“Call me if she comes”.
I shut the front door on Tuesday 11th at 11.15am, en route to Hackney to record a podcast.
71 minutes door to door.
The due date for our baby girl was 19th April. But we both had this sneaky feeling she had other ideas.
So I had one phrase ringing in my head:
“I need to get everything done by Wednesday 12th at 3pm, because the baby is coming at 5pm.”
Little did I know at 11.30am, the waters broke. But Chandni didn’t text.
At 12pm, she wrote, “I’m all good :)”
In my mind I was set for the next few hours.
At 2pm, another reply to my text: “I’m all good :)”
Everything was going to plan.
As I walked through the front door at 4pm, Chandni was coming off the phone.
“I just spoke to the midwife”
“Why?”, I replied in surprise.
“I think my waters broke just after you left”
“Should I bring the bag?”
“Nah, it’ll be fine - the midwife said to come in just to check what’s going on.”
When we arrived at West Middlesex Hospital, I was suprisingly calm.
Chandni was even more chilled, but as we stepped into triage, the looks on the midwives were anything but.
The questions began.
What transpired during the 21 questions was confusion between the breaking of the mucus plug and the amniotic fluid sac.
Until a week before, I had no idea what a mucus plug was. (It’s basically the thing which unblocks 7-14 days before the main event.)
The problem was, we didn’t know what happened when.
Was it mucus? Was it the waters?
This didn’t help matters.
Because in our jumbled explanation of events, the midwives decided the waters broke Monday morning.
More than 24 hours ago, without any onset of labour (ie contractions). So there was a growing risk of infection for both baby and mother every hour that went by without labour.
There were only 3 options, with 3 risk profiles:
- Begin the induction process immediately. Best option.
- Apply a hormone gel into the vagina to encourage labour (the gel softens the cervix in hope to start contractions) and wait 6-8 hours before inducing. 2nd best option.
- Go home and come back in 12 hours to see if labour begins. High risk, not recommended.
Chandni was adamant from the get go to have a natural vaginal birth.
But hey, even the best plans get torn up.
So I asked the midwives to give us time to chat.
And when we talked it through, I just didn’t think the waters broke on Monday.
In fact, I was convinced it was earlier on Tuesday.
Mucus plug discharge is sticky. Water breaking is a gush of fluid that’ll wipe out any maternity pads you’re wearing.
Based on my (limited) medical knowledge, I said to Chandni:
“I don’t think you need an induction.”
Risky argument, but my intuition felt strong.
As we told the midwives, they made us aware of the potential issues.
But we headed home at 8pm with two points on the agenda to encourage labour:
- A hot curry
- Bouncing on the birth ball
Because the waters had broken, sex was off the cards.
Despite the events, I had one thing on my mind: finish my work.
I knew the morning I had planned was no longer possible.
So out of frantic panic, I pulled out the laptop for a beastly 3 hour content block.
I’m usually in bed at 10pm.
But it’s funny what a bit of adrenaline, excitement and a deadline can make you do.
At 1am I messaged one of my team:
“If what I’ve written doesn’t make any sense, please just correct it and get it out there on the date it’s scheduled for.”
Earlier that day I remember thinking “damn, I haven’t been this productive in months”.
Because after my recent fight on 17th March, I spent a day answering one question:
“What does the business need to operate without me for a month?”
The result was a 19 point hitlist, each with 5+ sub points.
I stared at it in sheer overwhelm, whilst shaking my head wondering why I’d never acted on this question before.
But anyway, I had 3 weeks to get it done.
I pulled out a whiteboard, marked the days, and wrote the plan of attack.
In this moment of overwhelm, it brought me back to the moment I found out.
Chandni had been hinting at taking a test for 3 days with multiple variations of “my period is late”.
All I’d reply with was asking what's for dinner.
When we sat down to take the test, it wasn’t the leaps of celebration you associate pregnancy news with.
It was the stark reality of “our life is about to change big time.”
I’d always wanted to be a dad.
The reason I left personal training on the gym floor in 2017 was so I could be an active father when the time came.
I never wanted to be a slave to the clock, or stuck in a basement, whilst missing everything at home.
And as I’m typing this, I’ve got one eye on the screen, one eye watching my daughter sleeping.
I’d never be able to do this if I was still a personal trainer.
My business was always set up with autonomy and freedom in mind.
Of course, the reality is because I love my work, I work a lot.
But I work on my terms.
In April 2022, we first started having conversations about pregnancy.
I was ready.
When I found out on August 21st, 2022 we were a few weeks in, I struggled to come to terms with it.
Firstly, I didn’t realise it’d happen so fast. Based on my math (and without intentionally trying!), I shot past the goalie at the first opportunity possible.
