My First Antenatal Class

Tuesday 9 June 2015

The firsts continue with this pregnancy!

Last time I was at the midwife’s office, I got to hear my little son’s heartbeat for the first time. That was truly an amazing moment – almost as good as seeing him on screen during my scan.

Perhaps even more so, because as my fears have slowly dropped away, and my love for this little creature has steadily increased, so the sense of wonder and joy that each of these little interactions brings has gotten greater.

The machine shifted and I could hear both of our heartbeats in tandem – mine slow and deep, his swift like the beat of a hummingbird’s wing.

And perhaps I understood a little better that day what unconditional love is.

This week was another first for me and the boy as we rocked up to our antenatal class.

I have been reliably informed that this was where you found your ‘mummy friends’, something I was looking forward to. As I’ve mentioned before, none of my friends have children yet, and a lot of them live quite far away, so one thing I’ve always wanted is to meet some more women in similar situations.

We’d taken it as read that your partner went with you, so Seb booked the afternoon off work, only to find when we turned up that he was the only guy there!

This seemed a little odd. None of the letters mentioned it being ‘mummies only’, and actually a lot of what we covered would have been really useful for him.

But he didn’t want the other women to feel uncomfortable with a guy there, bless him, so he discreetly ducked out of the waiting room before the class started.

I found myself perched on a plastic chair with quite a range of different women.

You are supposed to attend the classes on the month you’re due to give birth, but as they have an odd habit of not running any during July or August, there were people there due at the end of June right up to the beginning of September, like me.

This I did not like.

It made for a very large group, so it didn’t feel like there was a chance to properly get to know anyone, and we were all at such different stages.

The other thing I noticed was how much older most of them seemed than me, which was quite surprising. After all, at just-turned 30 I’m hardly a teenage mother. But most of the group seemed to be 35 plus.

I have noticed that parents seem to be 5-10 years older than us where we live, so it must just be a quirk of our area.

My guess is that because it’s a ‘nice’ area, well noted for schools and with relatively expensive housing, most people have been career focused and worked hard, and perhaps put off having families until later?

Whatever it is, I definitely felt like the youngest, even though we were all ‘first timers’. I suppose at my age I should feel grateful to feel like the baby in any situation!

The class was run by two midwives, Sarah and Jo, who were beyond lovely, very humourous and warm, although with that peculiar steely streak midwives and personal trainers often have – I guess they need
to in order to get all those terrified women though labour!

I would happily have had either of them in the room with me when the time comes - they seemed like the sort of people you’d want there.

I found what they had to say really interesting, and all the information was presented in an accessible and engaging manner that made me feel understood.

They covered the real basics – stages of labour, admittance to hospital and procedures, pain relief (probably the topic of the most interest for the audience), and even stuff like what to bring in your hospital bag.

They did a great job of making me feel reassured.

Labour seems so vast and scary when you’re staring it in the face – a little private tunnel of pain that no one can really journey into with you – but they brought me a feeling that it was routine, time honoured and usually managed pretty smoothly.

They showed us a lot of the equipment that had previously existed only in dark corners of my imagination, and that really helped to take the mystique out of it – although not some of the horror!

For example, they passed around one of the needles used to give a spinal block, and it was every bit as oddly comic and nightmarish as you’d imagine a syringe the size of a knitting needle to be.

Ye gods. I was certainly rethinking my choices on pain relief after holding one of those, and that’s after leaving my needle phobia behind. It looked like a prop from Little Shop of Horrors.

Another particularly nightmarish implement was the ventouse, which is what they use to suck the baby out of the birth canal if needed.

It was an unadorned metal dome with a piece of rubber tubing connected to a metal tap. It looked like it had come from the 1940’s, but we were all told it was an actual one of the type in use today, and that no, there is not extra cushioning on it ‘in real life’. Shudder.

Although I’m fairly sure you might be past caring at that point, or at least that’s what I’m banking on.

Some items were a bit less scary.

They showed us the tool they use to break your waters if the baby is overdue and they need to induce
labour. This is something that had been particularly terrifying me. I imagined a large metal broom handle with a big spike on the end, but what they showed us was a relatively inoffensive looking yellow plastic rod with a tiny notch on the end.

They insisted that them breaking your waters does not hurt, it just “feels like you’ve wet yourself.” Another charming prospect, but then again I was already well aware that if you’re planning to give birth, you can hang your modesty and inhibitions up at the door.

We’re so shielded from the animal and the raw in life – we draw these layers of politeness around ourselves to function socially. Polite society depends on a complex web of tacit omissions and white lies about our animal natures – but childbirth tears those all away in an instant.

This was brought in to stark focus when they told us that ‘most’ women shit themselves during the process, due to the baby’s head pressing down on your bowels on the way out, but by way of reassurance, they told us that most do not realise it as midwifes are so adept at whisking the soiled sheets away before anyone involved realises.

The unutterable glamour of bringing new life into the world!

The movies have lied to us again. Instead of delivering lying down, women are encouraged to move around, kneel, squat and crouch – let gravity give its helping hand.

Having never watched ‘One Born Every Minute’ (ignorance is bliss when there’s only one way out of being pregnant, so I don’t watch it), that was a surprise to me.

Despite the needle, I still remain leaning towards an epidural, seeing the dramatic effect it had on my sister in law during her two deliveries.

I’m not so keen on the idea of gas and air as it doesn’t take away the pain - just makes you feel detached from it.

Hospitals these days seem to be very progressive and also offer aromatherapy. I tend to think of this as nice but not anything medically effective, so it was quite interesting to see how seriously this is taken as an accompaniment to birth.

But one thing they did emphasise – which I agree with - is that having too much of a set plan in any direction is a bad idea.

There are so many variables, and no way of predicting how it will go, so sticking too rigidly to one idea of how it has to be seems to be almost setting yourself up for disappointment.

The class was what I wanted it to be - informative, reassuring, a little bit scary, oddly funny in places – like when they whipped out a dolly and a plastic pelvis and demonstrated how the baby emerges and,
with its head out, has to twist round like something from The Exorcist to get its shoulders out.

That had me in heaps of unintentional giggles!

The one thing I really felt was missing was the chance to find a ‘group’. They did mention that they would collect everyone’s email addresses at the next session and pass them around, so hopefully that
will help, but the sheer size and different due dates of the group is going to make it hard.

I’ll report back on my learnings from next week’s group.

1 comment

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience Sarah! I'm thinking of going to classes when I get to that stage, so it was really good to read what you thought of your first one. I'm looking forward to hearing more about your sessions.

    I'm actually hoping to have a water birth if possible, though I'm completely open minded so just going to go with the flow and see what happens. I think so many people make a birth plan and then end up panicking if it doesn't work out that way so I'm trying to adopt a 'what will be will be' frame of mind.

    I'm think they'll be quite a few younger mums at the classes I'll be attending, as people do tend to have their children younger where I live. Hopefully you'll be able to connect with some of the mums you meet next time but I'm always around for a chat if you need one! xo