Dentist-turned-tech entrepreneur Sumayya Sarwar had no reason to expect that her labour might be unusual in any way. She shares her birth story and explains how her experience prepared her for the less-discussed side of motherhood…
“Pregnancy wasn’t too challenging for me – just normal life, with a bump. Fortunately I didn’t suffer from morning sickness – just some exhaustion in the first trimester and heart burn in the third trimester. Having always loved fitness, I kept active throughout, continuing my weight training with a personal trainer and taking up prenatal yoga. So there was nothing to suggest that my birth might be anything out of the ordinary.
“I had read up on every detail about giving birth and pain relief options to prepare for having my first baby. As a low-risk pregnancy, I was hoping for a natural, water birth using Hypnobirthing techniques.
“My husband and I had completed a hypnobirthing course two months prior and, as we were living in London at the time and it was a pleasant English summer, I started walking three to four miles every day, listening to my Hypnobirthing tracks and working on the breathing techniques instead of going to the gym. Perhaps it was all the walking that helped me go into labour.
“We had even booked for a doula to join us during the birth – but, as it turned out, we wouldn’t even make it to the hospital, let alone have enough time for a doula to join us…
The day of the birth
“I woke up at 7am on 27 June 2018, two days before my due date. I made myself breakfast – poached eggs and avocado on toast - while listening to a ‘Healthy births, happy babies’ podcast epsiode about the dos and don’ts of postpartum exercise. I had no idea what was to come that day.
“At 7:30am I noticed my first sign of labour - what they call ‘a show’ - so I called and spoke to a midwife at the hospital. I wasn’t having any contractions yet, so I was advised to see how I got on during the day - she said it might even be days before I actually needed to go in. I put on my Hypnobirthing tracks and prepared to go out for my daily walk around the neighbourhood.
At 7:45am I felt my first contraction. Having felt nothing up until this point I was a little surprised, but I didn’t think much of it to begin with
“At 7:45am I felt my first contraction. Having felt nothing up until this point I was a little surprised, but I didn’t think much of it to begin with.
"Then I felt the same sensation again about 5-10 minutes later. I didn’t think to start timing my contractions or try to work out how long it had been since the previous one. All I remember thinking was: ‘This discomfort is really quite intense, I thought they said that there would be a build up!’
"If this was just the beginning of my labour, which I knew usually takes many hours for a first-time pregnancy, then I was concerned about how intense it would actually get.
“My husband was still sleeping at this point but I had to wake him - the discomfort was just way too intense to deal with alone. I remembered the advice from our antenatal classes to get into a warm shower or bath to help with the discomfort, so I began to run the shower. But things progressed so quickly I never managed to get in.
“After about five minutes of frequent, intense contractions, we finally decided to start timing how far apart they were, as this is usually a good indicator of how imminent childbirth is. But we were so busy rushing around trying to get our things together that we weren’t timing them properly – we’d time one, but then miss the next one, so we weren’t sure how close together they actually were.
“We both had no idea I was in active labour - it was all happening so quickly and we had no time to stop and think.
“Around 7:55am we made a call to the doula and told her what was happening. She sprang us into action mode and told my husband to take me to the hospital straight away – she said we shouldn’t even call the hospital first, we should just go.
“So we ordered an Uber and it arrived almost immediately. But before we left I made my husband apply the TENS machine, which is an electronic nerve stimulator designed to help with pain. We were both so oblivious to what was about to happen and had no clue how close I was to giving birth.
“Finally, just after 8am, we grabbed the hospital bag and left.
“My husband explained to the taxi driver that I was in labour and we were heading to the hospital to have the baby. The driver had three kids of his own, so he seemed quite relaxed about the whole thing at first. We only lived about 10 minutes from the hospital, but it was rush hour and London traffic was not kind to us that day.
“So there I was, stuck in traffic in the back seat of an Uber with my husband, unaware that I was literally about to give birth.
"In the chaos I had still managed to slip on my planned Labour dress - a black shirt dress that I’d read was the best style to maintain dignity but have easy access for midwives and doctors, and I was on all fours, resting my upper body against the car door. I had my headphones on, Hypnobirthing tracks running and TENS machine doing its job.
Read more: What to pack in your hospital bag
"I don't recall much of what the taxi driver was doing during the time I was in active labour. At one stage I heard his voice and thought he was on the phone to someone. My husband later told me he was praying.
"The contractions were coming on thick and fast, but I was just focused on breathing through them as calmly as possible. It must have been around 8:20am that I felt the head.
