Pregnancy was different second time around. It absolutely flew by with a toddler keeping me busy, and I had a lot less time for yoga and self-care than I did in my first pregnancy. However, running around after Xavier kept me fit and strong – aside from the exhaustion of first trimester, I absolutely loved my second pregnancy.
However, I had been nervous about going into premature labour again. Although Xavier had been a healthy weight, we had needed to stay in NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit – Walnut Ward at Darent Valley Hospital) for three weeks with him after he was born while his lungs finished developing fully. Xavier is now enormous, super strong, and full of energy and contagious smiles - there is no way you would now know he had been premature and started off life in NICU! Looking back on our time in NICU with Xavier, it was such a special time for the three of us to bond and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. However, I really wanted to do everything to avoid going into labour early second time around, to give our baby the best start in life, and avoid separating our family with another stay in NICU. My dream was to have our family of four together at home from day one.
In my third trimester I started listening to a lovely “Stay in baby” hypnosis track every night when I went to sleep. This made me feel a lot calmer and stopped my thoughts about potential preterm labour churning around my mind at night. I even dreamed of the number 37 – I wanted to keep baby in until Easter, which is when I would be 37 weeks and officially full term!
The Start of Labour
It was Good Friday and a four day weekend of sunshine stretched out in front of us. My husband Cyrille was off work and the three of us had had a wonderful day together, including a long walk in the forest, enjoying the sunshine and the spring flowers.
19:30 - While I was giving Xavier a bath that evening, I was reflecting on our lovely day together and happily chatting with Xavier about the other things we had planned for Easter weekend. Suddenly, I felt a “pop” and small trickle. I wasn’t sure if it was my waters releasing or whether baby had just kicked me in the bladder(!) so I put a pad in and continued our usual bedtime routine with Xavier.
Cyrille and I read a few stories and sung our bedtime songs with Xavier before kissing him goodnight and tucking him into bed. While in his room, I was conscious of starting to feel some aches in my lower back, and I knew in my heart that this was it!
Downstairs, I told Cyrille we should eat something substantial as we could have a long night ahead of us. He suggested fajitas (my fave!) and I set to work cooking while he tidied up after hurricane Xavier. Cooking fajitas was actually brilliant as it kept me busy and focussed on a task, rather than wondering whether or not I was in labour!
20:30 – I was sensing some regularity, a rhythm, to the light surge I was feeling so I started timing them. They were every 5-6 minutes, lasting about 30 seconds each. They still felt very distant and faint at this point. We sat down to eat our fajitas while watching Naked Gun! I found it difficult to sit still, as I felt a little distracted and restless, so we paused the movie after we’d finished eating. Instead I went out into the garden. My birth playlist was playing, and the full moon lit up the whole garden with an eerie glow. I could smell that fresh scent of the grass after a hot day, I could hear insects chirping, and the trees were glowing – it felt like all my senses were heightened. As my surges came and went, I swayed along to the music on my birth playlist, while breathing in the fresh evening air under the full moon – it felt wonderful.
21:15 – I called triage (“Tambootie ward”) at our local hospital, Darent Valley. As I was technically still preterm (by about 24 hours!) they told me to come in to hospital to check if my waters had indeed released. I told them I’d be there in two hours as my Mum lives about 1h30 away so we needed to wait for her to arrive to look after Xavier. Fortunately, my Mum is super organised – she already had her bag packed and was ready to go!
I spent the next hour and a half keeping busy, cleaning the kitchen, checking everything in my birth bag… The surges were getting more intense and frequent and I could feel things were progressing nicely already. I had a shower which felt great, especially inhaling the lovely scent of my lavender essential oil shower gel. I also tried squeezing a comb in one hand which was a lovely grounding feeling. As the surges got more intense, I felt like I need to have both hands on a flat surface like a table or windowsill in order to ground myself even more. Cyrille saw that I was needing to work harder through the surges now, and gave me amazing support which light-touch massage and whispering positive words to me. For many of the surges, I kept my arms around his neck while he stroked my back. I would kiss him as I felt each surge melt away. It was lovely - I knew that we were going to smash this birth as a team!
23:00 - I snuck into Xavier’s room to give him goodbye kiss. I took a moment to breathe in the gorgeous smell of his hair, to stroke his soft cheeks, to listen to his breathing. I was fighting back tears at this point, as I realised that his life was going to change forever tonight. As I left his room, I heard Mum arrive downstairs, so gave her a big hug as Cyrille loaded up the car, and off we went!
