Jen Liu-Jones, 37, a full-time mum, lives in Surrey with husband Paul and children Elora, four, Koa, two, and Marilia, 11 months.
After a busy morning pottering around the shops, my daughter Elora and I sat down for lunch. We were in our local M&S cafe. I was 39 weeks pregnant and convinced I was still days away from giving birth. Little did I know what was about to happen! Leaning forward to feed Elora a spoonful of potato, I felt a pop inside me. It was exactly as if a balloon had burst in my bump! After a split second, I felt a warm gush of water between my legs. ‘OK, this is it,’ I told myself. Slowly, I stood up in the hope the leak would stop. It didn’t! As more and more liquid flowed down my legs and onto the floor, I looked around at the busy cafe.
A woman on the next table caught my eye. ‘Are you OK?’ she asked. She must have seen the shock on my face! ‘I think my waters have broken,’ I whispered. ‘Would you mind sitting with my daughter while I nip to the loo?’ Leaving my four-year-old with a stranger isn’t something I’d normally do, but this was a different matter. The lady gave off good vibes and, besides, I didn’t want to disturb or worry Elora, who was busy eating lunch.
As I waddled off to the ladies, I was aware of how strange I looked with my big bump, walking like John Wayne! Seeing the trail I was leaving behind, and realising I wasn’t going to make it without creating a mess, I stopped at the nearest counter. When the assistant heard what had happened, she was lovely. She told me to go back to Elora, and that she’d come with me and help. I returned to the table even soggier than I’d left! Two more customers were now with Elora, and I quietly explained the situation, thanking them for their help.
An extra member of staff arrived to stay with Elora, while the other escorted me to the loo. Everyone was so helpful, but that didn’t make it any less embarrassing! I had hoped to freshen myself by changing into the spare pair of pants I had in my bag and using tissue paper. I was mistaken! Eventually, I made the decision to carefully drive us both the five-minute journey home. The staff were concerned about our safety, but because I hadn’t had a single contraction I felt confident we’d be fine. The only risk in my mind was getting the car wet!
Sure enough, the journey was fine. Once home, I settled Elora with her toys and went to the bathroom to freshen up. I’d already called my husband Paul who soon arrived with my mother-in-law who was looking after our son Koa. ‘I can’t believe that happened!’ I giggled when Paul came upstairs to check on me. Suddenly, it hit me. My waters had broken in Marks and Spencer! It was shocking, embarrassing and very funny! More than anything, though, the reality of the situation dawned on me – my baby was close to being born. I called the birth centre at our local hospital and they advised me to come in.
I was still convinced nothing was going to happen any time soon and was in two minds whether to take my hospital bag. I hadn’t felt a contraction and was sure I’d be back home soon. Paul convinced me to take the bag, and at 2pm we were on the road. At triage, I was strapped to a monitor so the staff could see if I was having any tightenings. As I sat down and relaxed, I started to feel a few mild twinges. The more I relaxed, the more noticeable the tightenings felt. They were reflected in the trace on the monitor – peaks and troughs of little contractions that after 30 minutes were starting to feel quite intense.
‘I think you’re going to have your baby today,’ the midwife said, to my surprise. She explained that as my waters had already broken she wasn’t going to do an internal examination because of the risk of infection. She could see by the results of the monitor that I was contracting, and that was reason enough to take me to a room in the birthing centre down the corridor. I was thrilled – and glad I’d packed my hospital bag!
On entering that birthing room, I felt instantly at ease – it was the same one I’d birthed Koa in. The deep pool and the soft cushions made everything feel so comfy. But after a couple of hours of pottering about, chatting to Paul and drinking tea the contractions still weren’t in any kind of pattern, or even very intense. By 8pm, I was offered an internal examination and, while she was at it, the midwife gave me a cervical sweep to stimulate my hormones and hopefully get the contractions going.
The midwife was right. Within minutes of her leaving the room, the sensations changed from mild tightenings to strong contractions. And while previously they were manageable, now they were taking every ounce of my energy. I bent over, clung onto the edge of the birthing pool and focussed on breathing deeply. Paul rubbed my back. It was reassuring just having him in the room with me.
One thing I hadn’t expected was the rhythm of the contractions. Two came in quick succession, with hardly any respite. Then I had a break to recover before another two came again. The midwife explained this was called ‘contraction coupling’, and was nothing to worry about – especially since I’d had two previous labours. She was happy I was progressing well and didn’t need to examine me again. She could see by how intense and frequent the contractions were that my labour was progressing.
At about 8.30pm I was ready to get into the pool. The water helped to calm me, and I enjoyed the sensation of floating in the warmth. The option for gas and air was there, but I was happy to continue without it. My first labour and birth had been a bit of a blur, and I didn’t want to have any patchy memories this time. Although it was exhausting, I loved the awareness I had of every single sensation. For the next couple of hours I bent over the side of the pool, and allowed my body to take over. The midwife had clearly read my birthing plan because she respected my wishes to be left alone to birth as instinctively as possible.
It obviously worked, and I followed my body’s instructions to bear down. ‘I feel like I need to push!’ I said as the sensation changed to a dull, low down pressure. Paul returned from the loo to find two extra midwives by the pool with me. Strangely, the pain of the previous contractions had disappeared, and in its place was an overwhelming pressure where the head was ready to emerge. I held Paul’s hand and felt completely ‘in the zone’ as I started to push with all my strength.
‘The baby’s on its way!’ the midwife said, beckoning Paul over. Hearing him say he could see the hair on the baby’s head was the encouragement I needed to keep going. Then, in the next couple of huge pushes I felt a dull, heavy sensation as the baby’s head came out, quickly followed by the body. I gasped with relief as our baby girl Marilia was passed to me in the water. She was slimy, covered in white vernix and completely beautiful. In that split second, I felt an overwhelming love for her, and it hit me what a special moment this was. I’ve never felt so empowered. Although it was hard work, my birth was steady and calm, and I felt so blessed.
As for the start of my labour, it’s an experience I won’t forget in a hurry! Funnily enough, a couple of days later a card arrived from the M&S staff congratulating us on our arrival. I had to smile! The workers there were amazing, and I’ll always be grateful for how well they handled the situation. One thing’s for sure – I’ll never be short of an anecdote when it comes to ‘most embarrassing moment’ chats!
3 things I’d tell a friend
- Take a spare pair of underwear and pad everywhere you go during the last month of pregnancy – you never know when your waters are going to break.
- You might not need to take gas and air – although my third birth was by far the hardest labour, I did it without gas and air and it was my most empowering!
- If your waters break in a retail store, it’s doesn’t mean you get free stuff!
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