talk of whale song, candles, relaxing music and possibly chanting
- Use of words certain to induce eye-rolling on my part (“empowering” maybe? “spiritual?” I could only imagine)
- Potentially talk of hypnobirthing
- Worst-case scenario – we may encounter the “my vagina is a rosebud” concept
(see previous post – “My Vagina Is A Rosebud”)
I knew that I would not actually be interested in anything that Beaming Instructor had to say because I had already made up my own mind about labour:
- Labour was painful
- Labour involved potential risks to mother and baby
- Labour was unpredictable
- I wanted to have a baby in a calm and collected hospital setting surrounded by the most experienced people necessary in case of any complication
- I wanted ALL available options for pain-relief
I had just spent a year working in one of the world’s poorest countries where giving birth at home with no medical assistance was the norm.
Given that I no longer lived in Africa, I had no interest in attempting to re-create a developing world birth.
I wanted to take full advantage of our shiny technological advances to ensure mine and my baby’s safety.
(Ironic given that I went on to have two home births but that is a different story – see previous post “The Accidental Home Birth”)
I was certain that there would be no overlap in what I wanted from my labour and what the NCT instructor would be trying to sell me.
The only way I would survive this NCT course would be to keep my mouth firmly shut about my opinions.
The group-work began.
I don’t remember all of the activities but some have stuck in my mind.
Group Activity: Discuss what we wanted out of the course.
We were split into two groups – pregnant women in one group and partners in the other. We were instructed to discuss amongst ourselves what we wanted to get out of this course.
We dutifully started sharing inoffensive objectives.
I decided that it was too soon for honesty and that “buying friends to keep me sane” may sound a little desperate.
I was idly wondering what I should say when I heard something that made me choke:
“I am hoping to get some advice about babies and dogs… we have a few dogs and they can be very territorial, especially the Doberman. He is so big, and has always had the run of the house and sleeps on our bed, and I want to make sure he really BONDS with the baby, you know, so he isn’t jealous?”
I realised too late that the choking sound in my throat was audible to others.
I had been caught unawares and had dropped my disguise as a tolerant non-judgmental person.
I had an emergency talk to myself.
Quick – alter your facial expression.
Remove that expression of abject horror before someone notices it.
- Yes, in my opinion, this person appeared to be clearly insane.
- Yes, in my opinion, they were practically asking for their baby to be eaten by a Doberman.
- Yes, in my opinion, there was a very easy solution to this woman’s problem, and it did not involve tips on babies bonding with dogs. It involved GETTING RID OF THE FRICKING DOBERMAN.
As it happens, I don’t mind dogs.
I’ve never had one of my own though and I can’t imagine wanting one to bond with my newborn baby.
However… that was only my opinion.
I reminded myself that other opinions were also available.
Some people LOVE dogs.
They let them share their beds, lick their faces, and play with their babies.
My viewpoint was likely biased by having met dog-owner parents in hospitals crying over injured children, saying they just don’t understand how their dog could have bitten their child because the dog has never EVER done anything like that before.
(I always wondered why people feel the need to explain that…surely if their dog had bitten anyone before, it wouldn’t be living in their family home, would it?)
Those conversations had not left me the biggest fan of the dog/small child combination.
However in order to make friends, I needed to urgently remove my horrified facial expression and replace it with something more tolerant.
I continued my internal pep-talk.
Dogs that attack babies and children probably represent a TINY proportion of the dog population. There must be.. hundreds? Thousands? Maybe even MILLIONS of dogs out there, living happily in family homes, quite possibly many of them large Dobermans. I have heard they can be brilliant family pets.
This woman’s point of view could in fact be completely reasonable.
My pep-talk was working.
I found myself nodding sympathetically as though I completely understood the desire to learn strategies to foster bonding between Doberman and newborn on an antenatal course.
I tried out some words.
“Oh, that sounds… challenging.”
I flattered myself that I sounded plausibly empathetic. I congratulated myself on my performance.
For ten seconds that was, until I caught sight of one other woman’s face.
One of the blonde pregnant women was definitely laughing at me.
