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Trigger warning: this piece contains a mention of a heart problem called SCAD. Please take care when reading and if you need further support, refer to our Urgent Warning.
When Victoria Warnes was pregnant with her first child in 2014, the antenatal classes she and her husband attended left her feeling unprepared. ‘We felt like our preparation wasn’t grounded in any kind of reality, so not only was our birth pretty tricky, as a result the early days were as well,’ she says.
It was at this point that a seed was planted in her mind, and she came up with the idea of antenatal classes that she describes as ‘far more practical and realistic, focused on parents more than babies, because that’s where the real change is happening.’
Three years later, Victoria gave birth to her second child, and the postnatal period definitely wasn’t what she expected. Six weeks after the birth, she had a heart attack as a result of a condition called SCAD (Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection). Young, healthy postnatal women are unlikely to suffer heart attacks but SCAD may be the cause if they do. SCAD is an under-diagnosed heart problem in which a blood vessel that carries blood to the heart tears. People who have SCAD often don’t have risk factors for heart disease (such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol) but pregnancy is known to be a risk factor.
Unsurprisingly, Victoria describes her heart attack as a major turning point in her life. ‘The lights came on and I knew something really had to change,’ she says. ‘And not just in my own life and what I was doing.’
She was determined to make a difference for other parents, and it was the right time for the idea that had been in her mind for the last three and a half years to come to fruition. She started by training to be an antenatal teacher, then used her experience in advertising and branding to create Our Baby Club in 2017.
‘It was really heavily steeped in combining a safe place of zero bias and zero judgment, with well-informed, accredited antenatal education,’ she explains. Her goal was to have parents leave their sessions feeling empowered and trusting their own instincts.
The initial response to Our Baby Club was fantastic, and Victoria was soon contacted by people from across the country asking if she provided classes in their area. In 2020, she decided it was time to add an additional layer to the brand, and started training other women to be antenatal educators (known as Birth and Parent Coaches), so they could set up their own businesses.
The training takes three months, beginning with a FEDANT (Federation of Antenatal Educators) accredited diploma, taught by FEDANT accredited teachers. Victoria works with the trainees on business, branding and marketing. A crucial ingredient is knowing how to network, so that coaches know how to launch in their area and who they could partner with.
‘That’s what this is, at its heart, a community service,’ Victoria says. ‘It’s not just about us going in and offering a service. We have to be in the very fibre of a community, and that takes time.’
Our Baby Club started rolling out across the UK in December 2020, and since then it’s gone from strength to strength. ‘It’s not about going into competition with any other antenatal provider. This is about offering choice and something that feels really inclusive, for all families, however they’re made up, whatever their conception journey has been like, whatever their parenting wishes are,’ she says. ‘It’s for everybody, and you’ll be heard, listened to and supported.’
Unlike a lot of antenatal classes, Our Baby Club sessions don’t stop after the baby is born. The care and support continues via weekly Early Days Sanctuary classes, which can be booked in blocks of four for as long as you feel you need them. ‘This is where the fun and games of early parenting really begins,’ Victoria says.
Part of what drives her are the rates of postnatal depression in both men and women in the U.K. ‘Clearly, something isn’t working,’ she says. ‘I want to focus more on prevention than cure. And I think if we can start that dialogue in antenatal classes, and level the playing field in terms of what parenting looks like, then we might just find that we can have a real impact.’