I have booked in for NCT antenatal classes. I do recognise that this might be seen as a possibly eccentric thing to do, given that I've already had a baby, and indeed also successfully completed a medical degree and a diploma in obstetrics, all of which might be considered to give me a sufficient understanding of the basics. Eccentric or not, I'm going ahead with them.
One reason is that, depending on how labour goes this time, understanding the basics may not be enough. Sure, I now know what a normal labour feels like and feel adequately equipped to deal with one, but that doesn't mean everything will necessarily go as smoothly this time around, and there's always the chance I'll end up needing an epidural or a section or some other variation from the norm. And, while I know something about all these things from the medical point of view, knowing how to deal with them from the point of view of a patient is rather different. I figure there's no harm in being as well prepared as possible.
However, the main reason I'm doing this is because it's supposed to be a great way to meet people. Apparently, going through antenatal classes together is one of the ultimate bonding experiences. You get to meet all these women who are at the same stage of the same life-changing experience as you, and as a result you form firm friendships and end up supporting each other through all the upcoming years of dealing with motherhood and being friends for life.
is what I'd always heard. After all those heartwarming stories, I
found it something of a disappointment when nothing of the sort seemed
to happen at my own antenatal classes. This was, it is only fair to
admit, probably in large part our own fault - being hopeless
timekeepers, we always tended to rush in just as the class was
starting, so for all I know the minutes immediately prior to the class
may have been absolutely full of bonding moments which we missed. But
there didn't seem to be any kind of getting-to-know-you discussions or
exercises during the classes or any sort of chitchat afterwards. We
turned up, listened to midwives talking about labour and life with a newborn, had discussions of the points raised, and
left at the end of the evening. That seemed to be about it.
This was less of a disappointment than it might have been because we already knew we were going to be moving as soon as I could work out my maternity leave and get a new job in a better area, and if I had formed lifelong friendships it would actually have been rather frustrating given that I'd then have moved to the other side of the country only a few months later. But now, barring truly major and unforeseeable changes of plan, I'm settled once and for all in an area where I can stay long term, and it would be good to get to know more people here. On a brutally practical level, it would also be useful; Barry does plan to go back to work eventually once Jamie and Upcoming Child are a bit older, and everything I've ever read about the practicalities of sorting out childcare when both parents work can best be summarised as "Total nightmare". It sounds as though, by the time we get to that point, it would be a really good idea to have built up a network of people that we know well enough to make those panicked 7.30 a.m. "The childminder has just phoned in sick - could you possibly pick the kids up from school and keep them until one of us gets back and we'll take yours off your hands for you some time in return?" phone calls to in an emergency.
So, second time around or not, I figure I should take full advantage of all the friend-making opportunities that pregnancy and the postnatal period have to offer. And, since this is almost certainly going to be my last child, I'm going to go whole hog and pay for the NCT classes rather than go for the freebie NHS version like I did last time. I know this is probably a foolish ridiculous squanderous (if that's even a word) waste of money, but I justify it to myself by reasoning that everybody should get the occasional mindless luxury in their life and, since I don't go to spas or have pedicures, this can be mine. I've heard good things about the NCT classes, and I don't want to miss my last chance to experience them for myself.
The main issue with going to antenatal classes as a second-time parent is a practical one - somebody has to look after the first child while I'm there. Since my husband has absolutely zero interest in such classes (he went last time because he knew it mattered to me, and that was sweet, but it wasn't something he cared about on his own account), the solution seemed fairly obvious to me - he could stay home with Jamie while I went. While I recognised that this way of doing things wasn't totally fair to him (and I do feel bad about that side of it, but I have made it clear to him I'm happy to reciprocate any time he wants to get out for the occasional evening of living it up), it wasn't something I really thought of as an issue for me. I suppose it's likely to feel mildly embarrassing to show up at an antenatal class as the only unaccompanied person there, but I can always casually rest my left hand so that my wedding ring is on prominent display; besides, I'd like to feel that by the age of thirty-seven I've finally grown out of the whole worry over whether or not I'm looking sufficiently popular in the eyes of everyone else. So I wasn't unduly bothered about the thought of turning up sans partner.
