Tag Archives: birth story

Birth: This is Shakirah’s Story
The Birth of ‘Abd al-Matin, 6 October 2015

It was Lana Petersen who connected myself to Shakirah and Ya’eesh. I met with them in their home in Seekoeivlei and was immediately impressed with their sense of confidence and trust in each other, themselves and the process. We discussed their expectations and any concerns or ideas surrounding my presence and that of the camera in their birthing space. They were so open and trusting which left me feeling excited to be present in their process.

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The experience of witnessing and documenting them was such an honour and left me on an incredible high. The images, I believe, tell the story just as it was that morning. I asked Shakirah to share her ideas around birth as well as her experience with me, this makes up most of the text below in-between the photographs.

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I am an introvert and felt the potential threat to the progress of my labour, by unfamiliar surroundings and strangers in my personal space, to be a very real one. I did not want to birth my baby into the artificially lit, cold, clinical confines of a hospital ward, in a building housing sick and suffering people.

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I believe that the act of birthing a baby is a natural physiological process, that the body is intrinsically equipped for and that it is not a medical condition. I also did not want my brand new baby to be handled roughly by birth attendants who did not view the process as spiritual but merely as routine.

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I was also alarmed by the fact that the overwhelming majority of, otherwise healthy, young women I knew, were having their babies delivered by Caesarean section and not by choice. This made me very sceptical of the mainstream medical fraternity’s motivation for performing C-sections.

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I was afraid of possibly having to undergo major abdominal surgery because performing a C-section made more financial sense or because my labour was taking ‘too long’ to progress. I did not want to feel disempowered by having my right to choose encumbered.

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So when we found out that we were pregnant again, in January this year, I started doing research on the local homebirthing industry, birthing centres and MOU’s. I searched the web for information on local homebirths and found the site homebirth.org.za, which had a directory listing midwives, doulas, birthing centres and antenatal classes.

It was also through an online article that I discovered the concept of lotus birthing, where the placenta remains attached to the baby until the umbilical cord dries and detaches naturally, usually within 3 to 5 days. There are many health benefits associated with delaying cord clamping to allow the transfusion of blood from the placenta to the baby, to complete.

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It also tied in with the theory of birth without violence, where it is believed that our birth affects the rest of our lives and I wanted the birth experience to be as gentle, welcoming and reassuring for our baby as possible and therefore the decision for my husband to catch him was also a natural one.

If we could and hadn’t needed the reassurance of experienced birth attendants, with this being our first baby, we would have chosen to do an unassisted birth, as the baby was conceived with just the two of us and the birth was the culmination of that intensely private process.

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When I broke the news to my family that we wanted a homebirth, it was met with much resistance and judgment. They were concerned for mine and the baby’s safety, believing that hospitals were the safest places to birth. I initially succumbed to the pressure and booked with the local government MOU, where I went for most of my checkups. Every time I attended an appointment, a different midwife would perform my checkup. It felt very impersonal. With the large volumes of women attending, it would take most of the day and we would be herded through the hallways, to the various rooms, like cattle.

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Shakirah went into labour on Friday evening on 3rd October, a long and exhausting progress which lasted until her baby’s birth at dawn on the 6th. Lana Peterson, her birth attendant, arrived at 9:30pm on the 5th as labour began to become more and more intense.

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The night seemed to draw on forever with the pain intensifying and my back feeling like it was breaking and my tummy feeling like it was on fire, with each contraction. By 2am I started wailing, tearless, high pitched wails, while still rocking back and forth like a patient in a mental asylum, anticipating and dreading each contraction. I was doing the exact thing I was taught not to do. I started feeling fear and anxiety and it only increased my pain. Lana coached me to make low, guttural sounds but it was of no use. I was too far gone and started begging to be taken to hospital because I needed the pain to be numbed.

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Lana had made contact with Lydia (Sr. Lydia Du Toit is a Midwife), who arrived shortly, at just after 5am, Tuesday 6 October. They both checked the bath water with torches and confirmed that my waters had broken. Lydia then requested that I get out of the bath so she could check me. She then started coaching me to push, while I held onto Ya’eesh for dear life, first laying on the bed then squatting on the floor being supported under both my arms. She told me to push like I was sitting on the toilet. I was repeating that I couldn’t do it and squirming through the pain. She spoke with authority and demanded my attention and explained to me what it was she needed me to do and how she needed me to do it. I obliged and started feeling my baby move into the birth canal and started feeling the urge to bear down spontaneously which happened simultaneously me making a low guttural sound.

