Category Archives: Women Related Happenings

Positive Birth in South Africa: This is Heidi Padoa


The Gate-Keepers: A Portraiture Project

This is a portraiture project, documenting the “gatekeepers” of a growing movement regarding positive birth experiences in our country.  My aim: to promote those who are enabling women to identify with their power and femininity and therefore normalize the processes before, during and after birth.

These are their stories / anecdotes / opinions about what they do and how they see it…accompanied by my portraits and some general information on each sitter.

Heidi is a doula based in the Garden Route area, Western Cape, South Africa. I met her at the Midwifery and Birth Conference in Cape Town in 2015. Heidi has been a doula for 6 years. She qualified as a professional labour and birth assistant through WOMBS in 2010 and has birthed 8 children herself (her own and surrogate), including; home, hospital, caesarean, breech and twin birth.

“I believe that the birth of a baby is a deeply sacred and miraculous event, filled with mystery, challenges, beauty, power, love and great joy which will affect women emotionally for as long as they live. It is divinely created to be a perfect, safe and strengthening process.
A woman is in her greatest power during childbirth, working with the co-creative forces of nature to allow the miracle of life to pass through her.”


“I most love to help women throughout their journey in pregnancy and birth, by providing emotional, informational and physical support, as I serve them as a doula.
I have attended many home, hospital and caesarean births, including the unassisted, undisturbed HBAC of twins and an amazing, unassisted HBA5C  (home waterbirth after 5 cesareans), amongst all the other miraculous births I have had the privilege to support”.

• (I invite more participants to join the project, you are welcome to email me for more information).

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Positive Birth in South Africa: This is Marianne Littlejohn


The Gate-Keepers: A Portraiture Project

This is a portraiture project, documenting the “gatekeepers” of a growing movement regarding positive birth experiences in our country.  My aim: to promote those who are enabling women to identify with their power and femininity and therefore normalize birth and the body.

These are their stories / anecdotes / opinions about what they do and how they see it…accompanied by my portraits and some general information on each sitter.

Marianne Littlejohn has been a midwife for 34 years (actively practicing for 25 years). Marianne runs the platform Spiritual Birth which encourages women to have more empowered and profound birthing experiences. She is also the founder and director of the Mtwana Birth Centre in Muizenberg and specialises in natural births for which she is a fierce advocate.

Based in Cape Town, Marianne runs Antenatal Clinics in Rondebosch and Muizenberg, but travels to the northern suburbs for mothers who want homebirths.

Marianne Littlejohn Indipendent South African Midwife portrait by Leah Hawker

 “I have witnessed a lot of changes during my time as an active midwife and seen how birth has become more medicalized over the years in both the private and public sectors for different reasons.

In the public sector, the sheer numbers of women needing assistance and the decrease in the number of midwives, results in less one-on-one midwifery care for mothers.
Ideally midwifery care should be one midwife per each mother.
My approach is to educate and empower the mother to surrender to the physiological process of birth (yes, this innate knowledge is part of how we are made) and become conscious of the opportunity for growth and empowerment in the process of becoming a parent.”

• (I invite more participants to join the project, you are welcome to email me for more information).

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A Conversation with Independent Midwife Angela Wakeford

I met Angela in her home in Fish Hoek at the end of 2015. She qualified and began working in nursing and midwifery in 1993 in South Africa and spent 15 years gaining extensive knowledge in the UK where she worked in varied care systems spanning prenatal, birth and perinatal care as well as advanced models of training: working intensively on hands-on “case studies” with immigrant women from India and Somalia.

She returned to South Africa in 2010 and immediately set up her own independent midwifery practice which functions from her home base where we met to chat.

Portrait-of-Midwife-Angela-Wakeford-Cape-Town-005-Photograph-by-Leah-Hawker

Being a midwife verses working in government facilities, or, “the system”:

Angela spoke about her experiences working in South African Government run hospitals, which, apart from being badly subsidised, are also a space where most forms of the natural processes of birth have been lost by overworked staff who have lost sight of holistic midwifery due to the systemised nature of government hospital practices. One of the typical outcomes of government facilities are therefore the fast offer of drugged pain relief and swiftly diverted labours which may show any complications directly into the hands of surgeons.

Angela’s experience of witnessing labouring and pregnant women processed through this system is predominantly what led her to independent practice,- a space with both a better income, kinder working hours and a holistic approach to midwifery, one which really encompasses individualised care, and the treatment of labour and birth.

