I am having a rather pregnancy-oriented week. Tuesday evening was my first NCT class, this morning was my 32-week antenatal appointment (bog-standard stuff, all going smoothly), and tomorrow (all day) will be the second NCT class. On top of this, I recently received a letter from the health visitor, inviting me to some sort of meet-the-health-visitors session which was due to be held on Wednesday morning. However, since I seemed to be taking enough time off work this week already and there’s a repeat session in a month’s time, by which time I will have finished work, I decided to go for that one instead. Meanwhile, for anyone interested in what really happens at NCT classes, including myself, here’s an account of the evening.
The class was held at the teacher’s house, which is one of those awkward places with a name rather than a number. I’d anticipated that it might be difficult to find, but figured that I’d drive up and down the street (literally, The Street, to give you an idea of how small the village is) until I spotted it. What I hadn’t taken into account was that villages so small that they name their houses rather than their streets tend not to have much in the way of street lighting. Reading house names from the car window was completely impossible. From the number of cars inching their way veeerrrrryyyy slooowwwwlllyyyy down the street, it did look as though I wasn’t the only one having this difficulty – I rolled down my window to catch one of them in passing, confirmed that the couple in it were indeed here for the meeting, and waited while they phoned the teacher to clarify which house it was. When I’d managed to find a place to park a few yards up the road and made my way cautiously back down the street in the near-total darkness, hoping I didn’t step in a puddle, I discovered that there was another complication in finding the correct house which I’d been lucky enough to avoid; apparently, somebody else further down the road had decided to give their house the same house name, despite knowing that it had already been taken. I can’t help wondering whether they ever regret that decision when yet another group of pregnant women and partners turn up on their doorstep all ready to hear about pelvic floor exercises.
As we got in, we all had to write our names, due dates, and contact details on a big sheet of paper on the wall with marker pen, which, believe me, is not quite the best way to write something in which accurate legibility is as essential as it is in an e-mail address. Once we were all settled, the teacher introduced herself as Philippa and apologised in advance for any trouble caused by the children and pets lurking in corners of the household. Then she got us to go round the room stating our names, where we were from and how we’d felt driving here tonight. ("Lost." "Hoping I didn’t crash the car in the rain." "Full – I had to eat dinner very quickly before coming out.") Then she got a small stuffed toy, introduced it as Cheryl, put it on the floor, and got the men to arrange themselves around it in order of distance/direction they’d had to travel to get here and each tell us their name and the name of their partner. (She stood in for Barry, just in case I was bothered by not having anyone to stand up and state our names on my behalf. Can’t say I was, but it was a kind thought.) Then the women had to arrange themselves along the sofa in order of due date and each give our names, due dates, and partner’s name. (I’ve got the latest due date. Bah! I hate being last for anything. I go into total childish mode and regress back to the experience of being picked last for games or watching everyone else in my class get their driving licence before me. Now I’ll have to watch all the other women giving birth and showing their babies off before I can do the same. Oh, well – I suppose, looking at it another way, I’ve got a three-year head start on motherhood compared to any of them.) Then we stood in a circle and tossed Cheryl from one person to another, with the person who threw her having to say the name of the person they were throwing her to.
Unless I’ve forgotten anyone, which is entirely possible and will be embarrassing if so, there are four and a half couples in the group (me being the half). There would have been five and a half, but one women jumped the gun and had her baby a month early without benefit of NCT classes; hopefully she and the baby will be joining usat a slightly later stage so that she doesn’t miss out on all the fun of meeting people. I will come back and edit these details if it turns out I’ve got them wrong, but I believe the current cast of pregnant characters consists of Fiona, who is a teacher and who is due in about a week and a half (it’s going to be neck-and-neck with the end of the classes for her, and she might well end up bringing the baby to the breastfeeding class to get some practical experience); Alex, who is due to have a Caesarean for breech/oblique presentation on what will probably be the 16th of October although this still remains to be finalised; Moira, who is due some time between Alex and Jo and who just moved in to the area to join her partner a couple of days earlier, which I’m pleased about as she’s actually in the same town as me and I’d been worried everyone would all be miles away from me what with me doing the class that wasn’t nearest to me; and Jo, who is due a few days before me and lives out on the other side of the town I live in. That’s all I can remember in terms of differentiating detail. The men are Sean (x2), James, and Richard, but they’re even more of an undifferentiated mass in my mind – I could match a couple of them up with their partners, but that’s about all so far.
