When you announce a pregnancy, people start using this strange initialism: NCT. They talk about their NCT classes, their NCT friends, and ask if you’re going to ‘Do NCT.’
After a few weeks of confusion, you find out that NCT actually stands for ‘National Childbirth Trust,’ and, generally, you sign up for their courses. Thousands of people, usually couples, usually fairly affluent (the courses cost around £150 per person), complete their antenatal courses each year, and they can be very helpful. All of the course attendees will be expecting their babies around the same time, and, in my experience, it tends to be the friendships that are formed with these people and their babies that are the legacy of attending the NCT courses.
Over the last few months, criticisms have been raised about the NCT antenatal courses. Kirstie Allsop spoke on the Radio 4 ‘Today’ Programme and claimed that the NCT was ‘politicised’ and ‘dogmatic.’ Her twitter comments about the charity resulted in a maelstrom of comments, both positive and negative, about the NCT. A frequently occurring theme was that women who had to have intervention during childbirth, particularly caesareans, felt like failures.
To some extent, I can relate to this feeling. Before Ben was born, I had attended the NCT classes, the NHS antenatal classes and Pregnancy Yoga. All three promoted childbirth being as natural as possible. Massage, water and Gas and Air where the suggested methods of pain relief. In the NCT class we had the time to practise massage, positions for birth, and to discuss the different stages of childbirth. I wrote my birth plan and prepared to use all my techniques during labour and delivery. I was convinced that I wanted as natural a birth as possible, and wanted to avoid an epidural at all costs.
In many ways, I think this approach was good. During my pregnancy, I wasn’t really worried about the birth. I felt that I had prepared almost as fully as I could. I was feeling positive about it, and the mantra my Yoga teacher used ran through my mind: your body is designed to do this. When labour started, yes, I was anxious, but I was also excited. I’d been waiting 9 months for this.
However, labour and childbirth doesn’t always go to plan. I laboured for 37 hours to bring Ben into the world. Gas and Air made me vomit, as happens to a lot of people. I didn’t like the woozy feeling they gave me. When I was finally allowed to get in the birthing pool, I hated it – it was too hot, I couldn’t get comfortable, and eventually, it made the contractions slow down. Like many, many women, I needed intervention, and Ben was born with the aid of a suction cup.
I admit, I did feel disappointed, and a bit of a failure. I had wanted to do it as naturally as possible, and it didn’t work for me. I also felt a bit silly for not requesting more pain relief, but the midwives were keen for me to give birth as naturally as possible. The ‘natural as possible’ message seems to come from the NHS and the NCT.
Following Ben’s birth, we struggled to breastfeed, even though I was very keen – determined even – to breastfeed. A friend recommended visiting an NCT Breastfeeding Supporter, and this was where the NCT came into it’s own. I had been seen by midwives and health visitors, and each one had told me that the latch was fine, and that the pain would soon go away. It didn’t. The NCT Supporter had the time to sit with me, make sure we got the latch right, and I can honestly say that without her, we wouldn’t have breastfed for much longer. It was the best thing we could have done in those early days.
As for the rest of our group, only 1 of the 4 of us had the water birth we all hoped and aimed for. One had a caesarean. Two of us are breastfeeding. We all meet up each week, and that support network is the best thing that could have come out of the course. Our babies are all the same age and going through the same things. Knowing other parents in the same situation as you is invaluable in the first few months.
So, my experience of NCT is mixed. But I’m really glad I did the course, and would recommend it. I think the NCT does need to think about how it prepares women for childbirth and caesareans in particular, but so does the NHS. Ultimately, you want to go into the experience of labour and childbirth with the most positive attitude you can, and aiming for a natural childbirth does help you to do that.
So I did NCT. I’m still a member of the NCT. I’d just advise women to take it all with a generous pinch of realism.