Seeing as how I’ve never wanted to be pregnant I hadn’t really expected to end up in a birthing class of all places.
I’m nervous as I walk into the building with Nele at my side. It’s a yoga studio, five blue mats for five expectant couples are laid out on the floor. No chairs in sight. I’m not looking forward to two hours sitting on the floor and I’m not even pregnant!
Our midwife greets us at the door, tells us we’re the first to arrive. Nele heads for the bathroom while I make a beeline for the cushions piled up by the wall. Three look comfortable – the rest not so much. I can’t in good conscience make a pregnant woman be even more uncomfortable so I take a plush cushion for Nele and a normal one for myself.
The next couple arrive, a heavily pregnant woman and a man. He takes the last comfy cushion and I judge him quietly. If I was in the UK maybe I’d try to joke about it, to gently make the point that someone carrying a baby might like a bit of extra cushioning, but we’re in Belgium and my Dutch is basic so I say nothing at all.
The other couples trickle in, we smile at each other awkwardly when eye contact is made.
We are the only queer couple in the room. All of the other partners are men. I wonder what they think about me, if anyone assumes I’m Nele’s friend or sister. I feel like the odd one out.
The midwife sits cross legged on the floor and starts to speak in rapid Dutch. All of our appointments with her have been in English but today I’m the only non-Dutch speaker in the room and she asks me before the class starts if I’ll be able to follow. I say yes. The real answer is kind of, I guess. I don’t really have a choice.
She asks us to introduce ourselves and that part I can do at least. Ik ben Jo. Ik spreek Engels en een beetje Nederlands. I’m Jo. I speak English and a bit of Dutch.
I let Nele do the rest of the talking.
I follow along with the gist of the class, sort of, mostly. Enough to catch the midwife’s reference to a massage oil being for the mamas only, and her slip referring to fathers that she quickly corrects to partners. Little things, and I know she’s trying, but I can’t help but feel a bit more other. A partner but not a father, a mother but not pregnant. I don’t really belong to either camp.
During the break, a father-to-be comes over and starts talking to Nele in Dutch. I do the most British thing possible and cling to a cup of tea like a lifeline. He calls his partner over and the three of them chat.
I can understand the conversation but I’m not confident enough or fast enough to get in a reply. Instead I make noises at what I hope are appropriate times. My tea is gone but I pretend to sip from the empty mug just so I have an excuse for not contributing to the conversation.
By time we sit back down on the floor I am feeling raw.
I can tell Nele’s noticed something’s off. I focus on pulling myself together, trying to follow along with the class.
We talk about it afterwards, what we can do to make things better. Ask people to talk to us in English during the break. Summon up the time and energy to get myself back into Dutch classes. There are things I can do to break down the language barrier.
The isolation of being a non-pregnant female parent-to-be will take a bit more thought.
The internet helps. Stories on Instagram and blogs of other non-bio mamas who’ve felt this way. I wish there were more though. It’s hard to find experiences that mirror mine even with the whole of the internet at my fingertips. The chance of meeting someone in real life with this kind of perspective on motherhood feels almost non-existent. If anyone has found a good resource I’d love some recommendations.
What I really want is to find a brilliant local class, delivered in English, that has at least one other LGBTQ+ couple in attendance. But since that’s not going to happen I’ll keep calm and carry on with the class we have. I’m not looking forward to going back there but not going back feels too much like giving up.
And I am not giving up, I have too much to fight for.