Once we’d got that far, we were divided into two separate groups (men and women) and issued with wall chart sheets and marker pens in order to make lists of what burning concerns we wanted to cover during the classes, while Philippa got us drinks and biscuits. I didn’t have anything particular to contribute to this, being along mainly for the social life, but the other four between them drew up a list covering issues including but not limited to "What do I pack for the hospital?" "Where should I give birth?" "Who decides whether or not we get episiotomies?" and "What’s this about a letter from the health visitor, and why haven’t I had one?"
Then the men were called back in with their list, and we ran through them quickly (noting the existence of the items on the list for future reference, rather than discussing them at that point) and moved on to talking a bit about the evening’s main topic, which was that of how our bodies and our lives changed during pregnancy. Philippa invited us all to think of how we felt things had changed for us since we became pregnant – more chocolate? Changes at work? Being treated differently? Emotional changes? Difficult decisions about which pushchair to buy?
"I was looking in the rear-view mirror the other day," one man told us, "and it suddenly hit me that in a few weeks’ time, there was going to be a little face staring back at me." I thought that was really sweet. It didn’t seem quite the moment to point out that, in fact, babies are supposed to go in rear-facing car seats and all he’d actually see would be the handle.
We were then divided into two groups again, though this time purely by where we were sitting on the sofa rather than by gender, and the group I was in was given a large poster of the torso of a non-pregnant woman in cross-section with a selection of cardboard arrows Blu-Tacked to it with names of body parts on them. The other group had a similar poster of a pregnant woman. The idea was to stick all the arrows on correctly so that they all pointed to the bits they named. Just as I was wondering whether it would look too pushy if I mentioned my somewhat relevant qualifications for this particular task, someone in my group actually asked, half-jokingly, "Is anyone here a doctor?" and I confessed to the fact and stuck all the labels on and assured one of the men that the picture of the spine was, indeed, a picture of a spine and not a picture of a lobster (um. Huh?) and hoped that I hadn’t got any of them wrong, since that really would have made me look somewhat silly. Still, Philippa seemed happy with where they all were, so either I was right about them all or else she didn’t notice the mistakes.
Philippa then put the two pictures side by side and used the comparison to talk about the ways our body changes – massive uterus, compressed stomach, bladder and bowels almost squashed out of the picture, perineum bearing startling amounts of weight. To illustrate the last, she showed us an impromptu pelvic floor made out of an old pair of tights and loaded it up with a sack of potatoes the weight of an average full-term baby, a pack of currants the weight of an average full-term placenta, a bottle of water the weight of the average full-term amount of amniotic fluid, and some other appropriate foodstuff the weight of an average full-term gravid uterus. Then she sent one of the men round the circle so that we could all have a feel of how much it weighed. A good illustration of the necessity of pelvic floor exercises!
We spent the rest of the session talking about all those physical changes and the various effects of them in practice, as well as the importance of leaning forward as much and as often as possible (to encourage the baby to settle into the right position). Philippa closed things by asking us all to name somewhere where we were looking forward to taking the baby once it was born, at which everyone looked rather blank and half the class said they were thinking more in terms of staying in with it and slumping on the sofa (or staying in slumped on the sofa themselves while their partner took the baby somewhere). I also hadn’t thought much about specific places to take the baby – just a general awareness that at some point in the future, whenever I go to the usual sorts of places I go to, there will be, for better or worse, a baby to take along. I suppose the one I’ve been looking forward to is Jamie’s Tumbletots class – there are already several babies there (to the point where the staff have actually set up a sort of unofficial creche with mats at the back for them to wriggle about and play on while their older siblings climb on the equipment), and, for the past few times we’ve been there, I’ve been looking at those babies and thinking about how it’s soon going to be us bringing one along.
Jamie was already in bed by the time I got back. I went up to see him, and he put his little hand-held light on my head.
"What’s dat?" he demanded.
"That’s a light that you’ve put on top of my head." (I realised afterwards that what he’d actually wanted to ask about was the picture of wolves on my T-shirt – I’d changed my T-shirt to go to the class, so it wasn’t the one I’d been wearing during the day. Jamie has proved a truly wonderful fan of my eclectic T-shirt collection. He’s always wanting to know what the pictures are or what the writing says.)
"How does a number 8 go?"
I drew a number 8 in the air for him, with an appropriate running commentary on its various contortions. Then, at his request, I progressed to number 9 and number 10 and number 11. Then he noticed we’d missed some, and went back to cover some earlier numbers. Then I rather reluctantly brought myself to call a halt – I hadn’t had dinner yet, after all, and Jamie’s interest in numbers was capable of far outlasting mine. I hugged him good night, and went downstairs. The best bit of antenatal classes – the bit you don’t get the first time round – is having a child that wonderful to come home to.