“There’s nothing like a new baby. It matters not a jot how it was born”. This headline is what got me into Twitter trouble today. I found myself trading angry tweets with a TV presenter who presents programmes about crafts and property. How did I let this happen? I love crafts and property! I make rag rugs for fun! I look in estate agents’ windows for pleasure! Kirsty Allsopp knows more about crafts and property than me (though wait a minute – didn’t she encourage viewers to concrete over their front gardens? Which is one of the reasons we have so many flash floods…?) but she also seems to be one of those public figures who reckons she’s a world expert on having babies.
Of course, every mother is a world expert on HER baby and what she experienced in her own birth is totally her own. And how women give birth really does affect what happens afterwards. So when I caught sight of this tweet from Ms Allsopp, retweeted by a Twitter friend: “There’s nothing like a new baby. It matters not a jot how it was born” I really felt a sharp intake of breath coming up.
She also, on Twitter the same day, said the NCT was “bollocks”, said that parents who went to the classes were “misinformed and scared”, that they didn’t mention C-sections (how out of date is that?)
The tweet I’ve quotd in this headline came in response to a dad who was actually sticking up for his NCT teacher because her course – like mine – included a session looking at what having a C-section would be like, and whose partner had had one 2 days before. Ms Allsopp may have not quite intended the blanket dismissal which was implicit in “it matters not a jot how it was born”. But that’s how it came across.
If she had a moment she might have a think about some facts that show how the process of giving birth does matter to lots and lots of women. Because not all women are the same.
What about the babies who end up in SCBU with breathing difficulties after a caesarean that could have been avoided with patience, support and midwifery skills if these had been brought into the room alongside drugs, clockwatching and fear? Does it not matter how they were born?
What about the babies of the mothers who are feeling disempowered and without any trust of their own bodies, feeling like beached, bruised whales after a string of interventions they never intended to have? Does not not matter how they were born?
What about the babies of the mothers who are isolated, feeling alone, exhausted and confused, with no group of other new mums to pop round and suggest a trip to the park – does it really not matter how they were born?
Ms Allsopp’s fiercest criticism is for the NCT, for whom I am a teacher. She says we don’t address people’s dissatisfaction with classes.
NCT classes can – and I think it’s pretty rare – be disappointing. You can’t plan who is in your group; you might have a teacher having a bad patch, or one who is feeling stale, or one who just does not fit with you. But NCT classes can also be very, very positive, informative and supportive and in surveys 58% of parents rate them as “excellent”. I pointed out to Kirstie Allsopp on Twitter that no other organisation assesses and reviews teachers as much as the NCT. I suggested that she might try having post-programme reunions after her TV series, where people who had tried out her craft ideas could come back and tell her that her ideas didn’t work. (Because that’s what NCT ANTs do. I’ve got 2 PN reunions coming up this month. It is scary.)
It was when I told her, tongue foolishly in cheek, that I was planning to ask the NCT head office to get a lawyer to look at her tweets as they seemed to me to be bordering on the libellous, all hell broke loose and I had hate-tweets from Kirstie’s fans all bloody day.
Well, I did feel extremely miffed and put out. Some journalists and broadcasters seem to think it is a permanent open season on NCT teachers – who are mainly lowly paid, part-time workers, mums all, trying to help and support new parents through the process. Remember Kate Muir describing the NCT as “the lie factory” in her Guardian column?
My NCT clients pay a lot for classes (though they are supposed to ask for a discount if the full fee is a problem, I suspect few do). So they deserve a really good antenatal course. I’m very much aware of that. We all try very hard to meet often wildly differing needs – hypnobirthers and ECs in the same class being the norm round my way – and differing experience levels.
I normally, if the class format allows, ask the class to set out what they want to get from the course at the first session. Birth and parenting is a big subject – it’s hard to cover it perfectly in 14 hours and many teachers have even less time. When I get “suggestions for improvement” from my clients I sit down and look at the next month’s course to work out how I can make it better. While I was training, one of my clients pointed out that I hadn’t done much about induction, yet several in the class had inductions – so I ‘ve bashed on about induction from all angles ever since. But it is impossible to please everyone all the time.
Perhaps there are teachers out there who are refusing to teach about caesearean, or who won’t talk to someone who had an emergency CS, or who won’t mention pain relief drugs, as the people who tweet to Kirstie Allsopp claim. I haven’t observed any of these allegedly biased classes – and I can’t imagine any NCT teacher “not wanting to talk to” a woman who’d had an emergency CS. But there you go – these are the experiences Kirstie hears about. She tweeted to me that I should read these tweets, which I did, and I tweeted back that she should also read the positive comments from very happy NCT parents being sent to Belinda Phipps, the NCT CEO.
What I suspect, after my bruising day on Twitter, is that there are a lot of parents out there whose expectations were not met, who have decided to blame the NCT for it. Oh, and some of them are really foul-mouthed, and say things to me on Twitter which they would never say to my face. What a total waste of time.
On the plus side there was a surprising number of tweets from people most of whom I don’t even know, just being kind and supportive, for no reason other than their own good nature.
All the same, in future I am going to restrict my Twitter activity to #inamayquotes and promoting my classes!
Belinda Phipps, the NCT CEO, has been a total brick, she has told me I have “nothing to apologise for” though I seem to have kept the Kirstie Allsopp attacks alive long after their sell-by date.
Meanwhile the very next day the Daily Telegraph has a story claiming the NCT is “considering legal action” against KA. This just isn’t true – and it just can’t be squeezed out of my one tweet!
After talking with Belinda, I rang the reporter who did it – annoyingly he’s on his day off until Sunday and I spoke to his colleague to explain I wasn’t speaking for the NCT but was self-employed, teaching under licence. The conversation then went something like this:
DT reporter: So if you don’t represent the NCT, why are you complaining?
Me: Because your colleague has given the impression that I do speak for the NCT as a body.
DT reporter, evidently thinking himself extremely clever: “Well, in that case, we would only be interested in a complaint from the body that’s been misrepresented.
Me: Well, I will pass that on to Belinda Phipps. Silence while I try to find Belinda’s email address – and fail, and offer him the general NCT number.
DT reporter: Well, if you can get the NCT CEO to contact us herself it might make a nice follow-up story.
At which point I said goodbye and put the phone down. “Follow up story” = “string the story out for another few days” and I don’t really want to give Kirstie Allsopp the satisfaction.
I used to work as an education correspondent for the Daily Telegraph. If I’d done such a shoddy piece of reporting as this, not even bothering to make a short phone call, I’d have been in real trouble.