There are so many parenting courses around today, including one run by the NHS.
When I first found out I was pregnant I looked up a number of antenatal courses in the area. Most were too far to get to and many others I hadn’t heard great things about. When BF’s job changed and he would be commuting to London and back everyday, all the evening classes that were near by went out the window.
A month ago we had been lucky to go on the LushTum’s Preparing for Birth class, an afternoon all about labour and what to expect. During a midwife appointment a few months before we had been signed up for the Antenatal NHS course that would cover everything we would need to know about the birth and first few days of caring for the baby.
Run by the NHS, this class was free and we thought it would be a great way to remind me and BF of things covered in the LushTum’s course as well as cover caring for the baby. The course was a whole day long and the list of items covered seemed really useful.
Morning of the class, we get up and take the bus all the way across town only to find that we arrived about 25 minutes early due to no traffic early on Saturday morning. We sat outside waiting as no one had arrived and the door was locked. Slowly more and more people arrived but we were all stuck outside and with 10 minutes before the course was due to start it was getting a little worrying.
Finally after someone had found a number that was picking up we were let in – it turned out that they hadn’t heard the knocking and they had forgotten to activate the front door. Once in, me and BF grabbed two seats together and waited nervously.
Slowly, more and more people arrived until the room was packed full of couples – 12 other couples in fact. Going around the circle we all introduced ourselves, giving a little background to who we were and what we expected out of the day. It was interesting to hear all about the different couples and that for many it was the same few things we were interested in hearing about.
The day was split into three parts – labour, caring for a newborn and practical labouring session. First up was all about the labour.
Before we were even told anything, the ladies running the course instructed us all the break into groups. In these groups, we all had to write down about the four different stages of labour, discussing things like pain relief, symptoms and what to expect. It was pretty quick to realise that me and BF had the upper hand from doing the LushTum’s course – we clearly understood all the different stages and everything we could do to ensure it went smoothly. For others in the group though it was clear some of this was new information.
After 15-20 minutes we had the ladies calling out how we needed to hurry as all the groups had still only covered the first two stages. We then got stopped and asked to discuss what we had talked about. We weren’t given very much information at all by the midwives running at all and it was so rushed, mashed about and hurried that I felt sorry for many of the other couples in the group.
We were then rushed to talk about the last two stages but the discussion and the round up afterwards was even more rushed and messed about. I really felt terribly organised and hardly helpful – especially for other groups that wouldn’t have had people like me and BF who had done another course or a lot of research beforehand.
Ironically while the discussions were really interesting and a good way to reinforce things previously learnt, it wasn’t a good way to learn new information that would be vital for parents to be. Even in our group there was a couple who all this was new information and were asking the rest of us lots of questions.
The rest of the labour section was a mix of things being handed around to look at and an erratic order of information. It was clear how poorly organised this whole thing was when they pulled up a video on YouTube only for it to be the wrong one and they had no clue how or where to find it. Yes we were sat watching birthing videos.
Unlike LushTum’s they had no visuals prepared so had to attempt at drawing diagrams that were messy and not completely helpful. They did have a couple of physical items too that they would use to show or explain things but these too had not been prepared, and one case was even packed up incorrectly. It just felt so poorly organised and chaotic.
With the mix of having to stay in one seated position, the large number of people stuffed in a room with no windows open and stress of the chaos, I was really struggling. I felt like so nauseous that when they announced a break for people to grab some food at some shops around the corner or grab a drink, I didn’t feel up for a walk but some air was a must.
BF came and kept me company as we huddled under shelter as the rain pelted down. Too soon we had to go back in and while I had suddenly felt OK, hitting the dense, humid and warm air in the training room was not fun.
The birth section continued and it was a mix of pain relief, video tours of the labour wards and items that would be used during the labour being discussed and passed around.
As someone who is scared of needles, the items being passed around was not helping calm or help but instead made me freak out and panic. Yes for many it was probably interesting but seeing what they might stick in my back if I had an epidural was not. It was also scary how much information that they missed out on basic things that as the time went on I felt happier that I had done the Preparing for Birth class as each minute passed.
The birth part over, it was time for the lunch break and we headed out to a local cafe with some of the other couples. It was clear though that nether me or BF had learnt anything other than how to freak me out. I already was aware that I didn’t want to see any needles or things and this was even more so the case now. In fact, the idea of an epidural had become more terrifying after LushTum’s had done such a good job at helping me calm down about it being a possibility.
The lunch break was amazing – talking to other couples was fun, interesting and actually useful unlike the first half of the morning. Each couple we talked to had their own story and it was really interesting.
BF was clearly frustrated – he could see I was struggling but how it was poorly being run so hadn’t learnt anything. He asked if I wanted to go home but as the next session was all about caring for a newborn, something I had been really panicking about in recent weeks I wanted to stay.
I wish I had listened now. The afternoon session was just as chaotic and unhelpful. There was maybe three things I learnt that day – two of them from BF raising them and the other from another couple. The rest of the afternoon was a blur as slowly I got worse struggling to breathe.
My nausea was made worse as the day went along as the room became more and more humid and hot. No amount of sipping water or sucking on a polo seemed to help that BF whispered quietly in my ear asking if I wanted to go outside and get some air. I got so bad that the room was starting to spin so I left the room to get some airwith BF taking any information that I might miss.
The fresh air seemed to help but my nerves were not great – I couldn’t manage the chaos that was the Antenatal NHS Day Course, how was I going to manage childbirth! After about 10 minutes I returned and it turned out that I hadn’t missed anything and that 10 minutes later they were taking the final break.
Now I can’t tell you anything about the last session as we decided it would be best to take me home – BF told me how I had been almost hyperventilating and rocking back and forth. Apparently I worse than I realised. The nail in the coffin though was that after getting some air again, I almost broke into tears when I stepped back into the humid room. I didn’t even make it back to our chairs so BF had to fill out the feedback forms and grab our things while I sat outside.
Enough was enough – the Antenatal NHS Day Course wasn’t giving us any more information or help, in fact it was making me ill and stressed. For some this may have been the perfect thing that they needed but for us it was useless. I think going to the LushTum’s course a month before also gave us the information in a much better, safer and structured manner that it may have tinted our view.
I guess the moral of the story is that you get what you pay for. Even when it came to handouts there was a crazy difference – for one LushTum’s course gave you notes at the end that covered everything and the NHS course we had left with one piece of A4 from the NCT course on different positions for birth that the instructor happened to have spare.
With so many couples at the Antenatal NHS course, there was no real space or environment to really ask questions either so for someone with a high risk or unusual health issue, it was difficult to get the answers we really needed.
If you can’t afford to go to another class, the Antenatal NHS Day Course will give you the basics but it is free for a reason. For those people who have done no research or pregnancy classes, like hypnobirthing or pregnancy yoga lessons, the final session apparently covers some of these basic breathing techniques which will help. The information might also be enough for the average person but we left with nothing really positive to say other than meeting and talking to other couples of use.
After this day, it made me realise just how lucky we were to be able to go on the LushTum’s Preparing for birth class – it really was outstanding seeing the huge difference between quality and even quantity of information that we gained and retained from the course. Maybe it was being ill that didn’t help but when even BF wouldn’t stop singing the praises of how good LushTum’s had been compared to that “piece of shit” it wasn’t jut my opinion.