One dark, wet evening in January 2007, myself and my husband walked shyly into a strip-lit room containing another seven blinking, expectant couples.
We weighed each other up, taking in the size of bumps, wondering what each other was like. However the knowledge that we all shared a common bond soon loosened the usual social strictures. The men were bonded in the knowledge that life was about to be irrevocably changed. The women were all simply shitting themselves at the prospect of imminently pushing a bony melon sized object out of...erm....well......a passageway the size of a considerably smaller fruit.
As we came to the end of our 8 ante-natal classes together we learned all there was to know about the process of giving birth. I put this knowledge to good use in my birth plan which ran, I kid you not, to three sides of A4 paper. Oh how I laugh at my naivety now!
The ladies then shyly exchanged emails and agreed to meet up once before our approaching due dates. We shared confidences, fears and biscuits, then after a few weeks and a flurry of emailed birth announcements we were joined by six baby boys and two baby girls. All healthy, all gorgeous.
In the weeks and months that followed we met regularly to share post-natal depression, fears, anxieties, neurotic craziness, tips, milestones, achievements and manymanymanymany cakes.
Gradually our initial haunted grey facial pallours started to diminish as we became adept at the practicalities of new parenthood, and one by one we returned to work. It was not as easy to stay in regular touch although we did manage to have a joint first and second birthday party. However by the third birthdays contact between many of us had diminished to the very occasional email or random meeting. Only the strongest of ties still flourished and I am proud to say that I am still very good friends with two of my ante-natal group.
We meet most Thursdays as we share a common day off work and adventures abound on this day as we take on museums, farms, parks, funfairs, play centres and also regularly allow our kids to wreck each other's houses in the certain knowledge that the favour will be swifly returned.
However from now on my Thursdays will not be the same. One of the chidren started school yesterday and the other starts next week. My son, for logistical reasons is staying on at his private nursery until next September upon which day his father and I will light fires, dance naked and sing songs of praise to the gods above for releasing us from the bonds of nursery fees (at least for one of the kids).
I'm sure we will still see each other at weekends and school holidays, and we all now have second babies to entertain together, but Thursday marked one of the first noticeable melancholic milestones that take you further away from those magical days when you waited to meet the little squirming creature inside your belly, hardly daring to imagine what life would be like when they finally burst their way into the big, wide world.