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I arrived just before the break of dawn. Shakirah was drained and exhausted, rocking and groaning in the middle of the bed with Ya’eesh supporting her so lovingly through each contraction. The room was filled with warm intense colours and she was wearing a ing flowing robe. The whole scene was very intimate, and very beautiful. Light was slowly seeping into the room and with the suns rising, so she birthed her baby, it was surreal.

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I reached in between my legs and felt his head, which felt unusually soft and squishy. I heard him make a sound too. Then a few more pushes and his body followed quite quickly.

I remember hearing, “Quickly, the baby’s coming!” Ya’eesh caught him and I heard him crying then I got told that he would be passed through my legs.

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The moment I saw him I was overcome with emotion and laughed and cried and kissed him at the same time. It felt as if everything disappeared for that second and it was just us. He was covered in slimy blood and I was kneeling in a puddle of blood and goo but none of that mattered.

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I looked over at Ya’eesh who was crying and kissed him and looked up and saw my mom, who it seemed, had appeared out of nowhere and she was crying too. It was a beautiful and emotional moment and it made the pain disappear in an instant and breathed new life into me.

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I am totally satisfied with the whole experience and believe it couldn’t have happened any other way. I got my natural homebirth, with the support of two phenomenal, experienced women, whom I could not have done it without and my husband got to support me and catch our baby and my mom got to see her grandson as soon as he was born and this amazing event was documented for us to share with our beautiful boy one day.

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Birth: This is Alexia’s Story
The Birth of Isa, 15 September 2015

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Alexia and Theo invited me into their birth space to document the birth of their baby girl. Alexia sent me a message on the morning of the 15th, four months ago already, and warned me that she had gone into labour during the early hours of the morning. We had planned to meet that morning to discuss her feelings about birth photography and having me in her space. No time for that now, she trusted my integrity and I awaited further instructions.

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Not much later they moved from home to the Cape Medi-Clinic where I joined them mid-morning. I discreetly slipped into the labour room and greeted them both, almost the only words I spoke for the next 6 hours, and the only words I spoke to Alexia during her labour and birth.

It was a phenomenal and mind-altering experience. There are not many opportunities for one to be present at a birth (having no responsibility from a support or medical perspective) and it left me feeling like an honored witness and like a guardian of her space.

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I’ve felt so “precious” about the resulting images (and experience) that it’s taken me months to publish! A few weeks after the birth Alexia sent me a reply to some questions I had for her about her choices and perspective, these I have incorporated along with the images to share her story.

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How did you prepare yourself for your labour and birth?

I was so excited for the birth right from the start. I’ve had times, before falling pregnant, where the thought of natural birth was scary for me, but when I fell pregnant I was overcome by the faith and realization that natural childbirth is what my female body was made to do and that I am just one of many many women over many, many years that had given birth naturally.

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I never for one moment doubted I, and my babe, could do it, and I never focused on the perceived ‘pain’ of labour but instead focused on the miracle of the journey and where that intensity could take me on other body levels – emotionally, mentally, spiritually.

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Tell me a bit about your experience in labour and birthing your babe.

Wow. An intense, magical, challenging journey that took me into the deepest parts of myself. Physically one is taken to a place where you face yourself head on. I’d describe it as transcendental.
I was really aware that my daughter Isa and I were undertaking this challenging experience together, hand in hand so to speak.

I really wanted to be consciously present for her as she entered the world. Saying all that I was also quite amazed by just how physical it is. Nitty gritty basic physical human stuff! Pretty grounding & humbling. Seven weeks later and I’m still processing!

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The above image reflects how Alexia looked throughout her labour,- like a Greek goddess, totally serene, inside her own world, peaceful. She reminded me so much of the two below paintings (of Danae).

Danae

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What was your reason for wanting a natural birth in a hospital environment?

I wanted to birth as naturally as possible. I initially wanted a home birth but for various validated reasons my husband wasn’t comfortable with it and I was happy to accommodate him so that he could also have the birthing experience he desired. I chose a hospital I felt safe and comfortable in.

