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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……………………….






Another guest post, this time from Sarah Calvert, an NCT practitioner (and award-winning volunteer) from Barnsley in South Yorkshire


My NCT story began at the start of 2005 when I was pregnant with my first baby. Someone said to me that I should do NCT antenatal classes as she had found them invaluable, particularly for meeting new people. As I was living away from family and didn’t know anyone else with a baby this was really important to me. I had not heard of the NCT at this point and little did I know how life changing the NCT’s influence would be on me.

We attended our course, learnt loads and made some great friends who we had a 10-year reunion with at the end of last year, but the biggest change for me came a couple of years later when I had moved back north and was once again in search of new friends. When a new NCT branch opened in Barnsley I joined the committee, got really involved and then started thinking about training as an Antenatal Teacher.

I’d been thinking about it for a while but my branch chair really encouraged me. I started in late 2007 and I’ve never looked back. When my middle child was born I decided that I would leave my job as a secondary school teacher to focus on my NCT work and it’s been the best decision I ever made. It’s given me the opportunity to do a job I absolutely love whilst being able to stay home with my 2nd and 3rd children.

Apart from my work with the NCT almost all of my close friends (who I know will be lifelong) are women I have met through the NCT in one way or another and for that I will be eternally grateful. I’ve had some difficult times over that last few years and it has been these great friends and colleagues who I am lucky to call my friends who have got me through.

As an NCT Practitioner I know what a huge privilege it is to work with people who are approaching such a significant life transition and am so pleased that I can be instrumental in them making their new lifelong friendships.

Yes, there’s more. A slightly more in depth, considered post than my initial emotional outpouring. I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the last few days and want to elaborate on three little understood elements of NCT’s activity.

1. Volunteers play a massive part in getting NCT support to parents

NCT volunteers stuck up the little card in my GP’s surgery which alerted me to the existence of the charity. It was a volunteer who opened up her house for the first coffee morning I ever attended, 24 years ago. More events are now held in public venues, but there’s still a place for peer support in homes – comfortable and free! It’s volunteers who run the branches – branch co-ordinators, treasurers, secretaries, nearly new sale organisers, first aid course co-ordinators, bumps and babies co-ordinators, newsletter editors – the list goes on. They are the ones who held my hand as I cried, pointed me in the direction of good information in the branch library, and fundraised tirelessly to pay for my practitioner training. I did my stint on the branch committee and I developed the utmost respect for good secretaries (I’m good at taking and typing up minutes from branch meetings, but not much else) and fundraisers (I organised some excellent social events but didn’t manage to make a significant profit for branch funds).

The branches are supported by more volunteers, in the form of the regional teams. One of those volunteers is Elaine who has also written her #mynctstory.  In addition, NCT members have been involved with Maternity Service Liaison Committees since they were first set up in 1984. It’s generally exciting and fulfilling work, helping to improve maternity services, but also largely unpaid. And, although NCT practitioners are paid for delivering courses, there’s lots they do to support parents which is unpaid. Much of the work done by breastfeeding counsellors in particular is undertaken with no prospect of payment, simply because they see it as their mission to support women in need.

2. NCT practitioner training, via NCT College, is family friendly and life changing

Becoming an NCT practitioner is one relatively flexible way to mix motherhood and work – you are self employed and have a large degree of control in how many courses or sessions you facilitate and when. I joined an NCT tutorial group in 1995, when I was pregnant with Third-and-Final Son and fed up with my career in local newspaper journalism. I’d been demoted when I switched to working part-time (whilst pregnant with Son-in-the-Middle), I was incredibly bored with the work I was being given and I couldn’t think of anywhere else I wanted to work as I thought it would be more of the same. Having said all that, I had no plans to leave that job as I was terrified of not having the money – I thought that the antenatal teaching would be an interesting hobby with the added benefit of a bit of pay.

I loved my monthly tutorials from the start. I would throw books and food into the car and battle through  rush hour traffic, thrilled to be heading for an evening of stimulating conversation and learning, plus rock solid emotional support from my tutor and fellow students. Life got quite challenging over the next few years –  I decided to leave journalism to be a stay-at-home mum; there were some traumatic events in Third-and-Final Son’s birth; I got what I now realise was postnatal depression; my husband was made redundant; we had to claim benefits to get by plus I took on various part time jobs to make ends meet. But through it all my commitment to becoming an antenatal teacher with NCT stayed strong.