What’s crazier is it happened in the same place I was conceived, in Venice.
My parents were over the moon at this coincidence. I was less excited to hear about their holiday fun.
The second was the daunting feeling of losing my flexibility.
I’ve grown to love the lifestyle I’ve created for myself.
I can do what I want when I want, and I love every moment of it.
And now all of a sudden, I felt scared to give it up for the very reason I wanted it in the first place.
After a few conversations with friends (and myself), I realised I had nothing to worry about.
In that moment, I learnt the most important part to pregnancy (and probably, parenthood):
Sounds cheesy, but overnight I got excited.
A nickname, Seen, was born for our unborn.
(We were watching Narcos Mexico at the time, with the Sinaloa Cartel being a growing focus. Because of family history, twins were a high possibility, so up till the first scan, we called one twin Sina, the other Loa. After confirming no twins, we kept Sina, which evolved to Seen.)
At the same time, I started Muay Thai.
In that moment, the 2023 chapter of my life’s book had a title:
The Disciplined Dad.
Simultaneous to my frantic 3 hour content creation, contractions began.
They were light; but every 5-10 minutes, something was happening.
At 6am, I bolted up after 5 hours in bed.
I walked into the living room to see Chandni bouncing on her birthing ball watching Netflix.
“How’s it going?”, I asked.
“I didn’t sleep at all," she replied.
“Great, let’s go to the hospital.”
I packed some oats, took a shower, grabbed the famous bag, then drove Chandni to West Middlesex Hospital.
When we got to triage, they ran a few tests and asked for an update.
Based on the latest information, we decided to wait till 11.30am (24 hours since waters broke) before checking dilation progress.
Fast forward 4 hours and our midwife noted a mere 2cm.
We had a long day ahead.
Talks of the hormone drip and induction began, but we were having none of it.
Between 11.30am and 2.30pm, there was minimal progress at best.
This was all happening in the anti-natal ward.
Individual rooms in the labour ward were unavailable.
The ward was also jam packed with deliveries, so we’d only be moved nearer the time.
For 3 hours, we were alone in our room.
Until a couple joined us about 2pm and made an absolute racket.
Cursing, complaining and creating the opposite of the relaxed birthing environment we were hoping for.
I have no idea - still - how the mother-to-be was coping with the negativity.
So I stuck a pair of noise cancelling headphones on Chandni to play You Can Relax Now by Shaina Noll, and took her for a stroll.
After settling her on a birthing ball in the corridor (anywhere but that room), I head to the midwives’ office.
“We need our own room in the labour ward,” I said.
“You’re next”, the midwife replied.
At 3pm, we moved.
En route to the room, we bumped into Amul, our midwife for 3 of our pre-natal appointments.
In fact, she was the lady who debunked all the myths of pregnancy for us:
- You don’t need to eat for 2
- You can still train
- You can raise a baby on a plant-based diet
- You don’t need to put your life on hold
- You can still travel!
In the first 30 minutes of meeting her way back in October 2022, she helped shape (and reinforce) our approach to pregnancy.
I always thought it was the doctors and midwives who perpetuated many of the myths we hear.
Maybe it was one day.
But my experience of the NHS has been spot on.
During pregnancy, we spent 6 weeks abroad in Dubai, India and South Africa.
Chandni continued to train, with a few sensible modifications.
And just a few weeks before giving birth, she was cheering me on (literally) ringside whilst dancing the night away.
Seeing Amul during the transition was a pivotal moment.
Chandni immediately relaxed.
When we got to the room, we dimmed the lights, got the Bluetooth speakers out, and prepared food for what we thought was going to be a long night ahead.
A new midwife greeted us with excellent news:
“Based on your last reading at 11am, I suspect we’ve got another 10-12 hours. Because the waters have broken, we can’t test as regularly as we’d like due to the risk of infection.”
She left the room and said she’ll be back every now and then.
I started thinking about dinner.
I’d only brought 3 meals, so I texted my mum with an update and a potential dinner request.
All of a sudden, Chandni gasped, holding her stomach.
She was standing up by the bed and went weak at the knees.
“There’s a massive pushing feeling. Something is happening. I think I need to go to the toilet fast.”
I took her to the bathroom, before running back to the hallway screaming “Nurse, Nurse!”
Chandni screamed, “buzz the button!”
I’m scrambling for the button and the midwife comes rushing in.
“What happened?”, she asked.
“I felt a real pushing sensation. I went to the bathroom but nothing happened. The contractions are much stronger now.”
Chandni tried a bit of gas and air but it did nothing.
The midwife asked, “Do you want to consider an epidural?”
