As I looked in the mirror, my hair wet and tangled and my foot slightly damp after I’d jammed a sock on without really drying properly, I adjusted my hurriedly thrown on jumper and there it glinted. A single white hair. Or as my sister calls them, ‘unicorn hairs’ (I love her for this). There was the evidence… our first mum and baby swimming lesson had aged me considerably.
I hate swimming*. I think I must have been a cat in a former life. There’s nothing about it that appeals to me. The water stings your eyes in a weird chemical way, your hair NEVER gets the gorgeous sea salted look that you can only acquire by a proper beachy dip, the water is dubious (who fears the floating plaster?), and its no fun getting changed in tiny cubicles where others have dripped before you. And god forbid you should drop an item of clothing on the floor! So I’ve no idea why I signed up to baby swimming lessons. I was probably swayed by others in my NCT group who seemed to assume it was ‘the done thing to do’, so I assumed it too. Or that I’d somehow be letting my child down by not taking him swimming.
Myself, along with 3 others from my NCT group had signed up for Nanuk Swim, £152.10 for 13 thirty minute sessions. It was a little further away than some others, but the other one I considered, Water Babies, was more expensive and whilst it seemed very professionally run, it was perhaps a little pushy. Plus, I wanted to do this with people I knew and they were all going for Nanuk.
The swimming lessons had been on my mind in the weeks leading up to it. It had been ages since I’d been swimming in an actual pool so I mentally went through lists of what we’d need, which brought me to the issue of what HB would wear. It all seemed a little confusing but a quick discussion on Mummy’s Gin Fund (thanks to everyone who replied) and some helpful advice from Nanuk and we were sorted; I ordered a Baby Swim Kit essentials from Splash About which included an inner nappy bit, a liner and a sealed outer nappy. A friend also gave us a couple of disposable swim nappies and we’d bought another swim wrap when we were in Australia a few months back (not that we used it…) so it was safe to say, we should be sorted one way or another. I was still terrified that somehow, my ‘one poo a day’ child would defy his usual tendencies and just shit everywhere when he entered the water which would end up in a rather embarrassing situation.
Oh, and did I mention HB screamed during bath times? That’s right. YELLED HIS HEAD OFF. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Whose great idea was it to mix a giant bath with a bath-hating baby?
(Another of my worries was the fact that I’d be baring a hell of a lot of flesh since having had HB and more importantly, I needed a serious wax. Thank you Strip for being so accommodating when I popped in the day before).
I met my NCT friends in Highbury and we all set off together, stopping to feed one of the babies and for a breakfast smoothie from Ginger & Lime. The classes were at the Thistle Hotel midway between Angel and Old Street station so we thought it would be a nice idea to walk; it would take us approximately 45-50 minutes. Needless to say, when you have babies, logistics never work as you imagine and so we turned up with 10 minutes to get our little ones changed. That shouldn’t have been a problem though – after all, we’d all got our swimming costumes on underneath our clothes (another of my oversights – it’s actually impossible to go for a wee whilst wearing a swimming suit and with a little one strapped to your chest). What we hadn’t anticipated was that the changing rooms were TINY and that another set of mums and babies were already in there, getting changed from the class before. It was hot, it was sweaty, it was wet, there was a fight for free lockers and more importantly, very little space to undress and change a baby. Oh, I should also mention that most babies were screaming too. I saw one mum deftly put her baby into her swimming costume on her lap. Skills. I had none of those. Finally though, we were done and I was relieved to see my friends had similarly shell-shocked expressions** as we gathered by the pool (also tiny).
And now for our first challenge – getting in the pool without tears (from HB, not me). I gritted my teeth, apologised in advance to those around and grimly stepped into the pool, one step at a time. Water touched HB’s toes. He wrinkled them and clutched on harder to me. I took another step in. He was still suspicious. Buoyed by his lack of screaming, we walked properly in, so just the tips of his shoulders were above the water and miraculously, he was pretty chilled. I was so proud. And relieved.
Peter, our instructor, introduced himself and we all sang a hello to the children, although I’m not entirely sure what the words were as it was pretty echoey. That first lesson, we seemed to cover a lot; from a basic holding position to different ways to drag our babies through the water. I had absolutely no idea what to expect but was pleasantly surprised that HB seemed to (sort of) enjoy it and that we could do things that I hadn’t expected us to do, such as lie HB on his back in the water and gently pull him around with his head resting on our hands. The thirty minutes seemed to go by pretty quickly, with the level and number of crying babies reaching a crescendo by the end. Dunking babies (I hated this the most as it felt like I was drowning HB and his look of hurt outrage really got to me) and trying to swim with them on our chests (a feat harder than it sounds) were the last straw for a lot of them. Surprisingly, HB only got properly grotty after the class had finished and Rosie was taking photos; he face-planted the water and choked when I was trying to position him for the camera – bad mama!)
At changing time, again chaos ensued (although by this time it was greatly cranked up a notch) – it is decidedly harder to change and dry a wet baby in cramped conditions than just change them when they’re dry. To save HB from the chlorine and to prevent him getting too cold, we had a quick shower together (again, he didn’t seem to mind it!) before I called on Rosie’s helped and together we sorted HB out. I popped into a cubicle to get changed where I realised that I’d forgotten to remove a boob-pad which was now a big gel-like mess that flopped out like a dead jellyfish. That’s a sight I’ll never un-see.
To calm our crying babies, my friends and I gave them a feed in the hotel reception. Peter had mentioned that it’s not unusual for babies to sleep well after a swim so we looked forward to that. Safe to say, HB didn’t get that memo.
However, we’d survived! Now to mentally prepare ourselves for the next one…
I was surprised that I rather enjoyed the swimming lesson – ok, so the bit before and after was rather harrowing but like anything that you do for the first time with a new baby, there’s definitely an element of stress until you get used to it. I knew what to expect for the future classes now and could prepare for that. Babies are also quite amazing – the way they adapt to new experiences and what they can do, even so young is astounding. Peter definitely knew what he was doing and indeed, all the communications I’d had with Nanuk had been helpful and prompt so I was confident the lessons would be conducted well.
I am also now highly suspicious of entering any pool which has had baby lessons in – I fear that a quarter of the liquid in the pool is actually bodily fluids: leaky boobs, baby sick (yes, that definitely happened), tears and baby wee (the nappies don’t hold wee in, just the poo…) is just the start of it. I’m also excited to be introducing HB to a life skill!
*This doesn’t apply to swimming in the sea in hot tropical countries where you can snorkel-up and splash about. I’m talking about the types of swimming you can only do in the UK – generally the chlorinated indoor swimming pool kind where other people’s hairs wrap around your ankles.
**I must also admit here that I was luckier than most and had my sister, Rosie, on hand to help with the changing. I don’t know how people stayed sane without help.