The training wasn’t easy. I get high scores on intelligence tests but my academic skills were weak. I love to read fiction but struggle to concentrate on textbooks, and I had little idea how to write an academic essay or do referencing. I had left education at 18 after a lousy set of A-level results, primarily due to my total lack of revision, meant no chance of taking up a place to read history at the University of Warwick, and that always bothered me. But my tutor introduced me to original research, was unflinching as I worked through various emotional issues and never lost faith in me. I eventually gained my NCT Licence to Practice and, as there was a scarcity of antenatal teachers in my area, I was soon teaching up to three evenings a week plus having a weekend job working at Sainsburys.

Part way through my NCT training I decided it was time to get the degree I’d always wanted. I briefly toyed with going back to history but decided that my real interest was in psychology, particularly reproductive psychology. Back then being an NCT practitioner was an internal qualification only (students can now gain certificates, diplomas and degree awarded by NCT College and the University of Worcester) but the portfolio of work which made up my Final Submission to NCT’s Teachers’ Panel was enough to earn me a place to study psychology at the University of Leeds. Third-and-Final Son started school in September 2000 and a couple of weeks later I embarked on full-time study (plus marriage, motherhood, antenatal teaching and working weekends at Sainsburys – but that’s another story). I graduated in 2003,  took a couple of years off studying then went back for my MSc in Psychological Approaches to Health. I am proud of my academic achievement and it is unlikely to have happened without the support of NCT.

3. NCT’s commitment to family-friendly working practices for staff

My final point about NCT is how it supports mothers, fathers and families in its commitment to home-based, flexible working for many staff members, particularly in NCT College and Operations. I now have a staff role as NCT’s Research Engagement Officer and I really appreciate having that element of accommodation of family needs in my working life. There are some awesome people on the team, many of whom have left high powered jobs to work for less money for a charity, because the work is emotionally fulfilling and allows them to spend more time with their families.


On reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that my longtime devotion to NCT is in large part down to the role this organisation has played, for 60 years, in helping women to make sense of their lives when they become mothers. I’ve blogged before about my devotion to the book The Compleat Woman, by Valerie Grove, with its focus on how women have maintained their career and partner relationship when they are also busy mums of three or more children. The book illustrates how mothers have been working to find that balance throughout the 20th century, with their ages ranging from 40s to much older.  I firmly believe that the growth of NCT is in large part due to those tensions faced by mothers; that many members left (or were forced to leave) conventional employment on becoming mothers and consequently threw their considerable energies and intelligence behind a charity they felt passionate about.

NCT is one of the organisations which has both been shaped by, and has helped to shape, the changes in women’s lives through the 20th century. NCT’s values and the support and opportunities it offers to mothers AND fathers will continue to make family life more fulfilling in the 21st century.


What’s YOUR #mynctstory ? Parents want to know.


I’m gathering some wonderful messages and blogposts from NCT story tellers, and the list so far is below. As 2016 is the diamond anniversary of the founding of NCT it would be great if we could get at least 60!

My original blogpost, with more stories in the comments.

“At no point did anyone from NCT tell us what we should do or how we should do it; then as now it was about helping us to find our own way. “

“One of the most incredible things about becoming a parent is the way we change in ways we can never anticipate.”

“Loneliness, isolation and postnatal depression do not discriminate; anyone irrespective of ‘class’ or income can be affected. NCT IS there for everyone.”

“On enquiring to the local tutor about enrolling, at some point when my son was old enough to be left, maybe in a year or so, she replied ‘Nonsense! Start at once, bring your baby with you, this is the NCT’.”

“I was young, pregnant and very, very alone.”

A volunteer’s story

Informed choices not informed consent

“NCT saved my life, my sanity, gave me a purpose, gave me confidence”

“With the second baby, I requested a birth mat and birthed her on my hands and knees. She landed on the blue birthing mat right next to the words ‘DONATED BY HACKNEY NCT’.”

NCT “occupies that awkward space between public health messages, personal experience and research.”

“Salvation arrived in the form of an NCT newsletter, posted through my door by a local volunteer.”

“I was so inspired by the woman who was the breastfeeding counsellor that I decided that my life had to take the path of supporting others.”

Search on Twitter using #mynctstory for some (very short) NCT stories.

What’s your NCT story? And do you know any NCT Old Girls (or boys)? I’d like to hear their stories too.


I am pleased to welcome my first guest blogger, the wonderful Suzy Colebeck!


