When you get pregnant there is a 'to do list' that is pretty much the same for everyone:
- Make GP and midwife appointment
- Start researching ridiculously priced prams
- Start discussing names with your significant other - usually met with a 'nope, don't like that, he was a knob at school' response to every name you like.
- Worry about, and google every tiny thing that you can think of that may happen during your pregnancy, and finally,
- Sign up to an NCT class
Historically, antenatal classes were provided by the midwives at the local hospital, along with an abundance of other classes such as 'parentcraft' and the like. I remember my sister, 20 years ago now, attending a class or two every week when she was pregnant. Now, if you wish to attend the NHS classes your choice (although dependent on where you live) is:
- A two hour antenatal class
- Breastfeeding class
- Back pain session - one hour
- Breastfeeding class
- Session for dads - one hour
- Breastfeeding class
- Did I mention breastfeeding class?
So, if like me, and many other first time mums, you want to experience the antenatal classes you think you are missing out on then you have to pay. The 'market leader' of antenatal classes is run by the National Childbirth Trust (NCT). I thought it was a charity, so was expecting to pay around £50 or so, boy was I wrong! £250 or so later (paid in three 'handy' installments) The Husband and I were the proud owners of a place on our local NCT class 'september/october babies Egham.' First class - breastfeeding session (!). And lets not pretend I was going to these classes because I felt 'entitled', or that I needed to learn about birth (I was booked for an elective caesarian), or that I needed to learn how to look after a baby, or 'how to be a good parent.' I was going to these classes purely and simply to meet mummy friends, 'purchasing friends' if you like.
Everyone had an NCT story. My neighbour still meets up with her class 30 years later. My good friend Nicky is close to all of hers, and they have all had their second babies together. My bestie hated hers and never saw them again after the class (she's a bit strange though!!) The Husband's reaction was;
'They'd better not be a bunch of knobs.'
And I spent many an hour wondering who we would end up with, and hoping that they were not a bunch of knobs..........!!!!!
I think my premmie baby was around 6 or 7 days old when I had the sudden realisation. We'd had a rough couple of days with E, she'd been really sick with sepsis and had stopped breathing many times. We were exhausted, had barely slept, and were now terrified that this tiny foetal baby that we had grown to love was now going to be taken away from us. So why at this point my sudden realisation happened I really do not know. But sitting in the parents room in the neonatal unit (NICU - our new 'home') I suddenly gasped:
'We're going to miss NCT!'
For The Husband this meant nothing. For me it meant everything.
From then on it was another 'loss', among so many that just added to my bitterness. I couldn't put a finger on why I was so upset. I had friends, and now I had NICU friends. I didn't need more friends. But I was gutted. My counsellor says it's due to expectations. To attend NCT was one of my pregnancy expectations. That, among so many others, had been crushed following the abrupt end to my pregnancy. NCT were great, and refunded me straight away, along with a 'congratulations!' email - another 'congratulations!' lost on me.
Once home from NICU after 7 weeks NCT was a distant memory as we got on with trying to be a family and look after this (non) newborn. Being home was amazing, and after our two weeks quarantine, and after several hints and 'encouragement' from the health visitor we started tentatively looking at classes at our local children's centre, in order to start 'mixing' with other mums. The problem with having a premmie and it being the run up to winter is that 'mixing' isn't really an option. The Health Visitor, like nearly the whole 'non-NICU' population, didn't really understand this. We'd had it drilled in to us in NICU that a cold could mean hospitalisation and ventilation - therefore we were now petrified of germs. After ruling out anything that involved toddlers and pregnant people I was left with baby massage, which wasn't the worst thing in the world as I'd wanted to learn some anyway, I had massage oil along with my abundance of 'pregnant purchases', and I wanted to use all these things!
The Husband took E to the first baby massage as I was preparing a dinner party for 8 people. Yep, I certainly was. I was still at that stage where I believed I could do it all. Well I could actually! We had not been home from NICU long at that point, and looking after E at home was like a walk in the park compared to 12 hour days in NICU, so at that point I absolutely could host a dinner for 8, do night feeds and keep a baby clean and alive! I was invincible. It's a different story now however! I'm now very much in to 'new mum' mode - wondering when I last straightened my hair and applied make up, and where my next coffee is coming from. Crazy really, given that I can run an emergency department and keep several patients alive (and management off my back!) They don't require me to sing 'the wheels on the bus' repeatedly and talk in a high pitched daft voice though..............
Anyway, we digress. So The Husband took E to the first baby massage, and came home broken. This was the first time we had mixed with 'normal' mums and babies and he had found it really difficult. He had listened to the trials and tribulations of having a newborn, no sleep, crying etc, wishing that we'd had all that stuff to worry about, instead of worrying whether she would survive another night, remember to breathe, and would still be in the same place when we returned to NICU in the morning. E was also the oldest in the class, yet the smallest, and the most like a newborn. While the other babies were wide awake and responsive to their mummies, E was fast asleep for all of it, and wasn't responding to us in the same way at that point. Terrifying when we were constantly worrying how her brain was developing. So after telling me all of this and being quite upset, he then threw in at the end;
'Oh, and they all seem to know each other too, think they must be friends or something.' I knew instantly, and all the bitterness came flooding back;
'They'll be an NCT group,' I spat, overcome by immense jealousy, so I went to dress my table.
The following week it was my turn to go to baby massage. I was quite nervous, knowing that the mums were all friends, and I was sure they all thought I was a complete weirdo having had a dinner party the week before and therefore not attending (The Husband had kindly told everyone). I was also hungover. I had gone out the night before for the first time since having E, had 3 glasses of wine, and had this horrendous hangover. Clearly my metabolism had changed during pregnancy! So not only did I feel like the world's worst mummy for abandoning baby massage because I had a dinner party to host, I was now hungover! I walked in, with my cabin crew smile fixed on my pale hungover face, and sat down.
The first person to talk to me was the person sitting next to me. A scary 'second time mum' type, also with a 'prem'. He was born at 38 weeks......(!) From then on, all I heard about was her 'prem' baby, and all I wanted to do was squash the complementary cake in her face. I was hopeful that all the mums would be the type of people who I wanted to squash cake in their faces. Of course, it was the complete opposite. The other mums, the 'friend' mums, the NCT mums, were all lovely, and all people I could imagine hanging out with. Every week at the end of the class I could hear them arranging their next meet up, coffee, lunch, walks, and I'd be gutted. Soon I worked out that this group would have actually been my NCT group, this is the group I had signed up to! And I was even more gutted.
It was at this point isolation was kicking in. We'd been home from NICU a while, so the messages and visitors had dried up. The Husband was back at work as well as all his other activities. Meeting up with my NICU group was like trying to access Facebook in China - working around colds, germs and hospital visits. So when I got an email at the end of the baby massage course, with the email addresses attached of all the other attendees, I wondered if I was desperate enough to send a group email casually asking to meet up sometime for a coffee. Yep. Of course I was. I cringed when I sent it, but I had nothing to lose.
I lost nothing. I gained 8 friends (16 if you count the babies!)
Now I have my very own 'NCT group.' And guess what. I didn't even have to pay for them!!!! Silver linings and all that.