The surges in the car were hard – it felt like Cyrille was driving like he was on Mario Kart full-speed round every bend!! He assured me he was driving super slowly and carefully! Having my birth playlist in the car helped a lot. I closed my eyes and inhaled lavender oil from a wet flannel I held to my temples. My surges were less frequent in the car, but longer and definitely less comfortable. I could feel that sitting down was not ideal, my body wanted to be free and mobile, so I was relieved the drive was only 20 minutes or so.
Arriving at Hospital
23:20 – We parked up at Darent Valley Hospital just as one of my favourite songs from my childhood was playing – Champagne Supernova by Oasis. We listened to the end of the song before making our way to the hospital maternity building. I had two surges in the car park and then three on the walk to Tambootie ward, with about two minutes in between each one. They were intense and powerful but I loved them now that I was free to move my body instinctively, swaying my hips and breathing deeply through each surge. In between surges, Cyrille and I were laughing our heads off at this point as we must have looked like crazy people! With only 30 minutes to midnight, I remember we were joking about whether baby would be born today or tomorrow!
23:30 – We arrived at Tambootie ward and met Carly, the midwife I had spoken to on the phone. She showed us to a small triage room. We turned the lights off straight away and I walked over the window so I could place my hands on the windowsill and shut everything out. Cyrille and I continued to work together through the surges. Carly came in to observe a couple of surges and said it looked like I was doing great. She asked to listen to baby’s heartbeat on the monitor for a couple of minutes. I had to lie down to put the CTG trace on which was hard work, I could feel lots of pressure in my pelvis so getting on and off the bed was a challenge, however I want to know baby is doing ok so it was worth it. After one surge lying down, Carly said I’m free to get up and move around as baby sounded happy.
Carly was lovely and said she’d try to get us booked into a room with a birth pool, despite us being a day premature. She was delighted we were doing hypnobirthing and said I was managing the surges beautifully. She left the room to let us to get on with things.
23:50 - We kept working through our surges, they were very intense now but I was feeling great. I was grateful for my hypnobirthing practice and welcomed each surge with a smile. I was happy they were so intense as it meant things were advancing nicely. Standing up, swaying my hips, Cyrille stroking my back and whispering words of encouragement to me, in our dark and cosy triage room, it was perfect.
The Down Stage of Labour
Then out of nowhere I had a super intense long surge, and in the middle of that surge I suddenly felt my whole body change direction and push downwards with unstoppable force! I felt a huge rush of adrenaline and for some reason shouted “NO NO NO!”
However, I quickly recognised this feeling from Xavier’s birth, I knew it was transition and baby was coming, so I just accepted it and let my body start pushing. Carly and a couple of other midwives rushed in. I told them I was pushing and they started to panic a little! They watched my next surge and agreed, “Yep baby is coming right now, he’s going to arrive as soon as you get to the delivery room, we have to move quickly!”
I could feel there was no stopping him, he was moving down through me so quickly and powerfully, and for a moment it seemed like I was just going to give birth in the triage room! Fortunately, Cyrille and the midwives helped me onto the bed on all fours and wheeled me (still on all fours) in to a delivery room just across the hall. It all felt very hectic around me. If I hadn’t been doing hypnobirthing, this situation would have been pure panic, but instead I was just loving life, laughing along with Cyrille and the midwives at the ridiculousness of the situation…it must have looked like absolute madness to a fly on the wall! We were so excited to meet our baby soon!
We got to the room and met our lovely new midwife, Karen. She needed me to lie on my side to listen to baby and take my blood pressure which all felt a bit absurd. I felt primal and instinctive and wanted to be free, not tangled up in wires. Fortunately, after two surges on my side, I was able to get back up, take the cables off, and my body started pushing with insane force again. I took up the same position we used for Xavier’s birth - kneeling up with my arms around Cyrille’s shoulders.
I reminded myself that I didn’t actually need to push, my body was pushing all by itself and it felt amazing! All I had to do was breathe and relax my mind, my face and my body. I focussed on cuddling Cyrille, as he stroked my back, and I felt his strength and confidence radiate through me too. Each surge felt so powerful, but in an awesome, productive way. I could feel baby’s head was coming down and bobbing back up again in between surges, just as it should be.
