I had a fairly easy pregnancy up until around the five-month mark, when all of a sudden the backache, nausea and terrible heartburn kicked in. I had to give up wearing heels to work and I also developed a sweet tooth and needed to eat either cake or chocolate most days to keep my energy levels up.
After learning about labour and birth at the Healthbay Polyclinic antenatal classes, I decided I wanted a natural birth with the option of having gas and air if needed, plus skin-to-skin contact with my baby as soon as he was born. I absolutely did not want an epidural or caesarean - but I soon learnt things don't always turn out how you want...
Leo was breech up until one to two weeks before his due date, when he finally turned, but ended up in a posterior position (where the baby is head down but facing outwards). All the time he was breech was quite a stressful period for me - obstetrician appointments were really regular towards the end, and every time I had a scan I could see that he still hadn't turned, and it was really nerve-racking thinking about how much more complicated it could make my labour. I found a website called Spinningbabies.com, which gives great tips and advice on what you can do to encourage your baby to turn naturally. Doing a few simple exercises every day helped a lot as he did move in the end.
The due date came and went, and almost a week later (which felt like forever) there was still no sign of baby - despite my attempts to kick-start things by bouncing on a ball and eating lots of pineapple! Finally, I went into labour on a Thursday evening at home at 7pm, six days after my due date. At first I just thought it was just Braxton Hicks, as they weren't regular and were painless, so we went to bed. A couple of hours later the pain started and the contractions were getting quite regular so I knew it was happening! I sat and timed them until they were around five minutes apart and then my husband Paul and I drove to Mediclinic City Hospital just before midnight.
16 hours later
The whole labour experience was very intense - 16 hours in total. I had awful contractions all through the early hours of Friday morning and needed to have my waters broken by the midwife, but even by midday I'd still only dilated 1cm-2cm. At this point I was still on gas and air, but my obstetrician explained that I would need to have a caesarean unless I opted to have an epidural to try to progress the labour. Although I didn't want one, by that point I knew that it was my only option. However, unfortunately for me, the epidural only numbed one side, so the pain didn't get any better! We later learned that the cord was wrapped around Leo's neck, so with each contraction the cord was pulling on my placenta and stopping Leo from being able to move down the birth canal, which would explain why I wasn't dilating and why I still felt so much pain on one side.
I was finally fully dilated by 4pm, although we still had no idea that the cord was around Leo's neck. My obstetrician kept telling me to push as hard as I could and, finally, when Leo appeared, my obstetrician had to quickly remove the cord from his neck.
Leo had thick black hair and was just so beautiful. The midwife laid him on my chest, but after a few seconds had to take him away as his skin was so grey - he had fluid in his throat, which was stopping him from breathing properly. I had no idea why they took him initially - I felt so overwhelmed and wasn't actually sure what was going on around me, it felt like a lifetime had passed before they brought him back over for me to hold him.
Even though my birth experience turned out very different from what I was hoping - I missed the immediate skin-to-skin contact that I wanted and had an epidural, which I didn't want - I was just so relieved and grateful that the medical team were so efficient. Leo was born at 4.13pm on October 16, and luckily he was unharmed by the fact the cord had been wrapped around his neck. Phew...
What I've learnt
Looking back, I was surprised at how difficult and lengthy my labour turned out to be - I swam three times a week for the whole pregnancy, and ate healthily (in between cakes and chocolate!) so assumed I would have a short and easy labour - how wrong I was!
My lowest point during labour was definitely realising after hours and hours of painful contractions that I hadn't made any progress - that was when I had a little cry - and when having my husband and mum in the room, telling me 'You can do this!' meant the most. But all the pain and worry melted away when I saw Leo's face and realised that I'd suddenly become a mum!
My top tip for other pregnant women is don't let 'Dr Google' rule your life during your pregnancy! I read so many stories online that would make me worry all the time about every ache and pain, what I should or should not be doing, etc. It did not help one bit, so next time I am going to relax and just let it happen...
Also, make sure you are fully comfortable with your obstetrician as your child is in their hands. Ask as many questions as you want and do your research early on to find a doctor who has been recommended by other mums - I find the Facebook groups over here are so helpful, you can find the best answers to your questions directly from mums who have experienced it.
Finally, keep your expectations flexible - as I learnt, things don't always turn out how you hope, but a healthy baby is really all that matters.
Read more birth stories from real UAE mums here
Portrait photos by Stefan Lindeque