When I told my boss in the UK that I was pregnant (he already knew I was leaving), he told me I should definitely sign up for antenatal classes in Canada. Not for the breathing, coping mechanisms or anything like that. In order to make friends with babies the same age.
I took his advice to heart and once we arrived I signed up for a weekend course recommended by my midwife – Birthing from Within by Dancing Star Birth. She warned me it was a bit hippy (it definitely was) but said it was good.
So one hot Friday evening in July three years ago, my husband and I found ourselves in a cramped little room with five other couples all expecting babies between August and October. It started badly. We had to talk about feelings. I’m British. I don’t do that, certainly not with a load of strangers. Anyway, we got through it with a certain amount of eye-rolling. One of the couples was less discreet about their opinions of the class and whispered all the way through… they didn’t come back.
The other four couples did, however. We spent the next two days talking, learning how to cope with pain, talking, drawing labyrinths (yes), talking… at the end we were sent each other’s contact details and encouraged to keep in touch. This was it! This is what I’d spent a couple of hundred dollars for. Not for the chance to hold blocks of ice. Not for the chance to do ugly crying in front of strangers. (Hormones!) It was for the friends.
My boss was right. Making friends with babies the same age was an excellent idea. We were alone in a strange country, thousands of miles from our friends and family, trying to raise a small human.
We are still in contact with all of the couples. During the last few weeks of pregnancy I saw two of the ladies from the antenatal class frequently and have continued to do so getting on for three years later. Not only are we good friends who are going through similar things at around the same time, our children all enjoy playing together and ask to meet up. Without the support from these friends during the last few draining weeks of pregnancy, the first awful days/weeks of breastfeeding, the first tantrums, the potty training, the acclimatisation to the whole new life that is parenthood, I don’t know how I would have coped.
I’m a stay-at-home mum (and when I arrived in Canada six months pregnant strangely nobody wanted to hire me…), so I don’t have the opportunity to make friends at work. Here in Canada, my antenatal class friends, along with a few friends from church and a few I met through teaching English, are my support network. When I was coming towards the end of my second pregnancy, they were the ones who came round to take care of my daughter so that I could have some sleep, who made meals for us and who offered to take my daughter if I went into labour before my parents arrived.
I have to say, I have forgotten most of what we discussed over the weekend at the antenatal class. I certainly didn’t use any of it in my first labour, where I freaked out completely until my midwife arrived, and I don’t think I did in my second, where I was much calmer because I knew what I was doing this time and trusted myself. So from that point of view, it was completely useless. But actually, it was worth every penny.