Anyone who has signed up for NCT antenatal classes will know how true this is. As soon as I started telling people I was pregnant, the most common response I received (after congratulations) was “you must join NCT”. It, I was told, is the best way to make new friends. My initial reaction to these comments was to think I don’t need to make new friends, I’m pretty fond of the ones I have. I am in my 30s and didn’t really think I even had the time for new friends, especially not with a baby on the way too. (I am not saying I have hundreds of friends but I have some very close special friends who I love spending time with and my weekends were already pretty full!) My second thought was that my husband and I had recently moved out of London and we were one of the first of our friends to have a baby. Maybe we did need new friends. Maybe I needed some new friends with whom I could speak about babies, breastfeeding, poo and nappies just so I didn’t p*** off my “real” friends!!
I cant believe that it’s now been almost 20 months since my husband and I, together with our bump, went along to our first NCT antenatal class. It was a full Saturday in January and I remember feeling excited, but also a little nervous. Nervous because I wasn’t sure how much I really wanted to know about the labour (I thought I might be better off just going in blind!) but also nervous about these other expectant parents we were about to meet! I remember that I got up a little bit earlier that morning and put a little more thought into what to wear, how to wear my hair and to put some make up on (which by this stage of my pregnancy was becoming a rare occurrence!) It sounds so silly now but there felt like there was so much expectation on these people becoming my new friends, I wanted to make sure I made the right impression. And whilst I know we were really there to learn about all things labour and parenthood, everyone who had told me about NCT talked about the lifelong friends they had made.. and if this was true, this was the first time I was meeting them!
I think it’s hard, if not impossible, to really prepare a couple for labour and the time after their little one arrives (i.e the rest of their lives!) Our NCT teacher told us that they only teach us what to do and expect in the first few months and I remember thinking, well who is going to teach us the rest of it? Is there another class we can go to in a few months? Looking back, and having had discussions about it with my “NCT friends”, there are things we wish they had told us and other things we should have been more prepared for. But then, how do you really prepare? Out of 5 couples in our NCT group only one person had a “normal / natural (unassisted?)” birth. Out of 16 hours of NCT classes I think they spent no more than 10 minutes talking about induction, c sections and assisted births.. It just doesn’t correlate! This isn’t a criticism of NCT at all, I am just highlighting the fact that it’s impossible to prepare anyone, especially when there are a group of people in a class and the only thing that is certain is that every single one of those couples will have a different birth experience.
Our second Saturday was a bit more relaxed, and we realised that we had a good bunch of people! We undertook the mandatory swapping of numbers (as everyone said we would) and set up a what’s app group straight away. The girls were sensible (and kind) and set up a mums only group; there is no way the men needed to read some of our early messages, and the Dads set up their group too. And then off we were sent!
Since that first and second meeting, we have been through so much as a group. The pre-baby maternity leave, birth (and the detailed stories that followed), the NCT official “reunion”, meeting each others babies for the first time, maternity leave coffees, endless play dates, breastfeeding, bottle feeding, weaning, thousands of WhatsApp messages at every hour of the day and night, invaluable advice and incredible support, girls’ nights out, boys’ nights out, couples nights out (with babysitters booked), returning to work, choosing to stay at home, choosing childcare, juggling work with family life, adjusting to our new lives and all the challenges they bring, and most recently tantrums, talking and potty training are on the agenda! But we have also shared the most amazing moments together – watching our toddlers hugging each other and trying to say their friend’s names is worth every sleepless night!
And now, as most of us are back at work full-time or with only one or two days a week off, our play dates are few and far between, girls nights are harder to plan and couples nights are put in the diary months in advance. WhatsApp has a lot less traffic and replies aren’t as instantaneous. But we see each other as often as we can and message regularly. We want our children to grow up as close friends and I feel committed to the thought of watching them grow together. Their relationships are already blossoming and it is awesome to watch.
So whilst it is harder now than it was a year ago, when we had nothing to do but care for our babies (and drink coffee and eat cake whilst they slept!), we now make a real effort as a group to see each other, fitting in play dates when we can and with whoever is available that day and booking other plans in plenty of time. And 2018 also brings “NCT on tour” for some of us with a holiday abroad for 6 adults and 3 toddlers (are we completely mad?!)
I can, hand on heart, say our NCT subscription was the best money my husband and I spent in the months before Isaac was born. The people I met back in January last year are no longer my “NCT friends”, they are just my friends.