Allsop V NCT (again)
Ok, I’m done with the spoof posts for now – glad they provided a smile for a few people reeling from yet another media hammering for volunteering for an incredibly important organisation. Try not to take them seriously – the tags on posts indicate whether they are or not!
I thought I would add a few more sensible words about why it is that I find the attacks on the NCT so frustrating.
Firstly, while teachers are paid (a pittance) to run antenatal classes and there’s a frugal head office, the vast majority of the NCT is run by volunteers. Volunteers who almost all have small children, yet believe in paying it forward to other families. It’s a charity which fills gaping holes in knowledge investment and promoting parents’ rights that are left by an underfunded NHS, and in many areas is frustratingly filling gaps left by local service providers.
It also isn’t perfect. Like any healthcare related charity it needs to work hard to reach out to groups who don’t traditionally access support services. It has history (or baggage, depending on your perspective) of a reputation for attracting some with quite militant or alternative parenting views. But it has done a lot to overcome that. It trains antenatal teachers through an accredited university programme. It publishes and promotes evidence based research and engages with lots of new thinking. It spends time and resources canvassing views of parents.
But most of all, it cares about parents’ experiences of pregnancy, childbirth and early parenting. When I think back to my experiences, if it hadn’t been for the NCT I would frankly have felt so uninformed and alone I would have had a completely different few years.
Which is why, when I read that Kirsty Allsop attacked the NCT for providing her poor information about Caesarian sections and asked people to share their negative experiences, as a volunteer, I read them with great interest and concern. Questions were asked among NCT staff and volunteers, they looked again at the feedback from courses (thousands of samples – statistically more reliable than a ‘please share your anger here’ request on twitter). And the people of the NCT did talk about it. They were, I think, initially shocked, but invited Kirsty to engage. There was genuine concern. But once the moment in the spotlight passed, the loudly ‘caring for the underrepresented dissatisfied sample’, she just walked away. Nothing happened. This was two years ago.
In the meantime, NCT volunteers got on with what they are best at. Not courting the media or being sensational, but trying to ensure, a day at a time, that we worked together to provide some support for people going through pregnancy and early parenthood.
In 2012, there was a significant change which I blogged about here where the organisation decided to take a big step in moving away from ‘promoting’ breastfeeding to ‘supporting it. A subtle but significant change which matches the tone of the criticism from those who feel promotion is ‘pushy’ or encouraging judgment. Without Kirsty’s help.
And until last year, I was among those volunteers working many unpaid hours, without big fanfare, to try to make a difference. I regularly attended antenatal classes (including with three week old twins) to greet expectant parents on behalf of our branch. I told them, with the teachers present and nodding, that I had a section and that I didn’t breastfeed. I highlighted that informed choice was great, but each person was different. Like many others do.
I’ve given up now as three under four didn’t agree with the hours I wanted to do, but I don’t regret doing it no matter how many people are critical of the NCT. Because hers is a minority experience and I trust, I know, they are serious about helping solve any problems.
Which is why when I read yesterday that after a two year silence between publicly slating the NCT and doing absolutely nothing with them, that Kirsty has once again gone to the press slagging them off, I ceased to give a hoot what she said. Because she said herself on twitter that she has a ‘chip on her shoulder’ about NCT. She’s unable to comment on the discussions and changes that have been going on since she last attacked them, because she didn’t want to do anything about it last time. Dealing with the fallout was left to the mainly unpaid networks to address.
Changes HAVE happened. Brains have been racked. Debates have been held. But as far as a lot of people will be concerned, those things may as well not have, because someone who refused to even discuss it, says so on twitter.
And this is why I also pointed out with yesterdays spoof, the irony of someone who sells aspirational lifestyles for a living, repeatedly slagging off a charitable organisation because she feels they put pressure on women to behave a certain way.
*I should add I speak only for myself on this. I am not an employee or volunteer for the NCT. These views should not be taken to represent the NCT or any of its staff or representatives.