Her face remained completely dead-pan but her eyes were mercilessly mocking my poor acting skills.
I had been officially busted.
She was openly enjoying my discomfort.
I think she may even have asked me to expand on my own experiences and watched me squirm.
This was my introduction to Sarcastic Detective Mum.
It seemed I might find some real friends in this group after all.
We were getting good at this now.
We all turned up, wrote out our name badges and started remembering who preferred tea or coffee.
The group was bonding.
I am sure most of us had endured similarly artificial small group work tasks before, but an unusual element to this course was that we were never asked to share any information on what we all did for a living.
I was becoming intrigued as to what everyone did.
Given that Long-Suffering Husband and I spent so many hours at work, we had almost lost the art of socialising with people in other professions.
This was becoming a useful refresher course in practicing normal social skills.
Time for another group activity.
Group Activity: Read out a new parent scenario and discuss.
We read out loud from a laminated card a short story about a typical day of two new parents as seen from each of their perspectives.
The general gist was:
The mother spent all day at home, exhausted, in pain, being vomited on, breastfeeding, cleaning up poo, had no time to cook, eat, drink, shower or do any laundry. Eventually in the evening she sat down to eat a piece of cake from the fridge and her husband walked in to see her relaxing. She was furious with him for having showered, left the house and spent the day with adults.
The father had spent the day stuck in traffic, exhausted after being woken by the baby all night, distracted in meetings, hungry as there was no food in the fridge to take for his lunch, and came home annoyed to see that he had life so hard when his wife was relaxing at home doing nothing but eating cake.
It sounded like a barrel of laughs.
Around the group I noticed a few people looking slightly uncomfortable.
It was disturbingly easy to imagine falling into the trap of being furious with the other person in that scenario.
It did not bode entirely well for the materna-holiday I had planned.
Long-suffering husband seemed to take note of this story and I remain grateful for that.
From that moment onward, any day I achieved with a newborn baby where I had cleaned up after myself and done some laundry were considered an outstanding success in his eyes, with anything else being an added bonus.
That one little story made me feel like Wonderwoman for months.
I found myself chatting to the woman with the nice maternity jeans and telling her I had quite enjoyed that scenario.
She was calm, insightful, and nodded at me thoughtfully. I felt oddly inspired to confide my innermost secrets.
I was tempted to confess that I secretly hated the idea of natural childbirth and everything else the NCT probably stood for, remembering at the last minute to to keep my mouth shut.
I felt certain that she would not mind in the slightest if I told her the truth on another occasion.
This was my introduction to Sympathetic Psychologist Mum.
Group Activity: Practice ways your birth partner can help in labour.
We circled the room in couples.
Long-Suffering Husband and I arrived at a station describing how women may change their personality in the last stages of labour and might shout, scream, swear or even become violent.
He explained to me earnestly that it would not be acceptable for me to behave like that “just because I was in labour.”
I considered punching him then and there to try it out.
I glimpsed Sarcastic Detective Mum – her husband was trying out the suggested massage positions and promising to do whatever she wanted on the day.
I couldn’t help but feel that I had drawn the short straw in the birth-partner stakes and hoped fervently that Long-Suffering Husband would redeem himself on the big day.
Thankfully, he did.
Group Activity: Go around the circle saying a few words describing your ideal labour.
Doberman-Owner volunteered to begin.
She cheerfully mentioned a desire to have a home-birth, using a birthing pool with no medication, and I am pretty sure she mentioned something about candle-light and whale-song.
I sighed and steeled myself to hear more of the same.
By this point I had decided I wanted a planned caesarean section so that I could feel more in control of mine and my baby’s safety.
(Not what ultimately happened with Baby Number One – see my earlier post, “The Slowest Birth of All Time.”)
Another Mum-to-be was asked to share what she hoped for in her labour.
I was intrigued to find I recognised her facial expression.
She was definitely biting her tongue and deciding on an NCT-acceptable answer.
“A healthy baby and a healthy mother.”
Aha – a cunning reply.
This was clearly a woman who was all about the safe outcome and not obsessed with having a natural hippy birth.
