The National Childbirth Trust runs ante-natal classes for prospective parents, which midwives and friends all recommended to us, and we dutifully signed up for one. The classes themselves were vaguely useful, though I only made it to two of the five since Helen arrived early, but the big attraction is not the formal instruction but the chance to get to know a group of new parents with babies of the same age, living in the same area.
Only one of the couples took advantage of the Additional Paternity Leave option of having the father take paternity leave in lieu of some of the mother's maternity leave.
All of us have professional jobs, maybe half of us with one or another university (Reading and Westminster feature as well as Oxford) and the others in medicine, publishing, programming and so forth. And it's a fairly international group, with another Australian couple as well as us and people with Portuguese and German backgrounds. But there are no Punjabis, no single mothers, no teenagers, and no blue-collar workers.
Our GP surgery had a notice about separate Asian mothers' groups, which may explain the segregation there, and the hospital runs free ante-natal classes (though so adroitly did the midwives direct us to the NCT classes that I missed the mention of these). Possibly what the £165 we paid for the course really provides is a filter to keep out undesirables... (At the other end, the parents who paid £500/night for private rooms in the hospital probably know each other already — see "Chipping Norton set".)
Our group is a great bunch of people and it certainly makes it easier that we all have similar kinds of backgrounds. But are we looking at the English class system replicating itself, with the NCT as an institutionalised structural component? Not all of us will establish longer-term relationships, obviously, but if we stay in Oxford it's likely that some of Helen's friends - and ours - will come from this group. (While most of the group are British, I don't think any of us are local to Oxford; with a sister a block away, I probably have the closest relatives of any of us.)
There's been some discussion about this in the media, but focused more on the Trust's emphasis on breast-feeding and natural birth (the NCT began life as the Natural Childbirth Trust) and role in the general performance pressure placed on parents, and especially mothers. The sociology seems just as interesting to me: obviously individuals are capable of producing segregation without channeling - even when it's unwanted, as the Schelling segregation model shows - but the social landscape they find themselves in makes some paths a lot easier to follow than others. It seems likely that if the NCT didn't exist and most people went to ante-natal classes run by the NHS or local authorities then there would be greater social mixing.
Note: I wrote a follow up to this post, two years later.