Gemma Vaughan, 28, a full-time mum, lives in Tunbridge Wells, with her partner Matt, 32, sons Freddie, Oliver and daughter Harleigh.
Within minutes of having my 12-week scan, I called my younger sister, Emily, and asked, ‘Will you film my birth?’ She hardly paused before squealing, ‘Of course, I will!’ I knew my question wouldn’t come as a surprise. I’m one of seven siblings and we’re all really close. It would have felt strange not to have one of my sisters with me in the delivery room, and I had recently filmed the birth of Emily’s son for her.
Videos had already been a big part of my previous two pregnancies. When I had severe morning sickness with my eldest, Freddie, I’d turned to YouTube to find videos of other mums-to-be in the same situation. I found it a great support and decided to make my own videos to help others going through the same. So it had felt like a natural next step to have my elder sister, Laura, film the births of both my two older boys.
But this was my first child with my partner Matt, and at first he was unsure about the birth being filmed. But he knew how much it meant to me.
This was going to be my last child, and I wanted to keep an online diary of every stage of my pregnancy. As the weeks went by, I filmed updates about how I was feeling, and I took my phone with me when we had our early gender scan at 16 weeks. ‘Here, we go,’ I said into the screen as the midwife squirted gel over my tiny bump. ‘It’s a girl!’ she told us, and I burst into tears of happiness. I turned the camera around to Matt, but he ducked out of shot. ‘You’ll have to get used to it,’ I teased.
I took my camera with me when I had a sweep at 37 weeks to help me go into labour naturally, after our baby was thought to be measuring on the small side. And I captured my excitement when the midwife told me I was already 3cm dilated! Filming also kept me going when, 48 hours later, I hadn’t gone into labour as expected, so had another sweep and was booked in for an induction at 38 weeks. I phoned Emily straight away. ‘You haven’t got any plans on Friday have you?’ I asked. ‘You'll need to be behind the camera!'
I’d written into my birthing plan that I wanted Emily to film the birth, and as Matt and I excitedly arrived at the hospital at 2pm that Friday, I checked that it was still OK with the staff, reassuring them that it wouldn’t get in the way of the real business of the day. I'd agreed with Emily that we'd let her know when I was in active labour, and she would come in then.
I felt so excited to be booked in to have our baby, but the hospital was busy so I didn’t see the midwife until early that evening. I was still 3cm dilated so the midwife inserted a pessary to encourage my cervix to open. Frustratingly, nothing happened for 24 hours so I kept myself busy by making mini videos of us waiting for something to happen. ‘Smile for the camera,’ I said to Matt as I lay, stroking my bump. And I whispered to the camera, ‘Can’t wait to meet you tomorrow, baby.’
Frustratingly nothing happened for 24 hours!
On Sunday morning, I was transferred to the labour and delivery ward to have my waters manually broken. Before I was hooked up to the oxytocin hormone drip, which would start my contractions,I called Emily to let her know it was time.
And I was so happy so see her when she walked into the room and gave me a big hug. We were both really excited: this was a really special moment for Emily, too, as it was the first time she’d been a birth partner. She started to film a few to-camera pieces straight away, asking me how I was feeling. Matt sat next to me: while he was absolutely fine with being captured in the footage, he didn't want to do much talking.
By 3pm I still wasn't contracting regularly, so I Facetimed my two boys to keep them up to date. ‘Are you excited about meeting your little sister? I asked them. ‘Yes!’ they chorused loudly. It gave me a boost. My mind was now focused on meeting my baby, and it really seemed to make a difference. I started having more regular contractions, which became more intense and, when I was examined at 6pm, I’d dilated to 10cm.
The urge to push came on suddenly. Matt was right by my side, encouraging me. ‘You can do it,’ he kept saying, while rubbing my back. I was aware that Emily was filming, and she kept calling out encouragement and asking me if it was OK to carry on. ‘Yes, it’s all fine,’ I grunted as I pushed, but at that moment I think I would have said yes to just about anything! And hearing her voice reassured me that she was there, supporting me. Every time I felt the urge overtake my body, I pushed. I could see the midwife was preparing to intervene but I was determined to keep going and push my baby out myself. And, just after 7pm, the midwife announced that her head was crowning.
I glanced over at Emily, and saw her eyes had filled with tears. She met my eyes and, for a moment, we were both in awe of what was happening. It only lasted for a couple of seconds, and then another contraction came over my body. With a final effort, I pushed again and Harleigh was born at 7.09pm.
She came out pink and screaming, and we all immediately burst into tears. Emily carried on filming as Matt cut the cord and Harleigh was weighed. Thankfully, she was a really healthy weight at 6lb 12oz. All our first moments as a family were captured on film and as I wrapped Harleigh up in a blanket and started breastfeeding. I smiled to the camera and it was the best feeling in the world.
We all immediately burst into tears
Matt and I first watched the footage back when Harleigh was about a week old. And honestly, it was so emotional, we were both in tears. The last 40 minutes before Harleigh was born were such an intense blur at the time, so it was great to be able to look back on it, and re-live all the details I couldn't remember.
I got on with editing all the camera footage straight after, and uploaded a video of my induction to YouTube first, then the footage of my labour the week after. ‘Here we go,’ I said to Matt as I clicked 'Upload'. I couldn’t wait for people to watch it. I really hoped that if other mums saw my videos, it would help reassure them about their own births. I wanted them to see for themselves that, while there may be trying moments, holding your baby makes it all worthwhile.
The films are such a special memento of our family’s journey. I’m really looking forward to sharing them with Harleigh when she's older, too, so she can see how she came into the world. And for me they’re a brilliant way of remembering every tiny detail of the three best days of my life!
Three things I’d tell my friends:
- If you choose to have your birth filmed, the person behind the camera must be someone you totally trust. I chose my sister but if you use a professional, get to know her and build a relationship before you go into labour, so you feel confident and reassured on the day.
- Don’t worry about what you will look like in the video. It’s not about looking good for the camera or posing, but about your journey. Once your labour gets going, you’ll forget that the camera is even there – I did!
- There's a lot of help out there on YouTube. It was a lifesaver for me: I gained loads of support and advice from other mums. I also made lots of friends, who I met through commenting on their videos, including one of my best friends, who is now Harleigh’s godmother.
Watch Gemma's labour and delivery video, below!
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