They are in equal measures confronting, educational and a bit boring. But they’re very important. Here’s why...
Giving birth is one of life’s great levellers. Rich or poor, young or old… when it’s time for your baby to arrive, there are a very limited set of options as to how that’s going to play out.
And that’s why it’s pretty damned important that – as a father-to-be – you prepare yourself for what’s about to happen in the delivery room … and what happens once Junior’s arrived.
That’s where the antenatal classes come in.
Antenatal classes are Very Important Things. But they are also – in a sense – a lot like that strange cousin you have that no one in the family likes to talk about.
They are incurably weird, often highly confronting and they can – and probably will – scare the ever-loving bejesus out of you at some point.
There’s a lot to get through – and some of it is bewildering at best – but at the end of the day, if even just 10-15 per cent of what you’re told ends up sticking in that deep, dark reptilian pre-dad brain of yours, you’ll be well ahead of the game.
1. It really comes out of there. And it’s messy
If you already know this bit, feel free to skip ahead … but there are some folks who aren’t entirely across how the whole childbirth thing works.
OK. It might help (if you’re still reading this part) to think of the midwives who teach antenatal classes in the same way you might think about a flight attendant.
They will be cool, calm and very much in control – and before the plane even takes off, they’ll explain to you that the exits for baby are located ‘here’ (the vagina), or ‘here’ (through the belly).
They will also tell you that there will be blood. There will probably be poop. And they will let you know that things can go wrong. But, just like flight attendants, there will be people in the room who know what to do in the event of an emergency landing.
Stay calm and let the experts do their job … your role in this part of the pregnancy is to learn as much as you can.
2. Holy crap, that thing’s loud
Okay … we’re up to the bit where the baby is out, which is why another thing you’ll learn at antenatal class is precisely how loud a screeching infant can be.
I remember it well, because despite the years I spent throughout my youth playing bass guitar for one of Sydney’s loudest bands, followed by a few years of inhabiting nightclubs for days on end, I was shocked by the noise I was subjected to during the class.
The midwife teaching us that evening forewarned us that what she was about to do would be pretty noisy. I sat back smugly, quietly confident that my 40 per cent hearing loss would protect me.
The audio she played tore through my skull like the howl of a V8 engine in severe distress, combined with the brain-scrambling top notes of dentist’s drills and every single Australian Idol hopeful who went for the high note in their auditions, and failed miserably.
It was like Satan himself dropped a barrel of cats into a volcano, and it was entirely accurate.
Babies might be small, but they’re like human-shaped smoke alarms.
3. Nappy time is not fun
One of the major parts of the antenatal classes is learning how to put a nappy on a baby.
In order to teach this, each couple in the class is given a baby-sized doll, a cloth nappy, and a large safety pin.
And with the same clipped tones – and at approximately the same speed – as a TV chef who assumes their audience isn’t already two steps behind the action, you’ll be talked through the process.
It is relatively simple. However, it’s worth noting that the dolls upon which you get to practice do not wriggle. They also don’t pee or poo while you’re mid-change. Their limbs are pliable and will move in directions that a normal infant’s won’t.
And there’s no actual post-meal detritus to deal with.
(As an aside, a lot of the dads in the antenatal class I was in visibly shuddered when it came to explain how to clean a baby girl once she’s pooped – and while I’m a big fan of believing that some things should always remain a mystery… it’s still something you’ll need to know.)
4. Your new life involves dealing with other couples
Welcome to your new life – you’ll spend a lot of it with people you haven’t chosen to be friends with: parents at the park, parents at the daycare centre Christmas concerts, your growing kid’s parents, anyone who’s chosen to stick around through your boring ‘kid before fun’ stage.
Antenatal classes prepared me for this by exposing me to people I didn’t choose to spend time with. When my wife and I went to antenatal classes, it was at a public hospital that is well known for servicing a genuine cross-section of Australian society.
That includes everyone from the Bentley-driving mansion-dwellers of the trendy inner-western suburbs, through to the kinds of tweakers and dodgy types that you’re likely to cross the street to avoid.
What that all means is that there could well be couples in your antenatal class who are genuinely clueless about the whole ordeal that lies ahead, and if you’ve ever spent time in a classroom when someone just doesn’t get what they’re being told, then it can become an exasperating experience.
Patience is the key at this stage if you understand, and others don’t.
On the flip side of that, is don’t be afraid to ask questions.
If you don’t understand what’s going on, then get ready for some other smug bastard to roll his eyes at you for holding up the class.
Let them judge. Asking a question so you’re sure you know what’s going on is the right thing to do.
5. There’s no f***ing manual
While there’s no actual manual, you will be given a lot of poorly-photocopied hand-outs, and a few other bits and pieces that explains things you can expect to encounter before, during and after the baby arrives.
Pretty much everything you need to know will be in those pieces of paper. And while it could be tempting to pop them into a folder with all the rest of the info you’re given, it’s well worth reading through to make sure you understand it all.
The people that took the time to write all that stuff down know what they’re talking about. They’ve delivered more babies than the guy who cut you off at the lights yesterday has delivered pizzas.
And the overarching fact is that this is stuff that you need to know. You’re about to become a dad. This is serious, serious business.
People are going to be depending on you. Your partner. Your baby.
Yes, antenatal classes might seem boring at the time. Yes, you’d rather be somewhere (anywhere!) else. But if you want to be a good dad, this is the golden opportunity for you to start.
6. It’s a dog-eat-dog world
The classes generally run for a couple of hours, and there will be a ‘tea and coffee break’ in the middle.
The good biscuits run out very quickly, so hurry. And remember to grab a few for your missus as well.