The National Childbirth Trust is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. HILARIE STELFOX reports on an organisation that took inspiration from a movement to remove fear and ignorance from childbirth
WHEN I joined the National Childbirth Trust 16 years ago I thought of it simply as a way to make friends for myself and my new baby.
I had no family in the area and knew no-one with young children. My experience of childbirth and child rearing was precisely nil and I suspected that I might need help for the challenges ahead.
As it turned out, becoming a member of the organisation was one of the best things that I've ever done.
Overnight I acquired a network of support: friends to share the pleasures and pains of raising children; a social life for me and my baby; and access to the latest information on issues such as labour, breastfeeding and early infant care.
I came to look forward to the weekly post-natal coffee mornings and as my baby transformed into a toddler he also enjoyed the company of his NCT friends.
Originally set up as a campaigning organisation to help women make informed choices during pregnancy, delivery and after birth, the NCT quickly became much more than that.
Today, while many of the difficulties faced by mothers in the 1950s have been resolved or dramatically improved, the NCT continues to campaign, particularly on issues such as breastfeeding.
It runs ante-natal classes, post-natal support groups, trains breastfeeding counsellors and ante-natal tutors, and is a voice for parents.
The NCT was founded by Prunella Briance, who was inspired by the writings of English obstetrician Grantly Dick-Read.
His book, Childbirth Without Fear, published in 1933, was a ground-breaking work that stressed how childbirth is a natural process, not a disease to be treated with medical intervention. He reasoned that fear and the body's response to it created pain and difficulties in childbirth.
Originally the Natural Childbirth Association, the NCT began its life by lobbying the Government and calling for the assessment of "new technology" and an end to the overuse of "interventionist techniques."
It published leaflets on breathing control, labour and breastfeeding, which were used by health authorities.
By the early 1970s there were 37 branches nationwide and more than 8,000 women/couples attended ante-natal classes.
However, there was still a lot of dissatisfaction with maternity services and the NCT continued to campaign for improvements.
In 1991 the NCT was invited to give evidence from its research to a Government committee, which examined maternity care in the light of what women wanted. The report, Changing Childbirth, was adopted as Government policy in 1994.
The original aims of the NCT included that women should be humanely treated during pregnancy and in labour; that husbands should be present at the birth, if both desired; that labour should not be induced to save time; breastfeeding and natural childbirth should be encouraged; an end to routine episiotomy and analgesia; and a return to birth in a homely environment.
None of these things seem impossible today but back in 1950 they were considered to be ground-breaking.
Huddersfield NCT was founded by a young mum from Emley, Katharine Moorhouse, who had taught herself natural childbirth techniques, by reading NCT leaflets, for the arrival of her first baby in 1962.
"It was so successful that by the time I had my second baby in 1964 I decided that I'd train to be an ante-natal teacher," said Katharine, who went on to have a third baby.
She was the first teacher in Huddersfield and in 1970 set up the first joint Halifax and Huddersfield branch. Huddersfield went it alone two years later.
Katharine, now 70, has had a 40-year association with the NCT and hopes to take part in some of the local celebrations this year.
The NCT currently has 60,000 members nationally - 150 of which live in the Huddersfield branch area.
There are a number of post-natal support groups locally, two breastfeeding counsellors and two ante-natal teachers. A further five women are training to be breastfeeding counsellors.
The branch also runs a Baby Café at the Chestnut Centre in Huddersfield every Monday afternoon for women who want support to continue breastfeeding and it was the first branch in the country to launch a milk bank for premature babies.
Committee member Kirsty Robertson, who has a two-year-old son Jack and baby daughter Rebecca, 1, is originally from Manchester but worked in London before settling in Meltham with her family. She believes she is fairly typical of a lot of NCT mums.
"I don't have a support network of family and friends in the area. The post-natal group is my support network and I look forward to the coffee mornings once a week," she explained.
The chair of the Huddersfield branch, Ros Farrell, also originally from Manchester but now living in Lepton, feels the same way.
"I felt very welcome at the NCT. There is a strong social aspect to it - we have nights out with our husbands and partners; we have fund-raising events and get-togethers."
For many women their first contact with the NCT is through the popular ante-natal classes. Ros, whose mother was an ante-natal teacher, joined when expecting her first daughter Evelyn three years ago.
She now has a second child, Martha, 9 months. Kirsty, however, started attending an NCT toddler group in Holmfirth more than a year ago and is about to embark on training as a breastfeeding counsellor.
Both women feel that the NCT suffers from stereotyping. "People think that all the members are either power-dressed professional, middle-class women who are going to rush back to work or hippy, breast-feeding, brown rice-eating, sandal and skirt-wearing women. But both of these stereotypes couldn't be further from the truth,"said Kirsty.
"The NCT is a mixture of people and we support women with the choices they make. There are women who breastfeed and bottle feed in our groups," added Ros.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the organisation, Huddersfield NCT members have organised a number of events.
These include a Waddle and Toddle at Beaumont Park, a sponsored walk on July 2; an NCT tea party at Cheeky Monkeys Play Area in Waterloo on September 24; and a sale of baby and children's equipment and clothes in October.
* For details of NCT membership, ante-natal and post-natal groups check out www.nct.org.uk. Locally, Ros can be contacted on 07701 129259 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org