Our birthing industry is money and fear driven:

It is cheaper and safer to have a natural, home birth attended by a highly qualified midwife and doula as apposed to entering the hospital system. This fact is true for every woman who can afford medical aid in SA yet the insurance companies have set surprisingly low rates for natural birthing. Thus, those who can afford to make the choices are goaded into medicalised birthing and those women who can’t afford to make choices are fear driven to deliver their babies in hospitals due to, very often, a lack of access to knowledge.

Portrait-of-Midwife-Angela-Wakeford-Cape-Town-011-Photograph-by-Leah-Hawker

Medicalised birth, Hollywood and the difficulties in wanting to be informed in our society…

Last year when I started looking into birthing and pregnancy in South Africa I became increasingly aware that I needed to explain myself to others when seeking information. I questioned this need to defend myself and came to the occlusion that, basically, its not ok to know about birth, but it is ok to sexualise women’s bodies.

Funnily enough Angela brought this up herself when she spoke about a recent add campaign launched by South African Stationary brand BIC who, in celebration of Women’s Day last year posted the below add with the text reading: “Look like a girl, act like a lady, think like a man, work like a boss”.

HappyWomensDay controversial advert by BIC

The advert which went viral on all online platforms defines how I feel when needing to explain that I’d like to educate myself about my body and birthing.

Images have become such a central point in much of our interpretations of our bodies: Round bellied and romantic portraits of happy couples and rosey-cheeked newborns are what we’ve learned is the expected and normal. Everything in-between (birth and labour specifically) is illustrated by Hollywood. Screaming women in stirrups, the doctor-hero, the partner: emasculated and helpless. Birth is apparently not a place for us at all, leave it to the professionals, since our bodies obviously don’t know what they’re doing…so well illustrated by Monty Python in their 1983 film The Meaning of Life, they were so ahead of their time!

Monty Pythons Meaning Of Life BIRTH 001

“What do I do?!”, to which the reply “Nothing Dear, you’re not qualified!”.

Monty Pythons Meaning Of Life BIRTH 002

The Positive Birth Movement

The Positive Birth Movement which Angela initiated in the Cape Peninsula and Southern Suburbs areas as well as the CBD is her proactive way of implementing change.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 6.30.00 PM

The monthly PBM meetings she hosts consist of a mix of clients, doulas, midwives and other interested parties. The gatherings provide a sharing platform which is ultimately empowering for expecting parents. It provides discussions and information sharing in a relaxed setting which is conducive to creating a mind-set shift for how we approach birth.

This sounds like such an obvious, simple concept yet its not at all easy-to-come-by knowledge in South Africa.

Topics Angela mentioned had recently been covered included:

  • Giving men a more empowered role in birthing
  • The importance of seeing realistic images of labour and birth
  • The incorrect expectations created by media and Hollywood about birth

She’s found that opening communication channels like the PBM, has led to women making more natural decisions with regard to their birth.

How she works with her clients.

Midwives need a very supportive family since their working hours are so variable. Angela has created a structure and system that works beautifully for her: she only consults and does meetings/ classes (antenatal classes) in the morning and stands on-call for around five births a month (making her very much in demand!). As of January this year Angela has joined Birth Options Midwifery Team.

Portrait-of-Midwife-Angela-Wakeford-Cape-Town-002-Photograph-by-Leah-Hawker

65% of her clients choose homebirths and the majority are water births. She works with her clients from 6 weeks onward, building a detailed knowledge about the their history and pregnancy.

Because independent midwives have such an intimate and ongoing relationship with their clients it translates into excellent and very educated choices during pregnancy and the onset of labour.

During the last months of pregnancy she sees her patients weekly. This harmonious approach, (in comparison to an obstetrical who walks into the delivery ward, while pulling on a pair of gloves, during the last 30 minutes of labour) seems, to me, to be the most obvious and natural way forward in the process.

Portrait-of-Midwife-Angela-Wakeford-Cape-Town-001-Photograph-by-Leah-Hawker

In conclusion we discussed statistics on birthing in SA and some ideas around this which could bring change.

Angela had a student, shadowing her for some time recently who had had the brilliant idea to create a new data base or set of statistics for independent midwives. This platform would enable them to add data regarding the births they attend and the outcomes, thus creating a new set of statistics, one which would of course not be effected my medical aids and the like. A way to provide women with better information on which to make decisions regarding birth.