When Chandni sat me down a few weeks ago to discuss the birthing plan, she was clear on the rules:
- Natural vaginal birth
- No drugs, no epidurals
- Only break the rules if there’s a serious health risk
“How long will this pain last?” Chandni asked.
“Probably 10-12 hours based on the previous examination.” The midwife replied. “To be honest, with how far dilated you were at 11am, expect it to get 100x worse. Your contractions are still quite far apart and you’re a bit too relaxed for someone about to give birth.”
Given Chandni walked herself from the anti-natal to labour ward (without a wheelchair) whilst chatting to people along the way, I could see the midwife’s argument.
“There’s no way I can do this, let alone 100x, for that long,” Chandni gasped. “I think I can only keep going for another two hours. So let’s go for the epidural.”
Being the fantastic birthing partner I am, I immediately intervened.
“Are you sure? I don’t think you need it. Let me coach you through this for however long.”
With zero idea or context of the pain Chandni was in, I just had this feeling she could do it, no matter how long for.
She was persistent before about refusing the epidural, so I rationalised my refusal as simply following the plan.
Chandni asked, “Can we check how far along I am then make a decision?”
The midwife said only if the mother is 100% about an examination can she do it (and gives consent because of the risk of infection).
“Let’s do it.”
At that point, I had no real idea what to expect.
It was 3.30pm, oats time.
I cracked open my Tupperware in the big comfy chair whilst the midwife prepared for the check.
As she moved her fingers around, she turned and whispered something to her colleague.
A moment later, she smiled at Chandni and said, “she’s coming.”
Chandni gasped in shock.
“I can see and feel your baby’s head.”
“Oh so what does that mean? How many cm am I? Am I fully dilated?”
“No, you’re past that. Your baby is ready to come now!”
Like Chandler in Friends, Chandni exclaimed, “I KNEW IT!”
I nearly spat my oats out and asked, “have I got time to take a piss?!”
I realised at this point I was probably ‘that guy’ the midwives rolled their eyes at.
But hey, I was happy I refused the epidural.
Even if fate meant it would never have been possible, because Chandni was already ready to go!
As I took what I thought would be my final piss before becoming a dad (I quickly learnt I’d need them every 15 minutes in the 90 minutes of labour), few thoughts and questions popped into my head:
- What will we say to the baby when she comes?
- Will I have ‘the moment’ every new dad has told me about?
- Imagine when my baby gives birth to her baby (and I’m a grandad!)
- Who was the first human to ever give birth?
- How can one sperm and one egg create a human being?!
The start of birthing meant trying a few positions to see what was best.
In the movies, you always see the woman lying back with legs in the air and people around screaming “PUSH!”
The reality is a bit different.
But the position which Chandni liked was lying back in a deep squat, with her feet pressed against a support.
I still can’t believe she stayed in a deep squat position and applied maximum force every few minutes for a minute straight.
Part of me wondered what sort of load she was pressing through her legs.
Especially combined with the towel pull she was doing with the midwife.
It was effectively a static deep squat combined with a static seated row.
Man, weight training is easy.
But damn, how much it must’ve helped her with this process.
I always thought the birthing process was one constant PUSH.
It turns out the pushes are only possible when contractions are happening.
Think High Intensity Interval Training meets 1 Rep Max Powerlifting.
Each time you push, the baby moves further down. And then when it finishes, the baby slides back up.
The trick is to push enough for the baby to ‘break through’ the canal to the point of no return.
When that moment arrived, I couldn’t believe what was happening.
I felt an overwhelming sense of emotion rush over me when the top of her tiny head became visible.
The midwife showed a few of her hairs and I fell in love.
A new sense of responsibility entered with a tear in my eye.
My daughter was on the cusp of her first breath.
That’s when I saw a sight I never thought I’d see.
Chandni catching her breath between contractions. Our baby’s head hanging outside of Chandni. Two heads on opposite sides of the body.
Because we needed another contraction for the body to come out, there was a good five minutes of seeing this weird, God-like Hindu deity image of two heads in front of my eyes.
I snapped a picture for Chandni (which won’t be in this story) and braced myself for the final push.
At 6pm, our beautiful baby girl took her first breath, born into an ocean of love.
The first of a new generation of Vaghela’s.
The moment we told my parents we were expecting is one I’ll never forget.
It was my mum’s 58th birthday, and maybe the best birthday present of all time!
Ever since, our family and friends have basked in the joy of her imminent arrival.
From baby announcements, gender reveals, to baby showers, our daughter has been swimming in an ecstasy I hope she’ll never forget.
The birth was everything Chandni wanted from it.
She’d been preparing meticulously, physically and mentally.
