I didn't even manage to get to the end of the first episode of this new drama by Kay Mellor. It was so stereotyped it did my head in. Six pregnancies trying to cover as much of a textbook variety of situations and symptoms as possible. A teenager in denial. An acrimonious divorce. A lesbian couple. A toyboy. A blogger. Financial despair. Indigestion. Baby brain. Waddling. Twins. Nausea. Swollen ankles. Overwhelming fear.
It being set in Leeds meant that the “it’s grim up north” card then had to come into play, punctuated with really bad Yorkshire accents and unemployment. Having visited Leeds only yesterday, I can report that the city appears to be booming, with its ever expanding law firms, shopping precincts, concert venues, restaurant scene and riverside apartment developments. Yet this drama seemed to think that its citizens are still living in back-to-back slums and eating coal with their chips. To get into the role, two of the actresses (Tara Fitzgerald and Jill Halfpenny) seem to have spent the last few years chain-smoking. Not that they were smoking in while pregnant on screen (health campaign advice must be stuck to!) – just that their voices had become unrecognisably rasping and lowered in pitch since I last saw them in anything.
I didn’t stay long enough to watch the couples’ “parentcraft” class. One lady was already in labour and about to deliver twins and I just didn’t have the patience to endure the huffing any longer, and wanted to quit before the “Get t’bloody anaesthetist in to gi’ us a bloody epidural” lines hit. (Though apparently the contractions were only Braxton Hicks anyway.) I did have time to notice that the thick one from Victoria Wood’s dinnerladies was going to be one of the leaders taking the class, which meant no one was going to be able to take it seriously anyway.
It’s hard to write anything about NCT antenatal classes that hasn’t already been said by Dara O’Briain (tear or cut, anyone?) or Kirstie Allsopp. Like most people, I went along to NCT classes just to make friends. Which thankfully I did. My daughter still plays regularly with some of the children in our class who we first met as “bumps”. As meeting people was my motivation to attend, I generally ignored the crap the class leader told us about childbirth, and kept asking arsey questions instead. I was already being threatened with an assisted delivery as I have a small hole in my heart which the obstetric consultant decided to stress unduly about, even though the hospital cardiologist thought it was a matter of no concern. Plus I had spent the previous three years doing speech perception experiments with babies at the university and had met so many mothers still traumatised by their horrible birth experiences nine months after the event that I had been left with no illusions. There was no doubt in my mind that the whole procedure was likely to be absolutely dire rather than magical.
So I was really angry when our NCT teacher said, “I am not going to tell you about Caesarians because I don’t want to scare you.” Yet she had just shown us statistics which revealed that nearly 25% of births in York end in a C-section. Which meant that at least two of us were gearing up for one. What is scarier, being told calmly and rationally about surgical procedures in an ante-natal class, or being told during labour that your baby is in distress and needs to be cut out of you immediately, with you having no idea about how they are going to go about it? As far as I am concerned, it’s just wrong for NCT ante-natal class teachers to let people believe that it will all go swimmingly, that if you inhale aromatherapy oils and let your husband massage the small of your back in your birth pool at home, the baby will slip out without any bother. And that you should never even need to go to hospital. Such a naive view (which our teacher herself contradicted by telling us that only 5% of births in York are at home) leads to new mothers possibly feeling an overwhelming sense of failure if all goes horribly wrong. And anyway, my husband has always been crap at giving massages.
And all this before we start on the nonsense they told us about breastfeeding being the easiest and most natural thing in the world. Or the insanity of making us practise changing nappies by wiping Marmite off a doll’s bottom. This was our only preparation for the mad, bad, dark and exhausting newborn days ahead: it wasn't enough.