‘Half An Hour Into My First Antenatal Class, I Already Wished I Never Had To See Any Of These People Again’

Katherine Faulkner, author of Greenwich Park on the highs and lows of NCT and antenatal classes.

NCT class

by Katherine Faulkner |
Updated on

It is supposed to be a place where you make friends for life. But half an hour into my first antenatal class, I was already wishing I never had to see any of these people again.

Holding up a tatty brown babygro, the well-meaning course leader was advising us to keep the cute outfits we’d bought for our new babies to hand during labour, to “keep us motivated" when the time came to push.

“I'm not sure the thought of dressing my baby in THAT would keep me very motivated!" I quipped unthinkingly, assuming the brown onesie was just some prop she’d picked up in a charity shop.

"Actually,' she replied quietly, “that was my baby's first outfit."

Welcome to the horror of your first antenatal class. A bit like your first day at school, in that you’re expected to make friends with a load of complete strangers, so your every weird, chance remark will assume formative significance.

Obviously, you’ll have to do all this while significantly larger and sweatier than usual, and topics of conversation for you and your new friends will include vaginal tears, infected nipples and what happens if you do a poo in a birthing pool.

The whole joyous experience will cost you upwards of £200. Don’t like the look of the other couples? Feel like running for the hills? Sorry, preggers! You’re in the WhatsApp group now, so you’re stuck with these guys for the foreseeable.

For some expectant mums, the sudden intimacy with complete strangers that the classes demand is even more terrifying than the gory content of the course itself.

In my novel Greenwich Park – inspired by my own experiences - I imagined what it would be like to accidentally befriend someone odd at an antenatal class and then find you couldn’t get rid of them after you changed your mind.

As her birth draws closer, my main character, Helen becomes increasingly unsettled by her new friend Rachel’s strange behaviour – but finds it impossible to extricate herself.

“I had an experience just like that,” one North London-based friend confided. “This woman seemed OK at first, but it turned out she was an ardent anti-vaxxer. She tried to get us to sign a petition against the childhood immunisations, and left the WhatsApp group when we ignored her. I still see her sometimes in the park!”

Another, who did her course in Kent, told me: “I genuinely think my antenatal classes were more stressful than the actual birth. One of the other mothers kept asking hypothetical questions about horrific birth outcomes. I was already anxious, and by the end of the course, I was honestly ready to strangle her.”

Another friend had to abandon her Hackney-based NCT group when the “competitiveness” of the other mothers became too much: “It was all about which baby had done what first – I just didn’t want to be part of it. One mother actually claimed her baby’s first word had been “aviary”.’

READ MORE: The Pros And Cons Of Doing NCT

Many women I spoke to said they felt pressure had been applied on the courses – either about breastfeeding or natural birth. This “preachy” reputation has meant that growing numbers of mothers are now deciding against taking antenatal courses - once thought of as an essential middle-class rite of passage.

“I didn’t bother with an NCT course. I knew I didn’t want to breastfeed and I didn’t want to be lectured about it,” says Pippa Haines from Frampton on Severn. “I had friends who did them, but it just wasn’t for me. Although when I gave birth, I still got chased around in hospital by a breastfeeding nurse with a knitted nipple, so maybe there’s no escape!”

One London-based journalist, who was intending on doing some bottle feeding, was left stunned when her antenatal course leader claimed “if we didn’t breastfeed, our kids would be more likely to end up either obese or criminals.”

Other mothers were struck by the negative manner in which caesarean sections were discussed.

“It was clear in my antenatal classes that a C-section was regarded as a failure,” says writer Harriet Tyce, author of Blood Orange and The Lies You Told. “The emphasis was solely on natural birth, no pain relief and preferably at home. I have no doubt the whole experience with my antenatal course contributed materially to the depression I experienced after my C-section.”

For many, though, the experience of antenatal classes is a positive one – and friends for life really are made.

This was the case for editor Jess Bowie, who told me that some of the mothers in her group became closer than she had ever expected.

“When the babies were about six months old, I was hosting my NCT group plus babies at my house, and I looked up to see one of the mums in the group was breastfeeding a baby that wasn’t her own!

“I know it sounds a bit weird - I definitely looked at the other mums and we were all a bit like - What the hell?! – But actually, it was a lovely thing: this baby’s mum had gone back to work, and even though he was getting cross and hungry, he was still refusing to take the bottle from the dad, so one of the other mothers in the group offered to give him some of her breastmilk.

“The dad probably should have asked the baby’s mum first – but apparently she laughed about it when she found out!”

I, too, am glad I did an antenatal course – and not just because it inspired me to write a psychological thriller. Despite the stranger aspects, I found it invaluable having support in the early weeks from other women going through the same thing.

As for my misstep with the brown onesie, it wasn’t as calamitous a social faux-pas as I’d initially feared.

Months later – over a slice of my baby daughter’s first birthday cake – one of the good friends I’d made told me: “That was honestly my favourite moment of the whole course.”

Greenwich Park by Katherine Faulkner is out now and can be bought here.

For more parenting stories, advice, tips and memes, check out Grazia's new parenting community on Instagram, @TheJuggleUK

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us