My introduction to Happy Haematologist Mum.
To my surprise, Beaming Instructor then intervened with some thoughts of her own.
“Yes, they sound like a wonderful birth plans!”
A microsecond later:
“However it is important to remember that things can change at a moments’ notice in labour. The best-laid plans can easily go out of the window, so don’t get too fixated on any one plan.”
In fact significantly truer to life than I had ever expected to hear from the NCT.
“The more prepared you are for every eventuality, the more in control you will feel. So tonight we are going to discuss all the possible outcomes.”
She stared at us all to make sure we were listening.
“Make sure you learn about EVERY option tonight, even if you think it does not apply to you, because you NEVER KNOW WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN. Do not get too fixated on your home birth. You may be having a caesarean section, so learn about it.”
Group Activity: Discuss the different modes of birth.
We worked our way around the room in small groups analysing the laminated cards on the floor.
I was surprised to encounter:
- Diagrams showing the physiology behind contractions and the stages of labour
- The roles of various hormones and why remaining calm helps contractions
- Discussion of the benefit all forms of pain-relief, including epidurals
- Diagrams of an operating theatre showing who would be present in an emergency caesarean section
Beaming Instructor followed us around and joined in our discussions.
A pair of unusual words kept coming out of our her mouth… “EVIDENCE-BASED.”
On an NCT Antenatal Course?
This woman was talking actual sense, based on actual evidence, and was quoting actual research.
I could not really find anything to object to.
Perhaps I had strayed onto the wrong course?
I found I was quite enjoying myself.
The background noise grew louder as we threw ourselves into the group activities.
Happy Haematologist Mum rolled her eyes as we spotted her husband parading around the room, staggering for comic effect whilst wearing some sort of apron-like pregnant abdomen costume.
I really cannot remember what the point of that task was but it produced sniggers from the other men.
They had all suddenly bonded and were coping with the course by indulging in loud sarcastic banter in the manner of a very tame stag weekend.
Beaming Instructor popped over from time to time to keep them in check. She joined in their jokes, gave as good as she got and gently steered them back to the point at hand without spoiling their fun.
Occasionally she spouted facts and for anyone with questions and readily referenced credible research off the top of her head for us to do further reading if we wished.
The session ended and we were all about to head off when Sarcastic Detective Mum’s husband suggested we all go for a drink.
As we all headed off together to the pub, I saw Beaming Instructor smiling to herself.
Her work was done.
It was the Saturday morning breastfeeding session.
It seemed strange to arrive together in normal clothes in the daytime after weeks of sneakily arriving in separate cars under the cover of darkness.
The course felt less like an illegitimate activity to be ashamed of.
In broad daylight our new friends and the situation we had found ourselves in seemed scarily official.
The session was to be led by a breastfeeding instructor who had not yet arrived.
The glamorous extra-blonde (she of the beret on week one) confessed to the group her plan to keep quiet during this session. She owned her own PR business and had already decided she would need to go back to work quite soon after birth.
Her fiancé was going to look after the baby and as he lacked breasts, he had no plans to breastfeed.
She wasn’t keen to dwell on their plans lest the instructor try to stage an intervention to save their baby from going to formula feeding hell.
I liked her immediately.
Another new friend – Power PR Mum.
The instructor arrived.
She was very serious, timid in her manner and as quiet as a mouse.
The group did not warm to her and the jovial atmosphere promptly vanished.
Group Activity: Inherited Traits
As an introduction, Timid-Mouse Instructor asked us to go around the room sharing one trait of our partners that we would like our baby to inherit.
Power PR Mum’s fiancé said he would like their son to inherit her drive and ambition; she said his kindness.
I liked this game – it was an interesting glimpse into the other relationships.
Sadly that was the last part of the session I enjoyed.
I find it hard to remember any details of what Timid-Mouse Instructor said to us, only that it was agonizingly dull.
She delivered her opinions dressed up as facts in a whispered monotone that managed to combine nervous apprehension with judgmental patronisation – no mean feat.
A bit of light relief came in the form of watching Power PR Mum evade questions on her feeding plans, and the utter horror on the instructor’s face when she eventually confessed.
