I’m proud and privileged to present to you today three stories from NCT ‘Old Girls’, one of whom was a founder member of my local branch, Dewsbury and Spen Valley, in the early 1980s. NCT started in London 60 years ago but its message spread across the UK, often carried by women who were moving around the country following their husband’s job. The principles and information were then taken up by local women who made it their own.
I was also very proud to attend a meeting of the Dewsbury and Spen Valley branch last night and see more women, northerners like me and all with young children, step up to the plate and take on volunteer roles to keep the branch and the peer support it offers on the go.
I was a sucker for a good school story when I was growing up, and for me the NCT Old Girls are an inspiring mix of St Trinians and the Chalet School.
“One man’s terrorist is another woman’s freedom fighter”
(No offence, ladies).
From Sue Harms:
I first became aware of the NCT in 1975 – my cousin had her first baby in September of that year and recommended the MAVA bras to me as I was pregnant with my first child (Caroline) at that time. However, I didn’t get involved (apart from buying bras!) until after the birth of Madeline, my second daughter, some four years later. Before she was born I attended NCT classes in Honley, given by Kathleen Barham, and found these of enormous help: I am convinced that the breathing exercises we were taught enabled me to deliver Madeline vaginally rather than by C-section (she was a breech presentation and quite small). When I told my doctor later how much she had weighed (4lbs 10oz) he scoffed and said ‘That’s not small for Special Care!!
I attended reunions in Honley on several occasions and somehow or other must have found out about the founding of the Dewsbury and Spen Valley Group (as it was originally known).
I remember going to one get-together in Heckmondwike and meeting – to my utter amazement – someone who had been to my school (although two years above me): we had both migrated to West Yorkshire from south east London!
As time went on a Committee was formed and I became Secretary (some things never change as I am now PCC Secretary at my local church!) and a Newsletter was planned: I have before me the very first edition – January 1983 – typed by me on stencils! – and duplicated for me by the Principal of the Central Dancing Academy, Dewsbury (where Ian and I attended classes for many years). The Newsletter mentions several events, including one organised by the Leeds NCT Branch entitled ‘Giving Birth and Being Born’ at the old Leeds Playhouse, which I attended with several other members: one of the speakers was the renowned French obstetrician Michel Odent. Another very interesting event was a meeting with three senior members of the midwifery team from Staincliffe Maternity Unit (now part of Dewsbury and District Hospital). A talk on speech development, a Barn Dance, and a stall at Batley Market are also mentioned – and show the variety of events we either organised or participated in. The production of the Newsletter (around three issues a year) became more refined as time went on: stencils were abandoned (!) and duplication was done for me by a neighbour who had a business in Branch Road in Batley. I acquired a collection of Newsletters from our first Chairman (yes, we used that term in those days!) last year and they make fascinating reading!
I can remember attending lots of social events over the years – among them a Fourth of July picnic in Dewsbury (wearing American-themed clothing), and a 60’s Dance at Batley Town Hall (where I had great difficulty in recognising the husband of one of my NCT friends because of his ‘flower power’ disguise) as well as workshops and seminars at various places in Yorkshire. The NCT became a big part of my life for many years, and I made lifelong friendships during this time.
I became a grandmother in Mach 2015 and have tried to offer help and advice to my daughter Caroline, based on my memories of life following her birth in 1976. She and her partner Neal are both now members of the NCT!
Erica Amende’s story:
Being a first-time mum in 1980 was harder than I thought. I was many miles away from my own family, and I’d only lived in Heckmondwike whilst being a full-time worker, so I knew few other mums. I attended ante-natal NCT classes about 10 miles away near my work. So when I found out there was a Dewsbury and Spen Valley group I gave it a try……
We met in each other’s houses and had lots of laughs amid the normal chaos that babies create. We learned from each other, let off steam, swapped baby clothes and discussed the “lot” of the 20th century mum. It was a valuable social network before the digital version had been invented!
I went back to work and lost touch over time, getting involved in different groups and organisations as my children grew up. The NCT reunions in 2013 and 2014 were a lovely opportunity to hear some of the original members’ life stories since those days, and to reflect on the “outcomes” of our parenting efforts – especially as some of us are now learning how to be grandparents!
Penny McDonald’s story:
(this story first featured in the comments section of my original post)
31 years ago I started my maternity leave very excited about the upcoming birth of our first child. I lived in Wakefield and worked in Sheffield, which meant that I started out early in the morning and returned home late at night. We therefore didn’t know many people who lived around us, except on nodding terms. Someone suggested that I maybe joined an NCT group to ‘get to know people’, which I did with a few weeks to go in my pregnancy and continued after Alex was born.
I am married to a GP and remember someone telling me I would know it all. Nothing could have been further from the truth! The support of the group and the breastfeeding councillors helped me through the uncertainties of being a new mum.
Over the years the Sandal and Walton group thrived with my mum (‘Nannybags’) even getting involved when the group met at our house. She was not only an expert at making tea and listening to people but also entertaining the children with her stories.
Lizzie, our second daughter, came 24 months later. This time we had attended NCT classes, which helped us both prepare for a reasonably quick home birth with Judy the NCT teacher attending the birth along with Sheila the midwife. For my husband to be at the ‘other end’ of a home birth was a new experience for him but his breathing exercises kept us all on track (I think they were to keep him calm!). He did also help deliver a number of NCT friends’ babies who were also born at home.
Lizzie’s first outing was to the NCT group which we continued to attend until playgroup and nursery took over. She now attends an NCT parent and toddler group with Alice, her daughter, and 30 years later I still have many really close friends who I first got to know at the NCT group. We often reminisce about how we all met. I can definitely say that the support from NCT friends kept me sane during some difficult times.
My NCT story doesn’t stop there. I believed strongly in the work of the NCT and decided to join the Wakefield NCT committee and eventually took on the role of Chairperson. I still have a copy of the ‘Under 5s guide’ we wrote in the mid 80s. I also trained as an NCT Antenatal teacher and ran classes from our home.
I realise that the NCT isn’t for everyone and that some people think it is full of middle class designer or hippie mums demanding home births. Whatever people think the important thing is to remember the reason the group formed in the first place and that everyone associated with the NCT want the same outcomes – happy babies and stronger and more confident parents. You can’t argue with that……………………….