Antenatal classes – making it real
According to the Care Quality Commission around 60% of mothers-to-be attend NHS-run antenatal classes, with the rate of attendance significantly lower among those who are on lower incomes.
While some of those who don’t attend NHS classes will have chosen to pay for the NCT alternative, it’s a concern that the rate of attendance is not higher: they may not be perfect but NHS antenatal classes can significantly help parents-to-be prepare for the practical, emotional and relational impacts of labour, childbirth and the postpartum period.
Here, Kirsty recalls what it was like for her, and her husband Jacob, when they attended an antenatal class as first-time parents-to-be.
Antenatal classes helped take childbirth off the page
Jacob was really against the idea of attending antenatal classes. One of the things that initially made him attractive to me was his air of the rebellious outsider, but I have to admit that I found it a bit annoying that he kept up that attitude even when we were dealing with something as momentous as having a child together.
“You really are too cool for school,” I told him.
“It’s all in the books anyway,” he replied, which was a bit rich considering I was the only one who was actually reading the books. “And the internet. Who needs to sit round in a room full of strangers watching a video of a dilating vagina when we can do that on YouTube.”
Still, I persisted and Jacob eventually agreed to join me on the condition that I didn’t “make” him speak.
As it was, we covered quite a lot of ground in the eight hours we spent at the classes. From what happens to both mother and baby during labour to pain-relief options and simple practical considerations such as what to pack in our bags; we moved sometimes too quickly but sometimes too slowly across a broad range of material.
Jacob was right though: nothing was covered that I hadn’t already found out in my bedside reading, but that hardly matters and for me misses the point. What I found incredibly useful was being in a room for two hours a week for four weeks in a row sharing the pregnancy and childbirth journey with other parents who were in the same position. We were also incredibly fortunate in that the classes were led by a midwife with more than thirty years’ experience of delivering babies and dealing with the concerns of parents. Overall the experience helped take our expectations of childbirth off the page and into reality.
I’m a pretty enthusiastic and positive person so I can’t really say that I had any major complaints about the content or the structure of the classes but I know that Jacob felt (perhaps predictably) a little patronised. He repeatedly told me that the dads were unnecessarily stereotyped as squeamish and inarticulate.
My view is that he could have addressed that better by demonstrating a bit more of an appetite for participation. He also derived endless hilarity from the fact that we spent fifteen minutes sitting in a room practising breathing.
All of the above said and although he’d never admit it, I think that Jacob actually derived more benefit from the classes than I did. Without them he would never have been placed in a position where he had to listen for so long about so many of the pertinent issues. This placed us in good stead for the birth. He was even able to help me with my breathing, although he hasn’t yet been able to experience the pain I went through – if they brought that to antenatal classes, now that would be a thing!