It sounded to me as though she & her fiancé had formulated a well thought-out plan to feed their baby a perfectly acceptable source of nutrition whilst she returned to the time-consuming job of running the company she had founded.
Judging by the look on Timid-Mouse Instructor’s face, you would think she had announced their plan to slowly poison their baby.
Timid-Mouse Instructor set to work in the serious business of attempting to educate them as to their folly.
Power PR Mum stood firm whilst remaining admirably polite. I was deeply envious of her poker face.
It was readily apparent why she was a success in her line of work.
At one point, for a bit of light relief and because I was feeling generally bored and antagonistic, I put my hand up to ask a question.
“So….is it really necessary to make all this…FUSS?”
The instructor looked confused.
“Maybe I am looking at this differently because I have just come back from working in Africa, but I regularly saw women walking along the side of the road carrying piles of bags on their head, breastfeeding as they walked.”
“So I wondered…do we REALLY need a ‘special cushion’ and ‘special feeding positions’ whilst ‘sitting in the right place?’”
“Can’t we just get on with it?”
The instructor looked as though she might cry.
I felt a tiny pang of guilt for being so obnoxious.
(With hindsight, three breastfed babies later, I found that yes – it was perfectly possible to feed them all whilst getting on with other things if necessity dictated. However it was immensely preferable to sit down somewhere nice and quiet with a drink and get your breath back. Especially when a troupe of visitors have descended on your house in the early days causing chaos and you and the baby could really do with closing the door on them for 20 minutes. I therefore concede that the Timid-Mouse Instructor made some valid points…unfortunately this concession is far too late to be of any benefit to her).
We struggled onwards, limping towards the end of a painful session.
Brunch was suggested.
We had begun as eight pregnant women and birth partners on the course, but in the post-course socialising we had naturally cut down to a core group of six couples.
Doberman Owner turned out to be very sweet and chatty. She told us she could not drive, lived nowhere near the course and was attending with her mother who playing both chauffeur and birth partner and had persuaded her to come. She would not be returning to our area after having her baby. It was apparent that she was there to learn, not make friends, and never stayed to socialise.
The Dutchies (as they referred to themselves) were a lovely Dutch couple who were going to have their baby back home in the Netherlands and had no plans to return to the UK.
Two potential Bought Friends were therefore eliminated.
The remaining six couples found ourselves sitting around a large table in a loud restaurant, giddy with relief at being released from breastfeeding hell.
We were acting NOTHING like a group of thirty-something professionals having voluntarily spent two hours of our Saturday morning at a course we had all chosen to pay a not inconsiderable amount of money for.
We were more like a rowdy group of aging rebellious teenagers set free from a torturously long compulsory school lesson.
So there we were: Six heavily pregnant women eating our way through the delicious brunch menu accompanied by our other halves, united in our utter contempt for the unfortunate Timid-Mouse Instructor.
In especially rebellious moments, we discussed the wild possibility of giving her Poor Feedback at the end of the course.
Perhaps even a strongly worded letter of complaint?
No… that would be a step too far.
Better just to bitch about it.
Maybe she was new? She might improve with experience.
A well-spoken pregnant woman joined me in mocking the middle-aged moaning minnies we had all become, whilst simultaneously confessing our mutual love of a good letter of complaint. She was wearing the furry wedge-heeled boots I had admired in week one.
My newest friend – Kind Communications Mum.
It was official.
All six of us were friends.
The background noise in the room was deafening.
People were laughing and joking, throwing themselves into the small group activities and generally having a good time.
Group Activity: Practice wearing baby slings & wraps with a plastic doll
Sarcastic Detective Mum’s husband professed himself to be an expert at using the Hanna Baby Wrap after having recently seen a demonstration at some kind of Baby Show.
(There were Baby Shows? Should we have been to one?)
He volunteered to show us all how to wear them and then found himself being laughed at loudly as he frowned at the immense length of fabric and twisted himself into knots as attempting to attach a plastic doll to his chest.
