Overall I found my experience of NCT classes much like donating blood: painful and draining but with free biscuits. My bleakest memory of that time was the requirement to wipe a dollop of French mustard from a doll’s bum. It’s not even my favourite type of mustard. Presumably French mustard was selected as it most closely colour-matched the real thing, although with the experience of my own sons’ output I can tell you that an entire Pantone chart of colours is possible, covering all the mustards: English, American and most dispiritingly, wholegrain. Lurid yellows, greens, blacks and obviously browns, browns beyond the comprehension of the human eye.
The doll experience provided scant preparation for cleaning up my sons’ bottoms. The mustard didn’t expand and loom like a B-movie monster appearing from a lagoon. And the doll didn’t gyrate its way through a variety of yoga movements with the seeming intention of smearing the mustard down into the crevices of podge up the back and on the thighs, knees and arms.
I found that NCT was scant preparation for anything. I was mainly enticed by the prospect of free lemon squash and of course custard creams. And to support my wife obviously. It’s expensive. Our course cost £320, which worked out at £40 for a two-hour lesson. £40 which could have been spent on a cheap dinner out or a cinema date with popcorn and pick-n-mix or preferably just a really really big bag of pick-n-mix.
Our course leader was a Dutchwoman who railed against national stereotype by being stridently anti-drugs. Anti-anything to do with hospitals actually. I think if she had her way all babies would be delivered not only entirely naturally, but in a lovely forest by squirrel-doctors and badger-nurses administering only dock leaves for pain relief. Like a suggestible cult member I actually got slightly caught up in all this ‘midwives-are-evil’ nonsense, writing up a laughable birth plan which planned to preclude my wife from taking anything stronger than an aspirin for her pain. With the benefit of hindsight it is bizarre that I should have any opinion on this other than wishing for the safe delivery of my baby and whatever my wife wanted.
The NCT course has an unhealthy preoccupation with labour, given that it represents on average about 0.0002% of the time it takes to raise a child. Six of our eight lessons were given over to the birth, meaning that for a lot of students learning about the event takes longer than the event itself.
One of the other lessons focused on breastfeeding which happened on the evening I was due at Excel to watch the Olympic boxing tournament, the only Olympic tickets I had managed to secure. On another occasion the discussion became so involved, so heavy, so vaginal that all the menfolk were corralled off to the pub to talk about cars and the footy and birds. This suited one man in particular, who earlier in the course had hit upon the winning strategy of turning up half-cut after an afternoon session on the lemonades. He spent the most of the lesson in a grinning stupor, the sinister teachings of our leader just bouncing off him.
At the beginning of the course I took stock of my male colleagues, who between them gave off a heady combo of fear and diffidence. One guy appeared to have started blushing before the word ‘breast’ had even been mentioned. It later transpired that his wife was employing a doula to support her during her labour which made total sense given his apparent total discomfort at anything to do with fannies.
As a kind of icebreaker the Dutch lady asked each couple to conceive a way in which the dad could offer physical support to the mother during the birth. To my surprise a variety of vaguely tantric positions were rolled out with gusto using walls, floors, a chair and a fire extinguisher. My wife and I unfurled your everyday common-or-garden hug. Both through a lack of imagination and because fundamentally that was what I really needed at the time.
A few weeks after my son was born, perhaps as some sick practical joke, my wife revealed to me that she had agreed for us for speak to the students of the next course to talk them through our experience of childbirth and to show them what a baby looked like. I informed an increasingly aghast semi-circle of men that most of what they had learnt up to this point would probably fly immediately out of the window the minute their partners went into labour and then within a couple of days become completely obsolete.
And after all this we found our NCT classes indispensable. A lot of friends have said to us that their classmates the course went on to form a slightly synthetic, yet nourishing community of comrades alongside whom to go into parenting battle.
By a geographical quirk our course was held in salubrious Notting Hill so our course was mainly constituted of French and American financiers, who were all transient workers with light affluent tans and talk of private maternity suites. Most of them have left this country now.
Happily there was one couple who looked normal and relatively poor. We naturally gravitated towards them and have remained friends ever since. They are our community. And yes, obviously it was the drunk man.