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 In hindsight, at home or in hospital, I managed to experience the birth I desired by going inward – the physical environment and happenings around me didn’t make much of a difference in the end.

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How did you feel having me present in your birthing space?

I loved having you there! You were like a little guardian angel, quietly present.
You have a beautiful nurturing, gentle energy and I don’t think it would have been the same without you!

For a while you were the only woman in the room with us and I was very aware of that at the time and grateful for your presence.
The images speak for this I feel.

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The moment Isa was born Alexia’s intense powerful and feminine force changed to emotion and wonder as she reached out crying and took her baby.

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It was such a dramatic change in tone in the room I had to look up from the eyepiece of my camera for a second, bewildered that it was the same person who had just morphed life phases in those split seconds… I was astounded, the moment very surreal.

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I documented the experience as objectively and honestly as I could. This meant that those moments which are so often excluded from our stories were ones that Alexia could choose to retain if she wanted to. For example; the birthing of her placenta which was intense, quite rough and painful, the blood and instruments that littered the trolley standing next to her bed….I incorporated it all.

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Afterwards I asked Alexia what she wanted to see and she asked for everything.
She said  that from her own perspective she had no idea of the goings-on outside the boundaries of her own body. Now, she wanted to see the experience from a the outside.

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You made comments about your experiences in the weeks following the birth and that you felt that there was much information here that you would like to share?

Yes! Personally, I was quite shocked by how unprepared I was for those first weeks following the birth. I’ve grown up around babies, au paired new borns etc so I come from a place with some experience yet I felt completely overwhelmed at first.

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 I personally experienced huge amounts of emotional healing during this time, never mind the normal physical challenges and lifestyle changes (which one doesn’t really get until one experiences it) and with no personal support system, I found a huge need to share and connect with other moms.

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 I do feel there is a pressure to be socially silent about the challenges faced during this time for various reasons.
I do think there is a need, living in a modern, disjointed community, for open and honest sharing.

As with pregnancy and birthing, I really believe knowledge is the key to a positive experience. There is so much info and discussion around pregnancy and birthing but I feel a huge lack of communication about the postnatal phase of the experience.

I’m on a mission to really open up about this fourth trimester  – I call it “keeping it real”.

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It is so emotional to look at these images now!

I was so deep within myself at the time, I was unaware of so much going on around me. What a gift to be able to have that special moment recorded. And I’m thrilled my baby girl gets to witness her incredible entry into this world.

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A Documentary Series:
More Business of Being Born – S.1, E.1
Ina May Gaskin & The Farm Midwives

 

Down on the Farm: Conversations with Legendary Midwife Ina May Gaskin, Episode 1 0f a 4 part series.

The duo (Abby Epstein and Ricki Lake) host the informative TV series More Business of Being Born (2011). It’s a follow-on to a documentary they produced together in 2008 titled “The Business of Being Born”, which explored contemporary child birthing experiences in the US.

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In this first episode they visit The Farm Community in Tennessee were they have the opportunity to talk with Ina May Gaskin about birth trends and the art of midwifery.

The community of midwives that live and work from The Farm have a totally wholesome 1970’s air to themselves somehow, or at least look like they belong to the Waldorf community (which I say affectionately coming from the education system myself).

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The documentary takes a look at how the Farm and the midwives operate, their opinions on birthing and the impressive statistics they maintain.

At the time of filming there were 6 midwives present. The birthing professionals working from The Farm have been present at more than 2800 births and maintain a C-section rate of less than 2% which is incredible if you consider the Kingsbury Hospital in Cape Town has (so I’v keep hearing) a near 90% C-section rate (!).
The midwives maintain a “less is more” approach when it comes to handling the birthing process and so maintain a more hands-off stance which reminded me of the book Ruth Ehrhardt put together which described the best midwife as the one who does the least (making knitting a good sideline hobby for this profession!).

“Your stats here, I mean any medical institution has to respect the statistics, you have some of the best”, says Ricki.

“Your stats here, I mean any medical institution has to respect the statistics, you have some of the best”, says Ricki.


Abby, Ricki, Ina May and another midwife sit together in the kitchen and begin an in-depth interview.
They discuss how The Farm has never had a low risk patient go to high risk without there being “red flags” or warning signs. They point out the value of maintaining a close and deep relationship with their clients which is a big contributing factor I would think to their impressive outcomes.