The woman taking the bookings for the classes felt differently. When she asked for my partner's name and I mentioned that she wasn't likely to need it since I wasn't planning on bringing him along, she tutted gravely and assured me that in that case I'd be better off not going either. Since the classes consisted partly of exercises designed to be done with the birthing partner, I just wouldn't get the most out of them if I didn't have a birthing partner there. If I couldn't sort out a babysitter and bring my husband along, then I'd be much better off going to the antenatal exercise classes also run by the NCT and meeting people that way.
This seemed like something of a Catch-22 to me, given that my lack of anyone locally that I knew well enough to babysit was one of my main reasons for applying for the classes in the first place. However, I gave this viewpoint due consideration, ringing the person who ran the exercise classes to find out more about them; they were, it seemed, weekly yoga sessions for women from mid-pregnancy onwards, consisting of an hour and a quarter of exercises followed by a quarter of an hour of chatting over coffee and biscuits. I could see the logic to doing these instead - I'd get to fulfill my main goal of meeting other pregnant women, and for considerably lower cost than the antenatal preparation classes. The drawback, of course, was that I'd have to spend an hour and a quarter each week doing yoga. Which I do realise would be highly beneficial to me, but the problem is that it would also bore me senseless. I didn't think I was prepared to give up that much of my free time to yoga however good the associated bonding opportunities were.
So, back to consideration of the antenatal classes. Fact was, I still wasn't sure why going solo would be such a problem. What exercises would they be doing that were so impossible to do without a partner, anyway? In the various accounts I've read of antenatal classes, there always seems to be a scene where the women are expected to practice breathing their way through imaginary contractions while the partners talk them through it. If that's all it is, I can get through that on my own. I breathed my way through most of a labour's worth of real-life contractions on my own, without particularly feeling the need for anyone to hold my hand through it (thinking about it now, I think I'd have found it a bit of a distraction to have anyone trying); I don't see any reason why I shouldn't do the same thing for a couple of pretend contractions.
I turned to the NCT Yahoo! group to ask them what they thought, and they were overwhelmingly positive about the whole idea, assuring me that going to classes was a great and highly recommended idea, regardless of whether or not I had anyone to accompany me, and that there was no reason why I shouldn't go on my own. As one or two of them pointed out, what would I have been expected to do if I was a single parent and didn't have a choice in the matter? It was all the encouragement I needed - I went ahead and sent off my booking form and cheque. Then I heard nothing more for ages, until the person who runs the yoga classes wrote to me to say a place was now free on one (I'd left my name on the waiting list to keep my options open while I decided what I was going to do) and I e-mailed the person running the antenatal classes to ask her whether or not I had a place so that I could decide what to do about the yoga classes (if I hadn't managed to get a place on one of the antenatal classes then I supposed the yoga classes might, debatably, be better than nothing). She e-mailed me back to send me a flyer with details of the classes and a request that I submit the balance of my fee by a date a couple of weeks hence or else lose my place to someone else. Which makes me wonder when she'd have got round to sending me this information if I hadn't specifically asked her. Oh, well.
The classes in our town turned out to be at really awkward times (good grief, how many women are there who can get that many mornings off work? And, yes, I know your employers are supposed to give you the time off - but surely there are limits to how much you should be asking for?) but she'd also sent me details of a course in a nearby village, only about ten or fifteen minutes' drive away, which looks far easier. It covers two full days and two evenings, and both of the evenings are on Tuesday, my day off, which means I'll have no worries about getting stuck at work late or being so exhausted when I get in that I can't enjoy the class. One of the days is on a Saturday, so that only leaves one day for me to book off work, and since it's at the beginning of October and we aren't likely to be too busy or understaffed then this presented no problem at all. So, it's sorted - I sent off my cheque and form, I've had the confirmation back, and I'm officially booked in. I don't know whether the people there will be a bunch of cliquey OneTrueWayers or a bunch of great women that I'll enjoy meeting, but, either way, I'm really looking forward to it.