I had a baby and gained so many great friends

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - JES­SICA WE­IN­STEIN

LIKE MANY preg­nant women, I at­tended an an­te­na­tal course to pre­pare me for giv­ing birth. I’m not sure how much it helped when I was in labour but I gained some­thing in­valu­able — an amaz­ing group of fe­male friends. And we are all Jewish, some­thing that bonds us as we nav­i­gate our way through new moth­er­hood.

And that’s not en­tirely co­in­ci­den­tal. We met at a pri­vate class that, anec­do­tally, is very Jewish. Gil­lian Stell­man, who runs the course in Bar­net, north London es­ti­mates 70-80 per cent of her stu­dents are Jewish.

Stell­man trained with the NCT (Na­tional Child­birth Trust) and has taught more than 5,000 cou­ples. She is still close friends with a woman she met at her own an­te­na­tal class and one re­cent class was full of cou­ples whose par­ents Stell­man had taught ahead of their own births. “It’s stag­ger­ing and won­der­ful and I love it,” she says.

“While most peo­ple in the classes are Jewish they’re not nec­es­sar­ily part of a shul or have the sup­port of the wider Jewish com­mu­nity.

“It’s so im­por­tant to make friends at this time; you need the sup­port of peo­ple in the same sit­u­a­tion for when things are tough — and women need women.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Of­fice for Na­tional Sta­tis­tics, the av­er­age age at which women start a fam­ily is now 30-plus for the first time since records be­gan. The av­er­age age of the mums in my an­te­na­tal group is 33. We’re used to work­ing, and hav­ing a sup­port sys­tem of col­leagues.

Moth­er­hood and ma­ter­nity-leave cat­a­pult you into the land of the un­known and the un­pre­dictable. It can be lonely there, even when things are won­der­ful.

In the Jewish com­mu­nity, young peo­ple have of­ten moved from smaller Jewish com­mu­ni­ties such as Dublin, Glas­gow or Bournemouth to cities like London, Manch­ester or Leeds for their ca­reers.

They gain a net­work of kosher butch­ers and restau­rants. But their moth­ers, aunts and sis­ters are a train-ride away rather than down the road, and their hus­bands of­ten work long hours. I asked how many of the group were Jewish

Stell­man talks about the BBC tele­vi­sion show Call the Mid­wife: “For all its grim­ness, the thing that al­ways hits me are the women, stand­ing out­side their houses talk­ing to each other. These women are now all at work and aren’t friends with their neigh­bours.” Hav­ing a sup­port sys­tem built around other Jewish mums and ba­bies is like a com­mu­nity within a com­mu­nity.

In our group, whether dis­cussing how to lose our baby weight, the best way to get our lit­tle ones to nap, or shar­ing pic­tures of poocov­ered one­sies over What­sApp, my group makes it just that lit­tle bit eas­ier to get through the long days with a young baby.

And it’s been par­tic­u­larly use­ful for mums with sons; the early days of our What­sApp group were filled with rec­om­men­da­tions of mo­hels and af­ter­care fol­low­ing the brit. “It was nice to be able to ask the other girls ‘is this right?’, ‘are you do­ing this?’”, Car­rie Kaye, a make-up artist from Radlett, and mother to four­month-old Reuben, re­calls.

“It’s the sup­port of all be­ing in the same place at the same time,” says Car­rie.

“We can talk for hours about ba­bies — things that other friends aren’t as in­ter­ested in for some rea­son!”

Candy Hay­den, 33, from Bar­net, mum to Ha­vana, agrees. “We’re like a lit­tle sis­ter­hood or a pri­vate club and you’re a VIP mem­ber,” she says, “there’s a con­stant sup­port net­work.”

Par­ent­hood is of­ten a time when we start think­ing about the re­li­gious life we want for our chil­dren: shul, Jewish schools, how to cel­e­brate fes­ti­vals.

“Since I’ve had Ha­vana, my ap­proach to Ju­daism has com­pletely changed,” says Candy. She at­tended Jewish schools and de­scribes her­self as, “not prac­tis­ing, but tra­di­tional” but says that she ”feels closer to her re­li­gion now that I’ve had a baby and I want her to go to a Jewish school. Now I un­der­stand why my par­ents wanted that for me. I feel very strongly that I want her to carry on the tra­di­tions that I grew up with; she’s part of the next gen­er­a­tion of Jews and that’s im­por­tant to me.”

Candy sought out Gil­lian’s class be­cause of its rep­u­ta­tion for a be­ing a “Jewish” class. “I wanted to meet a group of Jewish girls,” she ad­mits. Orig­i­nally from Es­sex, she moved to Bar­net when she met her hus­band and says that she “wanted to bond with a group of like-minded girls” in her lo­cal area.

Sara Her­sh­e­son, 39, from Whet­stone found ad­just­ing to moth­er­hood was dif­fi­cult. “I was sur­prised by just how hard it is. I never re­ally thought about how hard it was go­ing to be un­til I had Ava [now five months old]. I un­for­tu­nately lost my mother so I don’t have that per- son to talk to or ask ques­tions; that’s why hav­ing this group of girls is so im­por­tant.”

There are lots of labour-prep groups out there: NCT-af­fil­i­ated cour­ses, pri­vate classes, ses­sions of­fered by your hos­pi­tal; and JW3 runs a “baby and bump” course.

There are also classes and groups you can join once the baby has ar­rived.

Deb­bie Rosen­berg, Early Years Pro­gramme Co-or­di­na­tor at Seed, runs one such group, Ba­bies and Bagels. She de­scribes hav­ing a baby as “a shock to your sys­tem”.

“Sud­denly you have a baby, you’re out of the work­place, sleep de­pri­va­tion can be tor­ture, but at the same time this lit­tle thing is the most im­por­tant thing in the world.” This is why, she says, it is im­por­tant for “mums to be around other mums at the same stage, go­ing through the same things.”

Ba­bies and Bagels was born 11 years ago af­ter Rosen­berg was ap­proached by a mo­hel who asked if Seed could of­fer sup­port to new mums. They came up with what they orig­i­nally called a “post-na­tal pack­age.”

This was ini­tially a four-week course, “of­fer­ing new mums ev­ery­thing we thought they’d need to know.”

It de­vel­oped into a weekly baby mu­sic ses­sion fol­lowed by bagels for the mums, which Rosen­berg says is unique within the com­mu­nity.

“There are lots of baby mu­sic groups out there but it’s im­por­tant that Ba­bies and Bagels is a Jewish group; as Jewish mums, there’s a con­nec­tion that’s im­por­tant.”

This is some­thing that Car­rie felt when she chose to go to Gil­lian Spell­man’s an­te­na­tal class. “I sought her out be­cause I knew she ran the ‘Jewish’ classes. I ac­tu­ally asked how many of the group were Jewish.”

“I want Reuben to go to a Jewish school and I wanted to make new friends as a cou­ple; new friends in the same sit­u­a­tion.”

“We’re very lucky be­cause we’re all nice girls,” says Candy, echo­ing a sen­ti­ment felt by Sara, who says she thinks our group “be­came close be­cause we’re all lovely and our val­ues are sim­i­lar; we’re all bring­ing up our ba­bies in the same way.”

”That’s why I think our group works,” says Candy. “I think it’s com­mend­able that we’re still in touch, more than six months since the an­te­na­tal classes ended.”

Car­rie Kaye(left) with Reuben, Sara Her­sh­e­son and Ava (cen­tre), Jes­sica We­in­stein and Emily (right)

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