My NCT Story
When I was pregnant with my first baby my Mum gave me two bits of advice - "Join the NCT" and "Don't have pethidine" and being a dutiful daughter I followed both pieces of advice.
So spring 1995 found me contacting my local NCT Branch in Basingstoke and enquiring about antenatal classes. I had no preconceived ideas about what the NCT was or stood for and we were far from the media impression of wealthy, middle-class, older parents. We were in our 20s, living in a 2 bedroom flat in negative equity, working in the public sector and for a charity. We were very pleased to discover that we didn't have to become members to attend the course (although we did join once we had done the course) and that we could pay for our course in installments, something which the NCT still offers, together with discounted course fees and membership for those on low incomes.
That September we turned up with 4 other couples at our antenatal teacher's home for 8 weeks of sessions covering everything from breathing and positions for labour to caesarean birth and lots of information on the early days with a newborn, including a separate session on breastfeeding. The course gave me the knowledge and confidence to stay at home for the first 28 hours of contractions (when, according to the hospital, I wasn't actually "In Labour") and to stay upright and mobile once I was in hospital. It helped my husband to understand what happened during labour and to support me through those long hours at home and well as the quite speedy established labour once we got to the hospital.
There was no paternity leave in 1995 (NCT played a part in the campaigning which led to its introduction) so my husband juggled holiday, short days and working from home during the extremely hard first few weeks of our daughter's life. But when she was a month old, at the beginning of January, it felt as if everyone had gone back to work except me, it was a very low point in my parenting journey and I could easily have slid into postnatal depression.
At this point salvation arrived in the form of an NCT newsletter, posted through my door by a local volunteer. In this newsletter were listed dates, times and venues of coffee mornings in local members' houses. So, one Wednesday morning I found myself standing on a stranger's doorstep with my baby, who had been fed to the gills before I arrived because I was worried that I would be judged for the fact that by one month she was mainly formula fed. To my relief, the women I met were welcoming and totally non-judgemental, some of the babies were breastfed some were formula fed, some had had straightforward births, some had been born by caesarean, but none of this mattered, we were all mums wanting to do the best we could for our babies and supporting each other through the highs and lows. I remember sitting there talking about how my baby never slept, and being in someone else's house gave me the permission I needed just to sit and hold my baby so, of course, she slept through the whole 2 hour session.
I made so many good friends through these coffee mornings and many of the children went on to pre-school and school together so we all had a great network of people who could share drop-offs and pick-ups and look after older children as more babies came along.
When my daughter was a year old I saw a notice in the newsletter asking for volunteers to join the branch team and from then I haven't looked back. I took on the role of Postnatal Support Co-ordinator and went on to be Area Rep for my part of Basingstoke, Membership Secretary, Course Bookings Administrator and Branch Co-ordinator (on several occasions). I joined the Regional Team and became Regional Co-ordinator for my area and sat on National Committees, and managed to produce two more children along the way.
12 years on, with my youngest about to start school, I began to think about how I could stay involved with the NCT as my children grew older and decided to investigate training as an Antenatal Practitioner. It was a huge undertaking for me, a diploma course which would take a minimum of 3 years, based on reflective practice (still not really my forte but I've learned to do it). With the support of two brilliant tutors and my amazing fellow students I finally completed the course 5 years after I'd started, the delay caused by a move abroad and back again, which gave me the great experience of facilitating a course in Paris, where the maternity system is very different from the UK.
My courses are client-led, the expectant couples set the agenda, are encouraged to question perceived norms and come to conclusions which suit them. Using evidence based information we explore how couples can make informed choices which are right for them and lead to a positive birth and parenting experience. No topic is taboo and there is acknowledgement that the NCT course is only one influence, of many, on their journey to parenthood.
In addition to my work as an Antenatal Practitioner, I am still an active branch volunteer, regularly helping at the breastfeeding drop-in and attending branch meetings when I can. Back in 1996 the NCT was my lifesaver and I will carry on being a part of it for ever, so that it is there for my children when they become parents and their children after them.