Back when I was pregnant with my first child (when I was going to be the most perfect parent that ever existed with no refined sugar and definitely no screen time), I was invited to attend a series of antenatal classes at my local hospital. They were run by one of the community midwives who spent a great deal of time getting us to feel crocheted breasts which was apparently meant to prepare us for breastfeeding (spoiler alert: it didn’t). She went through the stages of labour, covering early labour (quite painful), active labour (really painful) and something called transition, which is basically where you want to die. She also touched on pain relief, though I didn’t really pay that much attention to that part as I had already decided that I was going to have all the drugs available to me and then some.
I came away from these classes convinced that once labour was over that would be the hard part done and dusted, that breastfeeding would be a doddle, and raising a child would be the easiest job I had ever done. Turns out, labour was actually the easiest part, and everything else has been a minefield ever since. If I had my way, antenatal classes would be much longer and cover much, much, more, including the following:
Post Labour Massacre
You might have been told that you will probably experience some bleeding after labour, but nothing really prepares you for the horror show that will await you the first time you try and walk (hint: it pours out). For those who are squeamish, gory horror shows should be mandatory viewing during antenatal classes.
I pulled all-nighters all the time at university trying to get essays in on time. I once stayed awake for 56 hours travelling from a remote corner of south Asia back to the UK. I had worked night shifts. I had also suffered from insomnia and sleep-walking since I was a teenager. So, when people told me that I would not be prepared for the tiredness that comes with a baby, I did not take them seriously. I knew tired. I had lived tired. I was prepared for tired.
Reader, I was not prepared. Nothing prepares you for the type of tiredness that comes with having a baby. Think about it another way. With any other medical procedure that requires a hospital stay, you get to put your feet up after and someone else usually looks after you. But with labour, you are sent away still bleeding heavily, still sore, usually after you have been awake for a day or more with contractions and sent on your merry way to look after someone else.
And that someone else doesn’t sleep for more than two hours at a time. So, you don’t sleep either. At a time when your body desperately craves a good night’s sleep to recover from the major trauma it has experienced, you get to spend the night cluster feeding. Even when the baby finally falls asleep, in those early days you are too anxious to sleep yourself, worrying about every snort and snuffle your baby makes.
My child is now in school and still doesn’t sleep through the night, due to various issues. I no longer feel tired. I have become tiredness itself. Tiredness streams through me. It is part of my genetic make-up. It is part of my soul. My brain no longer functions in the same way. I am forgetful. I’m disorganised. Antenatal classes should include some of the sleep deprivation torture techniques used by mysterious and dark government forces. It might give us just a small glimpse of what sleep deprivation is really like for a parent.
How To Deal With A Nappy Explosion
I was never a child that was into dolls, I much preferred My Little Pony (I even had the castle), and as I got older, I was never really into babies either. Before I had my own kids, my in-laws would thrust the latest family baby in my arms with eager expressions on their faces, presumably in the hope that it would make my ovaries begin to pop, but it just made me feel awkward and uncomfortable. Other people’s babies did not interest me at all, so there was no way I was going to volunteer to help change a nappy. As a result, when my own child arrived, I was quite clueless.
It seemed fairly straightforward at first. Remove, wipe, replace. But once feeding was established things started to go horribly wrong. I discovered that baby poop can defy gravity. Even when a baby is in an elevated position in a car seat it can travel up the back of the nappy, and the back of the baby grow. It can get into creased areas that you really don’t want it getting into. And, what’s worse, it can get under your own fingernails when you least expect it.
My child had a (then undiagnosed) milk intolerance so nappy explosions were the norm for us. However, it was not until I happened upon a Facebook post that I realised that the shoulders on baby vests are designed to let you pull them down the baby’s body, as an alternative to over their heads, saving your precious baby’s hair from being splodged in poop as you attempt to remove it. Sadly, my baby was almost one at that point and had already had multiple unnecessary baths as a result of my ignorance.
To fully prepare parents, antenatal classes should include practical sessions where dolls are covered in mashed up vegetable curry and need cleaning up. Parents could also be offered advanced lessons, such as “clean up the doll on the back seat of your car with only a packet of tissues and a half a bottle of strawberry flavoured water because you left the changing bag at home” or “how to change a baby on a tiny changing table on a moving train whilst a drunk hammers on the toilet door telling you to hurry up”.
How To Remove A Pea From Your Child’s Nose
If there is a God, then he has a wicked sense of humour. Picture the scene: “On the eighth day of creation, God looked around feeling pretty satisfied with everything he had achieved so far. However, he felt that something was missing. He wanted a way to ensure that every now and again he could have a good laugh about humans. Thus, on the eighth day, God created the humble pea. A vegetable so sweet that it would be adored by young children, and so nutritious that it would be equally adored by their loving parents. And then God added a little twist to this small, but mighty vegetable. He made it the perfect shape for stuffing up a child’s nose”.