Suddenly I felt a slight stinging sensation and reached down. “I can feel his head!!” I excitedly told Cyrille and the midwives! The midwives cheered and told me I was doing amazing at breathing this baby out. On the next surge, slowly but surely, with every breath I took, his head inched out gently and by the end of that surge the whole head was out! Waiting for the next surge to push out the body was so surreal with a baby’s head sticking out of me!! I kept my hand on his head as I waited, saying hello to him and stroking his head all over, trying to figure out where his face is (I learnt later that the sac was still intact at this point which is why I couldn’t feel his face!) I asked Cyrille if he wanted to feel baby’s head and he looked shocked and said “no thank you!” which made me laugh even more!
Then finally (after what felt like ages) the final surge arrived and easily pushed out his body. The rest of the amniotic sac broke with a massive SPLASH all over Cyrille! Everyone cheered and I looked down at the wriggly little baby between my knees, scooped him up and held him to my belly. He was really calm and let out a couple of tiny coughs as he started to breathe. The midwives said it was fine he wasn’t crying, he’d just had a lovely chilled gentle birth. I looked up at Cyrille and laughed at the shock on his face - he was absolutely soaked in amniotic fluid from the waist down!
This brand new baby in my arms felt so tiny but so strong at the same time. He was born at 00:12 on Saturday 16th April, just 45 minutes after we’d arrived at hospital. He had a full head of thick dark hair and his beautiful little face reminded me so much of Xavier. I felt so blissfully happy holding his slippery little body against mine, the best feeling in the world!
The midwives suggested a managed third stage due to the retained placenta and postpartum haemorrhage I’d had in my first birth, which I agreed to. I knew the best thing to do was focus on enjoying getting to know this brand new little soul on my tummy, and keep the oxytocin flowing to help the placenta out. Fortunately, 9 minutes later, my placenta was out and the blood loss stopped shortly after – no issues this time!
There was a neonatal doctor in the room due to us being slightly premature but he was in no rush to check baby as his Apgar scores were perfect. This meant we could do optimal cord clamping, leaving the cord intact until it was completely white, meaning baby had received all his blood from the placenta. We admired how thick and spongy the cord was when Cyrille cut it. Karen also showed us my placenta and explained the different parts of it – amazing!
After a while, Cyrille went with the baby while he was checked by the neonatal doctor on the table next to me – as suspected all was fine. They also weighed him - he was 8lb 3oz, which is enormous for a baby born before 37 weeks – no wonder he felt so strong! Meanwhile, the midwife examined me and said I had no tears again (yay!)
Getting to know Max
Now that the checks were done, we had more magical skin-to-skin time. Cyrille placed baby back on my tummy and amazingly, this tiny brand new little human began to crawl towards my boobs! It’s a phenomena called the “breast crawl” in newborns after a gentle birth, where they use their stepping reflex and sense of smell to find the nipple themselves and propel themselves towards it. It was incredible to experience our son doing this when he was maybe 30 minutes old. Once baby had made it to my boobs, we gave him a little help and he latched on quickly for his first feed which was wonderful.
The next couple of hours were a blur of happiness, both Cyrille and I enjoying skin-to-skin cuddles with our new baby and soaking up every detail of him. We decided to call him Maximilien – Max for short! The midwives brought me the world-famous NHS tea and toast which was just as delicious as I remembered it, and we broke open some chocolates too as I was starving! We had a quick video call with my mum who was awake waiting for our news (fortunately she hadn’t had to wait long!), and with Cyrille’s mum too. After a couple of hours, the midwife suggested I try getting up to wee and shower, while Cyrille cuddled Max and got him dressed in his first little outfit. I came out of the bathroom feeling fresh, packed up our bags, and we all headed down to the postnatal bay. I remember that sense of feeling like an absolute superhero, proudly holding my brand new baby as they wheeled me into the postnatal room. We were given the same spot by the window that we had after Xavier was born, which brought back happy memories!
I didn’t sleep a wink that night, I just couldn’t stop looking at Max! After a few more checks, we were discharged later that same day which was a dream come true, meaning Xavier was able to meet his little brother on the day he was born! Being all together at home, reading stories with our two little boys on the sofa that evening was just a feeling of pure happiness, I felt so grateful and happy that all had gone well and we could all be together now. It was even more perfect than I could have imagined. Already we look forward to doing it all over again for baby number three in a couple of years!