Portrait-of-Midwife-Angela-Wakeford-Cape-Town-10-Photograph-by-Leah-Hawker

After meeting with Angela I realise how important it is for individuals (and communities of women like the PBM) to instigate changes through education and information sharing.

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Positive Birth in South Africa: This is Sydney Grove


The Gate-Keepers: A Portraiture Project

This is a portraiture project, documenting the “gatekeepers” of a growing movement regarding positive birth experiences in our country.  My aim: to promote those who are enabling women to identify with their power and femininity and therefore normalize birth and the body.

These are their stories / anecdotes / opinions about what they do and how they see it…accompanied by my portraits and some general information on each sitter.

Sydney Grove is an advanced midwife , specialises in neonatel nursing science, has a degree in nursing, education and health. Sydney has been in his profession for 40 years and has delivered too many babies to count. He now works in the birthing industry in service management and covers the whole CBD and peninsula.

Sydney Grove -Midwives & Doulas of South Africa - Portraits by Leah Hawker

“I am a male feminist doing advocacy for women in labour.
I believe that women should not be indoctrinated into intervention in labour unless strongly indicated.
I believe in informed consent and pro-active informed decision making.
Any women in labour and even during pregnancy should feel special and made to feel sacred.”

• (I invite more participants to join the project, you are welcome to email me for more information).

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Positive Birth in South Africa: This is Lynne Groenewald


The Gate-Keepers: A Portraiture Project

This is a portraiture project, documenting the “gatekeepers” of a growing movement regarding positive birth experiences in our country.  My aim: to promote those who are enabling women to identify with their power and femininity and therefore normalize birth and the body.

These are their stories / anecdotes / opinions about what they do and how they see it…accompanied by my portraits and some general information on each sitter.

Lynne Groenewald is a birth educator, trained Mama Bamba Antenatal Facilitator and yoga teacher who focuses on prenatal yoga. Lynne has a background in fine arts, clothing and surface design and decided to follow her passion into the birthing arena.
She’s based in Woodstock where she shares suites with midwife Caitlyn Collins and Homeopath/GP Daphne Lyell but also travels all over for her clients.

Lynne Groenewald Doula and yoga south africa COMPRESSED

“It is time that we take responsibility for ourselves, our births and our families.   As a mother, the three things that I feel will support this are:

  • learning to trust our bodies, ourselves and our processes;
  • empowering ourselves through information;
  • and being supported by midwifes as a matter of course.

We have the power to find out all the information we need, so that we can make informed decisions…  We have information at our fingertips, and there are passionate people wanting to share their knowledge and experiences.  We cannot base our choices on ‘the way things are’, or the expected norm.”

• (I invite more participants to join the project, you are welcome to email me for more information).

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Positive Birth in South Africa: This is Nomvula Muriel Gxaka


The Gate-Keepers: A Portraiture Project

This is a portraiture project, documenting the “gatekeepers” of a growing movement regarding positive birth experiences in our country.  My aim: to promote those who are enabling women to identify with their power and femininity and therefore normalize birth and the body.

These are their stories / anecdotes / opinions about what they do and how they see it…accompanied by my portraits and some general information on each sitter.

Nomvula is a doula and midwife-in-training at Busfare Babies in the Peddie District, Eastern Cape, South Africa. She’s been working with birthing for 5 years.

Nomvula Muriel Gxaka -Midwives & Doulas of South Africa - Portraits by Leah Hawker

 “What inspires me about my job is the way we do things here at Busfare Babies: I’m also so interested in helping others, supporting one another, especially as a midwife, here in the Eastern Cape.  I enjoy being there to support a  women in that hard process when she is scared and in pain, but we are there, watching and waiting respectfully, to make sure she is safe and to catch her innocent baby.”

“My experience is that as midwife you have to be someone whose got a passion for what you’re doing. Love and care is the best thing you can give a woman in birth, you have to be someone whose got a vision of a motherhood…”

• (I invite more participants to join the project, you are welcome to email me for more information).

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Positive Birth in South Africa: This is Sian Williams


The Gate-Keepers: A Portraiture Project

This is a portraiture project, documenting the “gatekeepers” of a growing movement regarding positive birth experiences in our country.  My aim: to promote those who are enabling women to identify with their power and femininity and therefore normalize birth and the body.

