If you’re wondering whether or not to sign up to aqua natal classes, debating whether to attend lessons with your own little one or considering a career in this area, my personal recommendation would be DO IT, if you can! It’s not exactly cheap but for us, it was and is so, so worth it.
We always knew we wanted our children to learn to swim as early as possible; we live on the coast, there’s a big pond, a stream and a hot tub in my parents’ garden (they’re our main childcare) and we love going on holidays to villas with private pools – the safety aspect of learning to swim alone is common sense for us. More than this though, we want our children to enjoy being in the water with us. There are of course many more benefits to swimming with your baby that can easily be discovered with a quick search of Google but my story into the world of baby swimming is a little more personal than the aforementioned safety and fun, or the improved cognitive functioning, muscle development and coordination.
I first became involved in baby and preschool swimming having attended aqua natal classes in 2017. Roughly five months pregnant, it didn’t take long for me to realise what a special environment the water is for both parent and child, even before my little miss was born. I was fascinated to find that the precious time spent with my bump in my ‘Tums’ classes was the only time in the week when I felt truly calm. A couple of weeks in, my teacher Rebecca instructed us to forget our worries from the moment that we sank into the pool, until we stepped through the doors of our workplaces the next morning; it was to be our ‘safe space’. For the first time in my adult life, some part of my subconscious was able to obey and I was stunned! It did wonders for my mental health, especially when Ofsted came knocking at my classroom door or when I took a moment to consider more seriously how we were going to manage with my loss of income when maternity pay kicked in.
It also helped me to cope when I was struggling to accept my massive weight gain; at 5ft2, with a 30G bust at my slimmest, I certainly didn’t feel that I could carry an extra 55+ lbs attractively and simply avoided looking at my new figure in the mirror at all costs. Somehow the water soothed me, I cared less, I felt free and somehow in awe of my body. How did this happen? Honestly, I don’t know and this post certainly won’t contain any pearls of wisdom! All I can tell you is that I’m a born worrier, so to ‘sign out’ of my file of worries for a time was nothing short of miraculous – thank you Rebecca. Oh, and that pretty maternity swimwear for ladies requiring a J cup isn’t exactly the easiest to come by – get in touch if you’d like to know more, need pointing in the right direction or want any suggestions! (My credit card was being hit every other week when I spent a small fortune on a new costume to squash myself into and accommodate my ever changing, sagging and swollen body so I do seem to have earned some level of expertise in this area!)
Back to my story and the magic of the water. I hated waiting poolside in said attire, stood next to what I perceived were the perfect bumps of the ‘pregnancy unicorns’, whilst I clamped my bloated thighs and bingo wings together. I was keen for the mummies and daddies in the class before us to climb out of the pool with their little ones, to avoid eye contact with everybody and to hide my figure under the surface of the water. All I could see was a sea of bodies that had pinged back into shape, or hadn’t needed to in the first place. Regardless of this, something about the weightlessness of the water was so reassuring when I felt it wrap me up and hold me whilst I floated about on my woggle, that it made it all worth it. It was genuinely really powerful for me – at this point let me note that despite my partner’s best efforts I am not as yet the kind of girl that gets swept up in meditation etc. so this was very much a new sensation for me. I was hooked on ‘Tums’ and Rebecca had won my loyalty to return to her business when my bump was evicted. On a side note, I was gutted that due to the Covid-19 pandemic I couldn’t access this respite or feel the magic this time around! An hour per week to relax alone, a shower without a two-year-old pointing at and commenting upon my ever-expanding tummy and wobbly bits (bruising to the ego at the best of times), leaving my toddler with her daddy for the bedroom routine… sounds like bliss to me!
The biggest bonus of these sessions for me though was the thrill I got from the feeling that I was finally starting to build the relationship with my tiny human inside me that I had been craving and I shall forever cherish and be grateful for that. You may be starting to pick up on the fact that up until this point I’d found pregnancy to be one long struggle. Don’t get me wrong, I knew how lucky I was to be in my position – I had friends who had been through all sorts of heart-breaking experiences, but pregnancy knocked my body around a fair bit. I was not one of the afore mentioned ‘pregnancy unicorns’, who sail through 9 months of carrying a tiny human without the merest sign of a cankle. Oh no, I suffer from horrendous sickness, headaches, cramps, debilitating exhaustion and as I said earlier, I seem to ‘bloom’ into a whale of epic proportions. Worse than this though I felt completely disconnected from the giant bun in my oven and I felt incredibly guilty about it. My own mum would tell me to sing to her and I couldn’t. It felt wrong. Friends told me to read to her and again I couldn’t bring myself to. But after ‘connecting’ with her a little more during our aqua natal sessions, I noticed that I began to stroke my bump and my hand would linger protectively over it when I crashed onto the sofa of an evening. The fear that I wouldn’t be a loving or deserving mother started to subside a little.
Twelve weeks later, in the earliest available lessons I was keen to join Rebecca in the water with my daughter in my arms for her first swimming lessons. Given my pregnancy fears I had been horrified after the birth that I hadn’t immediately connected with my bundle of joy and had in fact plastered a ‘supposed-to-be-there’ smile on my face (looking back I think it was the trauma of the birth) but I had slowly bonded with my little one in the days following. It still niggled at me though. So too did a feeling that I didn’t deserve such a perfect and precious baby to call my own; in some respects it spoilt our time together and made me hold back because I was convinced something terrible would happen to take her away from me. Once again though, five minutes into that first session the magic of the water brought us together and I felt a shift in me – something bound us together. Writing this now, I am well aware of how odd this may sound to some; maybe silly, ridiculous even or like I belong to some dodgy cult! However, of all our baby classes and groups, swimming was the one I most looked forward to because it afforded me that one-on-one time with my baby and the water just seemed to melt us together. Now, with my toddler it’s a little different and the dynamic has shifted once more – sometimes the pool is more of a battleground, other times the water is the place when my fiercely independent and determined darling girl holds me that little bit tighter and needs me a smidge more than on dry land. She laughs with me and shares her proudest moments in my arms when she flings herself off the side. Plus, I still get those more intimate moments with my youngest, thirty minutes later in the baby class.
After my experience with my eldest, I quickly pursued the opportunity to train to teach when it came up, as I realised what an extraordinary position this job afforded me to be in: Facilitating the most special of moments as parent and baby develop their unique and intimate bond. I feel incredibly privileged in my role, to be part of children’s development and to share with their parents one of the most amazing experiences that they will encounter with their baby.