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I’ll never forget the day that I wrote the cheque for my NCT Class. Two-hundred-and-how-much to sit in a stuffy sports centre conference room with a bunch of other nervy first-timers sporting enormous bumps, and their quivering husbands, who all did something in IT?

Like every other vaguely middle-class mother, I had heard the stories about NCT Classes, both the good and bad. The good involved making friendships that lasted a lifetime, and learning the right way to do your ‘kegels’, so post-birth your pelvic floor muscles didn’t permanently collapse and die. Some said you even got the occasional tip on good positions to give birth in, and what type of pain relief to go for on the big day (meant to be the real point, but everybody knows that’s just a cover-up).

The bad stories involved feeling overwhelmingly pressurised into having a natural birth and breastfeeding till age four, and rejecting taking anything more than a paracetomol and a spritz of Rescue Remedy on the big day. And that the group would consist of aggressively competitive, Boden-sporting women who all lived in bigger houses than you, and would spend the rest of you and your child’s days making you feel miserably inferior about the fact that your baby reached every single milestone later than theirs did (weaning, walking, talking, getting into the right nursery, signing up to a major league junior football team, the whole shebang).

As with most things in life, the reality was neither one thing or the other. No, I didn’t meet 11 like-minded soulmates who I’ll share my darkest secrets with till the grave, but most of the women were reassuringly uncompetitive and actually rather nice. During the actual lessons, I remember doing something alarming with a bucket (don’t ask), learning how to ‘breathe’ (which I naturally forgot the instant I went into labour) and listening agog while our teacher held court and described what it was like to eat her friend’s placenta at a dinner party. But otherwise it was OK (though worth £250? Still not sure if I’d have been better off buying a Nintendo Wii).

Like most women, my main motivation for going was simple though. It was, quite simply, an opportunity to meet other women at a similar stage in pregnancy – I feared that if I didn’t go, after having my baby I would sit at home alone, friendless and isolated, up to my elbows in baby poo and crying in front of Homes Under The Hammer , my single opportunity to meet other local mothers permanently squandered.

For this reason, my main source of stress initially was signing up to the right class for my area – neither one that I was offered was particularly close to my house, and in the end very few of the people in my class lived in my immediate area anyway (and some of the ones that did moved away).

In the months that followed I realised that it wouldn’t really have mattered if I hadn’t gone, though. Most of the birth stuff covered was in the books I’d already read, online or in a not-dissimilar-but-free NHS class I attended (though this one was in a bleak chamber above a doctors’ waiting room, noone said a word to each other and the nurse who hosted it seemed to be intent on terrifying us new-mothers-to-be into early labour, by passing around an assortment of different sized forceps and, also, a catheter. (I also seem to remember a frighteningly bloody video of childbirth, not unlike one I’d seen at school 20 years earlier which made me vow never to have children for about the next 15 years).

Anyway, after having my son, I met another post-natal group – for free! – who were friendly, reassuring and nice and and who became as much ‘my’ group as the one I spent a small fortune on. But then, I guess, I’d never have heard that story about the placenta.

When I was pregnant, there they sat in great dusty piles by the side of the bed, willing me to read them while I studiously ignored them. And as I got bigger and bigger, so did the pile.

I had all the usual suspects – What To Expect When You’re Expecting, The Rough Guide To Pregnancy, plus a fair few wackier purchases made on Amazon and Ebay in those desperate, early hours of the morning: paperbacks on natal hypnotherapy and hippy homebirths and spiritual midwifery. Quite frankly they all equally scared the hell out of me: the chapters slowly counting down the weeks towards D-Day, and bringing up horrible topics like pain relief choice and how to dodge episiotomies, when I’d rather have been thinking about floral maternity dresses and sweet-smelling pregnancy massages and eating cream cakes. The hippy ones scared me in a different way to the anatomical – however, hard I tried I couldn’t imagine ever being as sanguine as the women pictured in these books, with their bottles of lavender essential oil, and loose white yoga trousers.

Then there were the graphic pictures showing me the stage of development of my unborn foetus (in short, yuck), and the myriad birth positions my husband could hoist me into if he was so inclined. Did I really need all this information, and all this fodder to feed my neurosis? Wouldn’t my body just get on with it like they did in the old days, before the advent of mummy internet forums and parenting manuals? If I knew that this week it was all about growing eyeballs and livers, did it really make me feel any better? No, it just made even more worried about all the things I didn’t do properly in the early days when I was pregnant but didn’t know it.  (Folic acid supplements from week one? You must be kidding.)

Indeed, my hunch that all that methodical preparation first-timers do – birthplans with complicated footnotes, hiring birthing pools – would be hilariously irrelevant faced with the reality of  overcrowded hospitals, bad-tempered consultants, overworked midwives and the fact that most of  us just don’t possess the right physiology to just slip one out in 45 minutes in our back living room, was confirmed after a 24-hour labour that culminated not in a peaceful water birth while listening to Mozart sonatas, but a traumatic forceps delivery, the finer details of which I still don’t really care to share with the greater universe.

Then, of course, when baby arrived, I graduated onto the new mothers’ manuals and the dusty pile grew higher. The first few weeks of my son’s life was (rather predictably) spent reading Gina Ford’s Contented Little Baby, The Baby Whisperer and What To Expect: The First Year at 3am in the morning as I attempted to breastfeed. I dumbly read a book on co-sleeping from cover to cover even when my son was already in his own room, and I had no intention of taking him back into mine (I enjoy sleep too much). But I also had an admittedly slightly outdated Miriam Stoppard charity shop book that literally taught me how to change a nappy, and how to wash a newborn – with no mother or mother-in-law to help me, it was a lifesaver.

And now. Well, even now the pile continues to grow. Can a manual really help you be a better mother? I guess it can have a jolly good try.

Most of the first month of your baby’s life will be spent with you recounting their bloody and painful entrance into the world. You will tell the story to anyone who will listen: friends, relatives, the woman at the Tesco checkout.

These tales are particularly enjoyed by other women who are already in advanced stages of pregnancy, those who suffer from tokophobia and single friends who are ambiguous at best about the idea of spawning children.

However, some birth stories have more gravitas than others. The following win hands down: any experience involving third degree tears. Caesarian wounds that got infected (extra points if you were readmitted to hospital). Losing more than four pints of blood. Any experience that resulted in an inquiry and legal action being taken against the hospital/midwife/anaesthetist.

The inverse of Gory Birth stories are easy birth stories. These are the woman who say things like ‘I hadn’t even realised I was in labour but when I got to hospital I was 9cm dilated. Then 30 minutes later little Jasper/Esme popped out.’ These woman are inhuman and to be avoided at all costs.

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This blog is currently dedicated to stuff new mummies like. As opposed to stuff mummies of teenagers like. That's because we don't have teenagers yet. Give us a few years though. We're told it goes pretty quickly...

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