"I said to my husband: 'She’s coming I can feel it.' I was right, he could see the head himself!
"It was all happening so quickly that I didn’t even have time to worry about the fact that, far from the water birth I had imagined, I would be getting a taxi birth instead! My husband has no medical training whatsoever but he is amazing at dealing with high-pressure situations, so I knew I could trust him 100% to deliver our baby.
"With the next contraction, her head was out. Although you might think we’d be panicking, we were both surprisingly calm. My husband asked me to push the rest of her body out, but I reminded him that they taught us in the antenatal class that you need to wait until the next contraction. When the next surge came, I pushed, and out came our beautiful, healthy baby daughter, who we called Leiya.
"So there we were again, in the backseat of the Uber, my husband holding our newborn baby in his arms, me sitting next to him with the umbilical cord still attached.
"The driver didn’t say anything – I think he was in even more shock than the two of us. We rummaged through the hospital bag and pulled out a blanket to wrap little Leiya in.
"She was born at approximately 8:20am in a black Vauxhall Sharan in London traffic just past Waterloo underground station, about five minutes away from the hospital!
“Leiya was born at 8.20am in a black Vauxhall Sharan while stuck in traffic”
"I’m so proud of how my husband dealt with it, he’s pretty squeamish with medical stuff usually. Although it was a very intense situation, we didn’t panic throughout. I guess being naive and not knowing what to expect helped us in this situation and we just went with the flow.
"Finally we arrived at the hospital, and instead of going to the maternity unit, I asked the driver to take me outside the A&E entrance.
"There was a paramedic standing on the other side of the ambulance car park. I took hold of my daughter and asked my husband to go and speak to him. I still see the reaction on the paramedic’s face now, it was like watching a movie: he threw his cigarette to the floor and ran inside, returning a few minutes later with a doctor, a few nurses and a stretcher.
"It was only after the doctor examined me that I finally had a little cry. I was so overwhelmed with the whole experience and the emotions just came flooding through once the realisation of what just happened really sank in.
Read more birth stories in the UAE
“My birth experience prepared me for the unpredictability of Motherhood”
"Let’s just say I was not expecting my birth and labour to be quite like this. My two sisters both had pretty short labours of around four to six hours long, so maybe genetics has a part to play. I was hoping mine would be somewhat similar, but who knew it would be only about 45 minutes?!
"On reflection, I'm really grateful for the experience – my husband was the first one to hold our daughter, which I think makes their bond even more special.
"No one can ever really be prepared for such a moment, but I think my husband just followed his instincts and sprang into action.
"The hypnobirthing preparation definitely helped me to stay really calm and relaxed, which in turn helped my husband, knowing I was relaxed and in control of what was happening.
"I do wonder sometimes if it would have been better to stay at home instead of making the trip to the hospital. Maybe when we have our next child I would plan to have a home birth if I’m in the UK.
"We are still in touch with the Uber driver, who is like a de facto godfather to our little Leiya. He was of course part of the experience just as much as we were!
"We now live in Dubai, where we moved when Leiya was five months old. My husband’s family have been based in the UAE for almost 50 years and we had frequently visited and always seen Dubai as the ideal place to raise a child and start a family.
"But being in Dubai as a mother for the first time felt like a totally different city. I was dealing with a daughter who refused to drink from a bottle, while my Dubai friends were occupied with work and had no kids so weren’t restricted by bedtimes. I realised the importance of having a support network of mums, and this is why I decided to change careers from dentistry to become a tech entrepreneur and create my new app, Mama ME.
"I always felt that I had a calling to have a bigger impact and help more people than I could with dentistry, but I didn’t know what that exactly looked like before I had my daughter. Once I became a mother, I realised this was what I needed to do: connect women together when they were experiencing this incredible but challenging stage in their lives of motherhood.
"My birth experience set me up for motherhood’s unpredictability. As with many things in life we start off with a great deal of self doubt and a burning need to prove to ourselves that we can do it all. I believe that MamaME app can encourage women to be more open and honest about these experiences, concerns and imagined failings.
"My advice for any pregnant mums out there would be to plan as much as you need to so you know what to expect and you feel prepared. But be flexible with your birth preferences because, as my Uber experience has proved, absolutely anything could happen on the day, and it may not go to plan. As women we are infinitely adaptable and armed with resources to take anything that life throws at us, and your birthing experience is a milestone unlike no other."