It’s one that unravelled in a way the midwives said was as rare as they come.
Going from 2cm to active labour in a few hours isn’t the norm.
And I think a few factors helped.
The first was the timing of the room move (I’ll take credit for that!).
The second was bumping into Amul, who ended up staying for the entire delivery (an unexpected surprise).
And third was the sheer fearlessness of my wife, Chandni.
I don’t know anyone like her.
Always grateful, always positive, and always high on the energy of the universe.
Gratitude is something I struggle with often.
I think about life and death daily.
And in my delirious sleep-deprived deep thoughts later that night, more questions entered my mind:
- Why do I concern myself with trivial things?
- What really matters?
- Which soul entered my daughter’s body?
Observing the way Baby V entered the world gave a stark reminder on the preciousness of life.
Watching her live moment to moment is heaven on Earth.
When you read any old religious or spiritual scriptures, all roads lead to the same path.
Much of it is rooted in detachment, presence and lowering your sense of self.
I’ve never had an interest in playing with or spending time with other people’s kids, even close families. So I never spent much time observing them.
As I sat there, skin to skin with my daughter, an hour after she entered the world, I saw what it means to live in bliss.
No massive goals or distractions. No time pressure. No inflated sense of ego or self. No monkey mind interfering with their beautiful existence.
As a 30 year old with a Type A personality trying to build a business, observing a baby is everything I need to learn for how to enjoy my time here.
What’s crazy is these thoughts came rushing in as Chandni was struggling with a severe loss of blood.
The normal amount is 200ml. Chandni lost close to 800ml. So she needed to rest, recover and rehydrate to avoid any risk of fainting or worse.
As the nurses helped her, I used this opportunity to develop my own bond with our baby.
Oftentimes during the pregnancy I’d forget we were having a baby. I suppose that’s normal if you’re not carrying the baby inside of you. But my real big fear was not connecting with her.
Whilst I knew I wanted kids, I’m not an emotional guy.
I struggle expressing love into words, and if I’m in my head too much I lose sense of any real connection or gratitude.
I remember asking my dad during a walk earlier this year if he ever felt the same.
“You’ll know when she arrives.”
I was so curious to know what he meant. I’d heard the adages of “your life changes when you have children”, or “your perspective shifts when you become a parent”, but I never knew what they meant. How could I?
But the moment I saw the top of her head, my heart melted.
Baby V weighed in at ~6lbs.
Because Chandni’s waters broke early, we were asked to stay for an extra 24 hours.
And in her first 24 hours, there were concerns about her body temperature being too low.
They ran a few tests, bought pediatricians and consultants in, and even put her under a heater.
With risk of infection, there was talk of blood cultures being drawn and antibiotic administration.
When I heard this, I knew something wasn’t right.
“Where are you getting all these assumptions from? I know she’s fine.”
After discussion between multiple doctors, it turned out the room was cold.
It was no fault of their own, as they were only being cautious. But it was at this moment I knew our daddy daughter link was special.
From delaying induction, refusing epidural and denying infection, I knew at every stage my baby was okay.
I couldn’t wait to bring her home.
At 6pm on Thursday 13th April, we were discharged. And I drove us home in perhaps the slowest ride of my life.
Every turn timed to perfection.
Every indicator signalled well in advance.
Every crossroad felt like I was on the final stretch of my driving test.
As we welcomed our baby home, my parents eagerly awaited. At 8pm, they arrived with a smile only I could rival.
There it was. Four generations of Vaghela’s under one roof.
My dad shed a tear.
My mum couldn’t stop gushing.
My Ba stood proud as she held her in her arms.
As I finish this tale, I appreciate every birth story will be different.
Each filled with its own magic.
But it’s hard to imagine how it could’ve been better.
As I type this up between nappy changes, feeds and sleeps, I’m preciously trying to capture the magical moments of the first week.
The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.
This line is etched onto the journal Chandni and I keep for our relationship.
Ironically, it was bought in Bali in May 2022, right after we agreed to come off contraception.
I can’t wait to see how this adventure plays out, and having a new travel buddy to see the world with.
Every time I look at her, I see half me, half the person I love.
Naming her was tough.
We had a laundry list of ideas from friends and family before she was born, but nothing landed.
Until my dad 3 days into her life said, “what about Siya?”
In Sanskrit, Siya is a Hindu baby name that relates to the goddess Sita. Her name represents a “beautiful woman,” “white moonlight,” or “white grass.”
With Chandni’s name meaning moon, we thought it was perfect.
Except we decided to drop the y.
Sia Vaghela, this is your story.
I have no idea what God has planned for you, but I can’t wait to nurture, raise and inspire you into the beautiful woman you’re going to become.