Zara Bailey-Maxwell, 32, a mental health practitioner, lives in the Midlands with husband Jearmal and children Josiah, six months, and Naomi, who turns two on Valentine’s Day.
As I weighed my cupcake ingredients, I started feeling twinges deep in my bump. It was the afternoon of Valentine’s Day and I was getting ready to mark the occasion by cooking a romantic meal for my husband Jearmal.
I brushed off those period-like cramps. They were only mild and, besides, there were three whole weeks before my due date. When I started pouring the cake mixture, though, I could no longer ignore my body. Suddenly, I felt damp and uncomfortable, and noticed fluid flowing down my leg.
Rushing to the loo past the carefully laid out table with its candles and napkins, I realised this baby might actually arrive on Valentine’s Day. When that trickle of amniotic fluid continued, my surprise turned to excitement. Jearmal and I have always done something special together on February 14th. From now on we might have an extra reason to celebrate!
When I phoned him to let him know the news, I could hear the excitement in his voice. “I’m coming straight home,” he said. My mum was just as positive, and told me she was on her way too. Luckily, back then it was a few weeks before COVID hit, so Mum was lined up as my second birth partner.
The hospital midwife on the phone was laid back but clear. I’d need to come in to be checked that day, she said, but there was no urgent rush. She predicted I was likely to meet my baby within 48 hours, if not less. I felt a rush of positivity, which was shared by Jearmal and my mum when they both arrived.
None of us could stop smiling, even me when the tightenings got progressively stronger. For a while they felt like normal period pains, but the intensity soon ramped up. I went from talking through each cramp to having to stop and breathe slowly and steadily. That helped manage my discomfort – but by now, the romantic meal was well and truly abandoned!
“I think you should go and get checked out,” Mum said. At first, I brushed off her concerns. I was keen to ride things out for as long as possible at home. But when I felt the urge to sit on the loo and open my pelvis, I could no longer deny the time was right.
Jearmal grabbed my pre-packed overnight bag and we got into Mum’s car. The journey to hospital was short, but gave me just enough time to focus on calm, rhythmical breathing and the knowledge I was in safe hands. My faith helped me stay positive.
One of my priorities for the birth was minimal intervention if possible. I’d visited the midwife-led hospital unit a couple of times during pregnancy, and loved the peaceful atmosphere, and sense of privacy. Arriving back there felt positive, and very familiar.
A friendly midwife showed me to a small side room. Despite the regular contractions which, by now, were pretty intense, I felt relaxed. It didn’t faze me when I was given the standard checks, like blood pressure and heart rate monitoring. When I was told to lie back for an internal examination, I hardly batted an eyelid.
Learning I was two and a half centimetres dilated and making good progress towards established labour, felt great. By now it was teatime and I was given the option to either go home and wait, or go for a walk to help get things moving. It never crossed my mind to go back to the house.
Linking arms with Jearmal and my mum, I waddled out. Being on my feet felt good, as did stopping each time a contraction came, and breathing through the pressure. Mum and Jearmal were both awesome. “You’re doing brilliantly,” they constantly reassured me, as I squeezed their hands.
The three of us paced the hospital car park, until the tiredness got me. Remembering the midwife’s advice to come back only when things had progressed, I asked Mum if we could sit in her car. She played calming gospel music, and I focussed on relaxing all the muscles in my body. Each contraction felt a bit different, from a dull ache to a sharp pressure.
Around 8.30pm they were coming thick and fast, and I struggled to talk. Slowly, we made our way back to the unit, where I was shown to my own room. It couldn’t have looked more welcoming. Dimmed lights, comfortable seats and calming music all combined to make me feel like I was in someone’s home.
I hardly had time to enjoy the facilities. The contractions quickly intensified, and I instinctively headed to the en suite. “I think I need to push!” I told Jearmal as soon as I sat on the loo. I was overwhelmed by an urgent low down pressure.
Jearmal rushed to get a midwife and my mum whispered words of encouragement. I couldn’t believe how fast things were moving. A few more urges to push swept over me until the midwife arrived and carefully helped me onto the bed. I stayed calm as she examined me again, announcing I was fully dilated and ready to push.
I remember feeling relieved the end was in sight, but then everything became a blur. Somehow, I moved towards a birthing stool, and my mum got her phone out ready to capture the crucial moment. As soon as I lowered myself down, my body took over. It pushed for me, with no need for any effort on my part. In that huge contraction, the baby’s head slid out, followed immediately by the body.
Relief overtook me as the midwife held my baby girl. I caught my breath, then baby Naomi was handed to me for precious skin to skin. Gazing down at her, I felt an overwhelming awareness that she was part of me. Mum and Jearmal looked at us both in awe, and I’ve never felt stronger or more proud.
“Congratulations on your Valentine’s baby!” the midwife said, and I beamed. Memories of those half-baked cupcakes and Jearmal’s card awaiting him at home flooded back. There couldn’t have been a better reason to cut our plans short! I imagined years to come when the three of us would celebrate that special day together.
My recovery was brilliant and we were even able to go home at 2am the next day. Jearmal and I were a little too preoccupied to eat that three course meal, but we managed to swap cards and lots of hugs. Naomi’s our perfect little Valentine’s baby, and she’s even starting to associate hearts and flowers with her birthday. I can’t wait to bake her some pink cupcakes - and I may even be able to finish them this year!