I wondered if Beaming Instructor was getting annoyed with her troupe of rowdy school-children making a mockery of her tasks.
I looked for her.
Beaming Instructor was standing back surveying the room wearing an expression of pride.
It suddenly occurred to me that she had somehow transformed a large group of reluctant strangers into a cohesive group of friends who were voluntarily interacting with all of her activities, discussing relevant topics, learning things and enjoying ourselves.
How on earth had she managed that?
I felt momentarily cheated.
- I had decided that I wasn’t going to like her.
- The plan had been to disagree with her and tolerate her course solely to make friends.
- She had ruined my preconceptions and thwarted my plans by being immensely likeable and making the course enjoyable.
To look at us, anyone would think she had some kind of talent for facilitating group bonding.
Nah, it was probably just luck.
Group Activity: Dress a plastic doll appropriately for daytime and nighttime
I remember this activity right towards the end of the last class. My group had a discussion of how many layers of clothing would be appropriate and realised that no-one had a clue.
I could sense a little unease spreading… maybe this was something some of us should know, given that we were due to start having babies in a couple of weeks’ time?
I studied the others.
Were they PRETENDING to be clueless, or were they genuinely bricking it as much as me?
Had they secretly been revising things and was I the only person who genuinely had no idea what would be involved in caring for a newborn?
Beaming Instructor breezed past our group, over-hearing our confusion.
“Oh don’t worry, you will all be absolutely fine and you will work it out. Generally one layer more than you are wearing yourself will be fine.”
(I relaxed – my baby was not due for two months. Perhaps I could wait for the other babies to arrive and by the time mine came the others would have worked it all out and would tell me what to do).
Suddenly, the final session was over.
Beaming Instructor stood up to do some kind of summary and I drifted off into my own thoughts.
Why did I feel so unsettled?
Up until now the idea of actually having a baby seemed very abstract. I had told myself that as long as I was attending this course, I was official Doing Something to prepare. Now that it was over I was really not sure what to do next.
I did not like the idea exchanging the comforting familiar structure of the course for being released into the heavily-pregnant wilderness alone.
The sessions felt like a solid anchor and now that they were finished, I felt strangely adrift in a deep sea of uncertainty.
- I had found my five bought friends and it turned out that I liked them a lot, but what if none of them liked me?
- What if they all had their own support networks of friends and family who would be there for them during maternity leave?
- What if none of them NEEDED maternity leave friends?
At least two of the other women had already finished work and their babies were due in a couple of weeks’ time.
I had been working full-time since graduating eight years earlier and found it almost impossible to imagine life without my job. My mother lived 250 miles away and also worked full-time and so she was not exactly on hand for emergency assistance.
The thought of all of my familiar routines just abruptly coming to an end was terrifying.
If my new bought friends didn’t want to hang out with me, what on earth was I actually going to do all day?
And how was I going to look after a newborn baby without Beaming Instructor to tell me how many layers of clothes it should be wearing?
The enormity of what was up ahead seemed suddenly overwhelming and unfortunately, it was a little too late to change my mind.
I had another chat to myself.
- Get a grip.
- Women have babies every day.
- How hard can it be?
It was not a convincing pep talk.
I tuned back in to hear Beaming Instructor talking about contact details.
“Any of you who would like to stay in contact with each other, I will be sending out a group Email with all of your contact details. You can opt out if you don’t want to stay in touch.”
Would anyone opt out?
“We also have an official NCT 6 week reunion after the last baby is born, so let’s put a date in the diary. Shall we say…early June?”
We arranged a lunch date.
This reunion lunch sounded promising, but it was still only February. June was a long time away.
We said our final good byes and prepared to leave.
It was apparent that I needed these bought friends, even if they didn’t need me.
I abandoned any pretense at being indifferent and decided to take the plunge.
“Anyone fancy meeting for lunch next week?”
After all, if I was buying friends, it would surely be best to get my money’s worth.
*Feedback from friends indicates that all depends on pot luck with the course instructor. Ours was great and has since trained as a midwife. Some are awful.
**I felt it only fair to mention to the Bought Friends that I had written a blog about how we met and let them read it….