Young children are obsessed with putting objects into holes. That’s why shape sorting toys are so popular. That’s also why we once spent a small fortune at the garage after our son, who had been allowed to sit on the front car seat whilst we were parked, place a penny coin in a gap in the steering wheel where the horn button was, resulting in the horn going off every time we turned the wheel. It’s also why the Mother’s Kiss was invented.
At some point, your child will at least attempt to put a pea, sweetcorn, or small Lego piece up their nose. I absolutely guarantee it. Hopefully you will spot them before they accomplish their task but if not, you will need the Mother’s Kiss. It is something that absolutely should be included in all antenatal classes. Lie your child down on their back, press your finger on the side of the empty nostril to block it, cover the child’s mouth with yours and do a sharp blow into the mouth. The offending object will come shooting out. You do need to be prepared for screams afterwards.
Advanced Antenatal Classes – Possible Topics
The essential basics have been covered above, but there are a myriad of topics that could be included in an advanced course for those parents who want to prepared for any and every eventuality. These include:
How to remove poo / banana / spag bol / chocolate / sun cream stains from white baby clothing. The answer is not that expensive stain remover, pre-soaking, or bicarbonate of soda. It’s sunlight. You’re welcome.
How To Find Personal Space For Five Minute’s Peace
Tell your children there is a wasp in the kitchen and they need to go into the living room and shut the door whilst you try and remove it. Enjoy your cup of tea.
How To Eat / Clean / Do The Shopping / Use A Public Toilet With One Arm
A sling is a life saver here because it can free up both arms. But otherwise it’s all about careful planning. Choose meals that don’t require cutting up, like chips or burgers. Forget eating healthy stuff like salad because you need a knife and fork for that and if you’re carrying a two tonne toddler everywhere, you’re going to burn off extra calories anyway.
Ignore the housework; tell yourself it’s good for the immune system. The supermarket delivery man will become your best friend. Sit your child on your knee on the loo and hope they don’t shout about your “hairy front bottom” when other people are in the cubicles.
There should be an entire class dedicated to nursery rhymes and their accompanying actions so that you can offer alternatives to “Wind The Sodding Bobbin Up”.
Dealing With A&E Shame
When you rush your baby to A&E up at 3am in the morning because they turned blue / went floppy / wouldn’t wake, you were only doing what any parent would. However, when the same baby turns into a smiling, laughing, wriggling monster with a perfectly normal looking complexion immediately upon arrival, you will probably feel embarrassed. Don’t be. The staff there would rather see a healthy baby than one whose parents left it too late to seek help.
How To Catch Vomit
Antenatal classes should definitely include practical sessions where everyone lobs slime at each other and you try and catch it to prevent it spreading. Bonus points if you manage to catch it whilst you’re in the front passenger seat of the car and your child is in the back.
How To Remove Glitter From Every Surface In Your House
The trick is not to try and remove it, because that is impossible. I speak as someone who is still finding glitter in the house in July from pre-Christmas crafts. The trick is to ban the stuff from your house all together. It’s bad for the environment, anyway.
How To Sleep On The Edge Of Your Bed With No Covers
For those who are planning on co-sleeping, or those who have accepted that co-sleeping will probably happen whether you want it to or not, advanced antenatal classes could include an overnight residential where you have to sleep on a balance beam with no blanket. For a truly authentic experience, the instructor will randomly kick you once every 30 minutes.
Parents need to learn how to accept the fact that their handbags are now filled with wipes, raisins, and toy cars. Instead of mourning the loss of your small, but perfectly formed Radley bag, you could embrace your inner Mary Poppins and see if you can cram the following into a small rucksack:
- At least three nappies
- Nappy sacks
- Two spare outfits for the child
- If formula feeding – one premixed feed and a sterilised bottle
- Snacks and a drinks bottle for the older child
- Emergency infant paracetamol sachets
- Toys, crayons, and a colouring book for when waiting at a café or bus stop, etc
- Sun cream
- Sun hats for all children
- Waterproof jackets for all children (you can’t trust the British weather after all)
You get bonus points if there is still room for your phone, wallet, and keys at the end.
How To Take Less Than Two Hours To Leave The House
Once you have a small person to look after, everything takes longer. Advanced antenatal classes should include time management training so that parents are fully prepared for leaving the house on time. Parents can learn skills that will take them from babyhood right through to primary school, with topics, such as “cleaning up a nappy that has been filled two-minutes before you need to leave” and “how many times you need to tell a five year old to put his shoes on before he will actually put his shoes on” (I estimate it’s about 11,000).
Finally, I’d like to see antenatal classes including a section on possible hiding places a child might choose. This is so when you suddenly discover that your keys are missing, you have a good list of places to look. Such places include your shoe, in the shape sorter, in the dolls pram, your child’s welly, and in the compartment of the toy lorry.
Hopefully, these antenatal classes would allow parents to feel much more confident in their parenting ability – at least until their child starts school, which brings a whole new set of challenges.