My NCT Story: 17 years ago I found out much to my delight that I was pregnant. As I began to read ALL the pregnancy magazines I could find, I started to hear about NCT; all the articles said you should go to their classes. I called the local number and we were duly booked onto a set of classes at a local teacher’s house.
A few weeks later, we sat outside said house; too nervous to get out of the car until we saw a pregnant woman and her partner get out of their car and knock on the door. Our teacher was warm and welcoming and I was in awe to meet other women who were about to embark on the same journey as we were. As the weeks went on, we learned lots and enjoyed getting to know the other couples. Even back then – at no point did anyone from NCT tell us what we should do or how we should do it; then as now it was about helping us to find our own way.
My course had low numbers so we only connected with two couples BUT we also connected to the local branch that warmly welcomed me when our beautiful daughter was born and that’s when it began! We went to coffee mornings, meet-ups in local cafes and walks in parks. Soon I realised that I wanted to be a part of NCT so I began to attend committee meetings (including my first one when Caitlin was 6 weeks old in a very posh house where she managed to poo through everything she was wearing!), began to host coffee mornings and then began to edit the branch newsletter. Finally I began my journey to train with NCT in September 2000 and I have never looked back.
Over fifteen years later, I have NCT friends who I went to classes with, who I met at coffee mornings, who I trained with, who I went on to assess and now who I work with as a tutor – colleagues and students. I have met so many amazing people on my journey; I have taught thousands of parents through NCT including reaching diverse parents teaching within the NHS. I have observed approximately 50 teachers and students and worked with dozens of practitioners, with student midwives and even with birth workers from around the world.
Of course we aren’t always perfect but what I can say with complete confidence is that every single one of us wants nothing more than to support parents to be as they move into parenthood. We don’t want people to do what we say; we want them to feel empowered and confident to do it their way, to make choices and to seek support.
All of us love the friendships that form in our classes, the light bulb moments that parents have and feeling that we can in some way help them as they begin parenthood. If you could see how hard students work and strive to be the best they can, how much time practitioners give up to talk to parents outside of class time, to studying to improve their skills and their work; I promise it would inspire you.
So when we are the easy target for the media or for those who misunderstand what we do (more often than not people who have not been on any of our courses), I no longer hurt on my own behalf – been there done that! I do however hurt on behalf of all the wonderful women (and even a fair few men!) who work so hard to be there for parents. We are amazing and we need to shout it from the rooftops!

I have a confession to make – I am a member of NCT (aka National Childbirth Trust). I have been a member for nearly 24 years (since Firstborn Son was just a few months old) and, to add to my sins, I have been a qualified antenatal practitioner for NCT for nearly 16 years and a staff member for three years.

I am writing this post because I am fed up with reading newspaper articles and comments where the writers think it is acceptable to be absolutely bloody horrible about NCT members and practitioners. I’m sorry to hear that some people haven’t benefitted from their NCT encounters, but I did and I know I’m not the only one. I am eternally indebted to the members of my local branch who gave me friendship when I felt I had no friends, who held my hand when I broke down in tears about Firstborn’s sleep issues, who lent me books from the branch library (it was 1993 – pre-internet), and celebrated so many mothering milestones with me; to the practitioners who came to my house and helped me get to grips with breastfeeding (all for free, btw, and knowing an awful lot more about infant feeding than my GP did); to my NCT tutor who was endlessly supportive as I slogged through my practitioner training and worked out how to be the person and mother I wanted to be; and to my fellow practitioners for being inspirational women who demonstrated so many ways to combine fulfilling work and motherhood.

I’m sorry if, on my NCT journey, I’ve ever said or done anything to anyone that makes them feel bad about their birth or parenting experiences (some conversations I’ve had are burnt into my brain and come back to haunt me at low moments) but I know I’m not a bad person and I’ve learnt and developed as a result of those encounters. I’ve also been on the receiving end of uncalled-for, tactless  and, sometimes, just plain wrong remarks from healthcare professionals and other parents; age, experience and my NCT training have taught me when to roll with the punches and when to take an effective stand. Also to recognise that sometimes the offender is just having a particularly bad day/ week/ month/ year and could do with some emotional support themselves!

Get this: NCT is not an overbearing organisation intent on world domination. Its growth over the last 60 years has been primarily volunteer-led. That’s women, pregnant and/ or with young children, deciding there needs to be more support available to help them achieve their birth and parenting goals and GETTING OUT THERE AND DOING IT. Their goals may not be your goals, but that’s not the point.

I will never be able to repay NCT members for all that they have done for me and my sons.

What’s your NCT story?