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This kind of close-watch caregiving is missing in many modern obstetric practices which I believe leads to unnecessary intervention in the natural process of things. Anecdotes pertaining to fear and pain interrupt ones trust in the process and in ones body.

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They discuss confused perceptions about midwives not having medical backup or support or not working with doctors. Topics on tearing and pushing also come up from which I liked this from Ina May:

“Very occasionally there would be a tear and we’d notice that it was the woman that was in a hurry. Not because we were telling her to hurry but because she was in a hurry to get the baby here and make it be over.
But now when I see these births on television where everybody’s shouting at the woman and they count to 10 [shouting] “Push harder!” and all this, well, you don’t have to be told [to push]- sometimes a woman on an epidural might need some direction because she’s not getting the message from her body but normally, your uterus is going to do the work. And it does it at its own speed…”

Images taken from the web of The Farm Community  and Ina May Gaskin at work

Images taken from the web of The Farm Community and Ina May Gaskin at work.

Their interview/discussion is lengthy, both midwives impart really insightful information about many issues surrounding labour and birthing.

Ina May refers to how some of the best information currently found on birthing practices is found in the oldest books as apposed to current medical education where methodologies such as breach birthing are being excluded totally and replaced with Cesareans. Knowledge about natural birthing is being lost.

“The average person who’s gonna be doing obstetrics [now] will never have seen a normal birth…let alone a breech birth. So we’re crippling an important profession by not exposing people to this.”

Ina May's Birth Story (which I'm yet to watch), and further portraits of her on The Farm or training midwives.

Ina May’s Birth Story (which I’m yet to watch), and further portraits of her on The Farm or training midwives.

One of the most fascinating statement that Ina May brings up is sadly cut short by a subject change by Ricki and Abby…

“There’s something else that happens too: something that teenagers spontaneously will do, what orang-utan or any monkey or gorilla would do,- they’ll put their hands down over the crotch, probably touching the clitoris, and so, whats that going to do? Well, thats gonna send more blood [to where its needed] because women’s sensitive organs work the same way as mens: You stimulate them, they get bigger. [This is] sort of left out of the anatomy and physiology books that the obstetricians and really all doctors learn from. And so we’re trying to look at them, put the sexuality—I mean its your sexual organs and it could be that there are correlation’s, things we already know about, that could be useful [in birthing practice] but I think it was just this whole cultural thing of when men came into births they had to sort of deal with the whole modesty question and they did that by saying lets just excise this whole idea that this has anything at all to do with sex.”

Ricki and Abby move on to post date births and the handle of “overdue” babies. The midwives have a never ending stream of solid information to answer everything. They discuss convenience systems in hospitals, the invasive nature of insurance companies and the illusion that medical professionals are needed for the natural act of birthing.

More Business of Being Born 004 Down at The Farm with Ina May Gaskin

They talk about medications and procedures such as ultra-sounds, Demurol, Cytotec and epidural and the possibilities of the drug cocktail passed onto the baby through the mothers placenta and then given to the baby directly after birth. They wonder how much research has been completed on this specific subject. Mass diagnosis’s of  Attention Deficit Disorder and Autism have only really been so prevalent since the parallel inventions/use of certain techniques related to pregnancy and birthing. Its a scary yet intriguing conversation and makes one realise how many things we leave unquestioned. Many statistics are not at all true representations of cross sections of communities or societies since they are influenced by insurance and drug companies.

The episode closes with Ina May showing Ricki and Abby a quilting project she started which documents all the maternal deaths since 1982, the project is called Remember The Mothers.

More Business of Being Born 006 Down at The Farm with Ina May Gaskin

The Safe Motherhood Quilt Project is a national effort developed to draw public attention to the current maternal death rates, as well as to the gross under reporting of maternal deaths in the United States, and to honor those women who have died of pregnancy-related causes since 1982. This has become Ina May’s life work: reducing the fear of the natural process of birth. I also flung a TEDx link about this here.

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I’m not all that familiar with Ricki Lakes work as an actress/talk show host/producer but really enjoyed the footage on The Farm and of conversations with the women there. Ina May Gaskin, who is now 75 years old, reminds me of my mother in the way she passionately and ever informatively expresses the issues she’s dealing and imparts the knowledge she’s gleaned from her years in her profession.

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