Tag Archives: birth south africa

Positive Birth in South Africa: This is Tarryn Walton

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.

Tarryn Walton has been a professional doula for two years now. She works all over: Northern suburbs, Cape Town central, southern suburbs, Atlantic seaboard.
Tarryn is a  Satyananda yoga teacher and specialises in prenatal yoga as well.

Tarryn Walton Doula South Africa photographed by Leah Hawker

Giving birth to three children in the UK, has highlighted the stark difference between South Africa and England regarding the approach to childbirth.
My aim is to help educate women in terms of their choices in childbirth, encourage them to believe and trust in their ability to birth their babies with as little interference and medical intervention as possible.
In instances where a non-medicalised birth is not an option, I aim to work with the mother and her family towards optimising the chances of her having a positive experience.
A woman should feel safe, nurtured and empowered throughout pregnancy, labour and birth. She should own the experience and be able to congratulate herself on her achievement.
Helping facilitate this is an honour and a privilege.
• (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 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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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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An Interview with Doula & Peri-natal Yoga Instructor Harriet Came
(Part I)

I was connected to Harriet Came a short while back and we met in her light filled Cape Town home to chat about women, birthing and pre-natal yoga in South Africa.
Harriet immediately struck me as a vibrant, energetic and creative woman and mother. She has a gentle yet strong kind of contagious vitality about her. Our conversation and meeting left me high and inspired.

Harriet runs preggie-yoga classes in and around Cape Town using various studios including The Shala, Hot Dog Yoga, The Source and Yoga Way. She also hosts pregnancy yoga retreat weekends from time to time.
Apart from specializing in pre and post natal yoga, Harriet is also a doula (but more about that in later posts).


After our first meet I attended one of her pre-natal classes, filled with bulging bellies in the morning light.

The space was peaceful and evocative of the kinds of energy one would imagine perfectly fit for women growing and supporting their babies and themselves.

I noticed how many women had commented on Harriets facebook platform “Bloom Yoga” saying how they only wished they’d come to her earlier.
Being witness to this lovely morning class showed the reason why- it was an empowering and safe space for women.

Doula-&--Pregnancy-Yoga-instructor---Harriet-Came---YogaWay-Cape-Town-008-Photograph-by-Leah-Hawker -

How did your journey take you from a Jimmy Choo wearing corporate in London to a Jimmy Choo wearing Yogi-doula?

Haha! If only I was a Jimmy Choo wearing yogi-doula!! Sadly I don’t have the lifestyle or the budget anymore – I am a mother of 3 children (Wilf (7yrs), Willow (5yrs) and Pixie (3yrs)).
Occasionally I do have the inclination though, so I’ll just pull a pair of (what are now vintage) designer shoes from my wardrobe and wear them for about 10 minutes before I get sore feet and then go straight back to my sneakers!

I have practised yoga now for about 20 years. On moving to Cape Town with my husband and having my son 7 years ago, I (encouraged by my yoga teacher here) started teaching pre natal yoga, and basically fell in love with the feeling I had in my body and mind whilst carrying a child and the energy that it created within me…. that which I could give to other women through yoga.

My teaching became my passion and work that I not only loved, but could fit around my family (now my largest priority).
Slowly my classes have built up (I now teach over 9 times a week all over Cape Town), and thankfully my reputation has grown.

Doula-&--Pregnancy-Yoga-instructor---Harriet-Came---YogaWay-Cape-Town-005-Photograph-by-Leah-Hawker -

My students began to ask if I would accompany them at their birth (I believe there is an incredibly powerful link between natural birthing and yoga) and so I trained to be a doula with the South African organisation WOMBS.  I have been practising for nearly 5 years;- very seriously in the last 2 years since I stopped breastfeeding my youngest child. My on-going birthing experience hugely influences my style of teaching now, and vice versa.

I have always admired strong women. I have always had a strong sense of family. I have always liked to work and to help achieve great things.  I have always sought after beauty and admired clever engineering (I trained as an engineer).

Now I get to combine everything that inspires me: there is nothing more beautiful than a pregnant woman, nothing more natural and inspiring than a body doing what it’s designed to do and nothing more powerful than a mother bringing her child into the world, the magic of seeing a new life take its first breath and watch a family emerge.


I loved this quote and was thoroughly amused when I read the following (taken from a link you shared on your facebook page via MindBodyGreen):

“The women in my classes are allowed to bring in snacks and munch throughout the practice. They’re allowed to drink and get tea as they please. If they want to pee 20 times I don’t care. If they accidentally pee a little bit in a pose, chances are someone else did too. I probably use the word vagina and pubic bone at least once per class. And eventually, almost everyone farts.”  

Tell me how prenatal yoga differs and what the advantages are?

When I started reading the above text I thought it was a quote I had given to you.  It could have been!  It sounds just like my classes!  In fact, I taught through all of my own pregnancies and often snacked through a lot of my classes!  I talk about hips, pelvises, pubic bones and vaginas a lot of the time.  We’re not so big on farting but the occasional one slips out, it has to be said…

In my classes my mums feel that they’re in a soft, feminine, safe place and they can do what feels natural and be completely themselves (the key to successful vaginal birth by the way).

Doula-&--Pregnancy-Yoga-instructor---Harriet-Came---YogaWay-Cape-Town-006-Photograph-by-Leah-Hawker -

Pre-natal yoga is of course very similar to normal yoga in that we respect the techniques, asanas and philosophies of the ancient traditions, and we seek physical and spiritual wellbeing by practicing it.

However, of course, we’re working with an anatomy that is physiologically very different, and female emotions, hormones, energies that are heightened and different than at any other time in a woman’s life.


 My attitude and way of teaching is very much that of  “less is more” and to maintain a high respect for body in this state.  I’ve been pregnant 4 times and with each experience I had more and more respect for my body.

With perinatal yoga (i.e. pre and post), we work in several different ways.

Firstly to strengthen and build those areas of the body which are put under strain during the 4 trimesters of pregnancy, thus making pregnancy and post natal recovery more enjoyable and easier.

Secondly to connect and bond with the baby and ones body during this time, this aids a more fulfilling pregnancy and an easier transition into motherhood.

Thirdly- to prepare body, mind and spirit for the birth itself.

Fourthly, my students create a sisterhood and support group through my classes which is a vital and loving lifeline at such a vulnerable, bewildering yet empowering time of their lives.

Doula-&--Pregnancy-Yoga-instructor---Harriet-Came---YogaWay-Cape-Town-004-Photograph-by-Leah-Hawker -

I joined Harriet at an evening workshop which she ran a while later as well as a birth she attended (and I thrillingly was invited to document). More on this later.

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