These are their stories / anecdotes / opinions about what they do and how they see it…accompanied by my portraits and some general information on each sitter.

Sian Williams is a prenatal Vinyasa yoga instructor, a doula, and a baby massage instructor at Glow Prenatal Yoga in Cape Town.

Sian Williams -Midwives & Doulas of South Africa - Portraits by Leah Hawker

“My doula journey began with the birth of my divine son, North in 2013.  That was the moment I chose to support women during one of the most phenomenal phases of their life; pregnancy & birth.  I absolutely honor the gift of fully supporting and guiding women on their chosen journey to embrace the process of pregnancy and birth from a deeper, more meaningful place within.   This spiritual and sacred journey of pregnancy and birth that is bestowed upon women is an opportunity to tap into their profound and powerful wisdom nestled deep inside the layers of their existence, their minds, their hearts, and to truly follow their intuition for the birth that they desire.”

“I wish to see for every birthing woman
more trust, less rush
more confidence, less fear
more research, less doubt
more ‘how, why?’, less ‘okay’
more compassion, less external pressure
more voice, less silence
However, the ultimate wish for my birthing goddesses is the very wish of their own.”

• (I invite more participants to join the project, you are welcome to email me for more information).

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Positive Birth in South Africa: This is Vania Truter


The Gate-Keepers: A Portraiture Project

This is a portraiture project, documenting the “gatekeepers” of a growing movement regarding positive birth experiences in our country.  My aim: to promote those who are enabling women to identify with their power and femininity and therefore normalize birth and the body.

These are their stories / anecdotes / opinions about what they do and how they see it…accompanied by my portraits and some general information on each sitter.

Vania Truter is a doula. She works predominantly in the Northern suburbs and Belville. Vania has been a doula for just over 4 years now.

Vania Truter -Midwives & Doulas of South Africa - Portraits by Leah Hawker

“These are things I’d like to see changing in South Africa:

  • gynaecologists to be more supportive of vaginal births,
  • newborns to always have skin-to-skin directly after birth,
  • women to be more empowered and supported to breastfeed,
  • gentler c-sections,
  • more home births and
  • more VBAC births!”

• (I invite more participants to join the project, you are welcome to email me for more information).

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Positive Birth in South Africa: This is Jill Bergman


The Gate-Keepers: A Portraiture Project

This is a portraiture project, documenting the “gatekeepers” of a growing movement regarding positive birth experiences in our country.  My aim: to promote those who are enabling women to identify with their power and femininity and therefore normalize birth and the body.

These are their stories / anecdotes / opinions about what they do and how they see it…accompanied by my portraits and some general information on each sitter.

Jill Bergman is a doula, counsellor and skin-to-skin (previously known as kangaroo care) specialist, she writes and lectures on these subjects as well as developmental care for pre-term babies.. She’s been in developmental care for 10 years and working as a doula for 4 years. Jill works in the Southern suburbs and central suburbs around Cape Town

Jill Bergman -Midwives & Doulas of South Africa - Portraits by Leah Hawker

“Parents are not properly informed on the negative impact of Inductions, Epidurals and Caesareans on the baby.”

“Statistics I would like to see changed? The caesarean Section rate to lower dramatically in South Africa (World Health organization says C/S should medically be between 15-20 %, in SA in private sector it is between 60- 90 % different in different areas and hospitals).”

• (I invite more participants to join the project, you are welcome to email me for more information).

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Positive Birth in South Africa: This is Lana Petersen


The Gate-Keepers: A Portraiture Project

This is a portraiture project, documenting the “gatekeepers” of a growing movement regarding positive birth experiences in our country.  My aim: to promote those who are enabling women to identify with their power and femininity and therefore normalize birth and the body.

These are their stories / anecdotes / opinions about what they do and how they see it…accompanied by my portraits and some general information on each sitter.

Lana Petersen has been a doula for 12 years and is currently an apprentice midwife. Lana works mostly in the Southern Suburbs.

Lana Peterson -Midwives & Doulas of South Africa - Portraits by Leah Hawker

“Women don’t know enough about the various options around birth in this country. They don’t do enough research around those choices and they are losing touch with the very thing that makes them uniquely feminine….The learning from and supporting of each other around pregnancy and birth has been taken away from the home and the community and hence the deep seeded fear women have about their bodies and birth.”

• (I invite more participants to join the project, you are welcome to email me for more information).

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