Positive Birth in South Africa: This is Candice 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.

Candice Petersen is a South African midwife working in the public sector. She’s an advanced midwife with a background in nursing. Candice worked at Mowbray Maternity Hospital for 7.5 years before she moved to Khayelitsha District Hospital where she stayed for 5 months. She is currently working at Mitchell’s Plain District Hospital.

Candice Petersen Midwife South Africa - Photographed by Leah Hawker

My journey to midwifery began after the birth of my daughter nearly 17 years ago. I had a negative experience during my labour. Despite this, the moment i gave birth, I was in awe. It was wonderful. It was then that I decided to become a midwife.

I completed my training as a professional nurse in 2007. I started working at a specialised obstetric hospital in the government sector. Much has changed over the years in this sector with regards to birthing. Most of the old practices have been stopped (shaving, enemas, routine episiotomies, etc). Most hospitals have become more baby and mother friendly.

However, I do still believe that birthing in S.A is largely medicalized. The caesarean section is amongst the highest in the world.

I am still often shocked by the lack of patient care I see around me, the protocols are just something I often can’t agree with,- there is just so much intervention!

It often seems to me that the system is setting patients (in labour) up for failure (caesarean). I have often just felt that patients were being treated like livestock and not people. Each place I have worked at has been quite different, some definitely have much more evident care and compassion for the labouring woman however some facilities are incredibly hard to work at, psychologically…

What it means to me to be a midwife in the dominant world of medicine is to be an advocate for the women who are in my care. To ensure that her experience during labour is positive and without fear, that she may birth as she intends with the least intervention. I have come to experience many times that a softer approach and reassurance to the mom yields far greater results than a strictly clinical approach.

To engage with my patients and gain their trust, to share in their joy, their sorrow and to help to dispel their fears means so much to me.

The statistics I would like to see is a decline in the Caesarean section rate in this country. I believe we can achieve this by adopting more natural approaches to birthing. Women need to be empowered. Empowerment through education. There is too much fear surrounding birth, which in its essence, should be a natural, instinctive and physiological event.

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

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