Tag Archives: birth

A Conversation with Independent Midwife Natasha Stadler

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Natasha Stadler is a midwife based in Somerset West, 30min out of Cape Town, we met at the Midwifery & Birth Conference hosted by Home Birth SA in 2015, when I photographed her portrait amongst many other South African midwives and doulas that were present. 

We chatted at the event and, a while later, in March 2016, I visited her home-based birthing and meeting space which is in a private cottage apartment in her peaceful  neighborhood. Natasha has been in her profession since 1990 and we spent quite some time chatting about her experiences with women.

Birth: a perfect process

Natasha spoke about the somewhat magical element of protection she observes taking place in the labouring mothers body and that of the birthing baby. Many of her observations and remarks where new to me and totally intriguing. For example, Natasha observed how, often, babies that were not receiving what they needed in utero  often arrived earlier than expected. She saw similarly aligned elements occurred when for instance, a knot was found in the umbilical cord, the labour had been far quicker and the contractions shorter , perhaps as an automatic protection of the life of the baby. 

Details from Natasha’s home birth space in Somerset West. The picture on the left is a capture from the Vietnam war,- a soldier assists a local giving birth.

We discussed how, very often, labor begins in a safe place, at night when we would naturally be in a sheltered environment. When potential problems occur or labour is not progressing as it should, it is often natures indication that something is wrong… and it gives time for the body to respond as best it can. 

Another intriguing observation,- Women seldom go into labour when they are ill or stressed. Generally when the process of labour is quietly observed and a pregnancy has been closely monitored, elements have the opportunity to fall into place, to align. 

I imagine midwives as the guardians and story-keepers of natural birth, the ones who allow the process to unfold, a womans wisdom to stay intact and she and her babe to be supported. 

Their personalized approach to midwifery, and astute observations, create space for birthing mothers to labour in their own way. It struck me how straight forward birth could be when not interfered with, a safe environment is created and when fear is eliminated from the process..

The power in sharing information and the changes happening in the birth arena:

Women are the source of life, the choices we make directly influence the generations to come”  

Interestingly, there has been much pro-natural birth talk in the last decade and thus, it seems, media has picked it up and past it on as well. Natasha has noticed a steady increase in requests for natural births in the last 4 years. I believe the sharing of stories, a very feminine characteristic, is responsible for carrying this information between women.

Details from Natasha’s home birth space in Somerset West.

Fact sharing and communication are shining light on topics women have not properly informed themselves about in the more recent past (so many alarming reasons for this). I like to think that the changes seen during birth and in early motherhood (such as immediate umbilical cord clamping and the value of breastmilk and breastfeeding) have started to shift (as a result of an increase in research and information available) after much more analysis has taken place about such practices.

50% of Natasha’s clients wanted home births in the past, now an incredible 95% of her mothers-to-be request this from the outset… 

Details from Natasha’s home birth space in Somerset West.

The empowering process of letting go- observations from a midwife:

“Never are life and death so close together than (as) during birth. The mother has two lives and the possibility of two deaths (her own and that of her child) at stake”, Natasha pointed out during our conversation , which I found  humbling.

Natasha spoke about how labour and birth can open up portals to any trauma a woman may have experienced up to that point in her life. It’s a well known fact that many women revisit past abuse or traumatic experiences during birth, coming face to face with their subconscious in these moments. It’s at these junctions that one leaves much of one’s past behind and steps into the new and compromising role as Mother.

We spoke about the healing elements  birth has brought to many of the women , in her care. In Natasha’s words,

“Because birth is a process of letting go and trusting, (yourself, your body, any higher powers you may believe in) it grossly effects a women’s experience of being, after the process of labour and birthing her baby”.

Being informed, prepared and incorporating the wisdom of a midwife or doula to investigate and prepare for the process is an obvious solution to my mind.  Thanks for your wisdom Natasha!

 

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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.
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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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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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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.

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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.

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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!

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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A Documentary Series:
More Business of Being Born – S.1, E.2
Celebrity Birth Stories

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Celebrity Birth Stories, Episode 2 of 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 U.S.

In this second episode they discuss the expectations, doubts, fears, labours and experiences of motherhood with a selection of celebrities.

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A friend of mine, when I was about 20 weeks pregnant, invited me to go to a yoga class with Gurmukh. And in that class Gurmukh really starts reminding us that we are not sick when we are pregnant, if anything, she’s like “You’re actually stronger when you’re pregnant. Why would it work that God, or whatever you believe in, would make you weaker?”. You are stronger! Women have been giving birth naturally you know, for gazillions of years.
Cindy Crawford

I wanted to pull quite a few quotes from the episode because I was impressed to hear these women had such particular opinions regarding birth.
Some quotes are below and some are incorporated into the screen grabs I took whilst watching the documentary.

I never wanted to have a hospital birth. I didn’t want to be induced. I didn’t want to have any interventions at all. I wasn’t so sure about the idea of a home birth necessarily but I did have some friends who had had home births so I knew of it because of them.
-Christy Turlington Burns

I like to have goals and I like to reach my goals and, interestingly, giving birth naturally was a very big goal for me. And I think that it was partly that my mom gave birth naturally so I was like “I can do it!”.
If my mom can do it, I can totally do it.
-Kellie Martin

Christy Turlington Burns (left) & Kellie Martin (right).

Christy Turlington Burns (left) & Kellie Martin (right).

One of the women interviewed, Laila Ali, was incredibly passionate and pro home birth, against the grain of all those surrounding her who had very different opinions and were preferring hospitalised birth and selective surgery.

Interviewees talk about how much negative influence, specifically from their obstetricians/doctors, had on their pregnancy and birth experience as well as their feelings of safety and trust in their own bodies ability to do this thing. Because of this most of them had opted to educate themselves and have natural or home births.

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I love all three above images, especially the middle which is of Brazilian Giselle Bundchen, with their new borns.
The women discuss their birthing experiences, most of which are very positive and empowering, although Morissette (below) explains, rather comically, how hard it had been up until the moment she was holding her baby in her arms.

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I was as “prepared” as a woman could possibly be …and there was nothing that could prepare me for it! Nope.
And I’d watched all the videos of the women going into the field and giving birth to they own children. And that wasn’t so much my experience. 

– Alanis Morissette

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So much amazing wisdom from these very different and highly influential women. Their very pro-active approach to knowledge and education was one of the most inspiring aspects of the documentary.

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It is the most empowering experience ever… You’re deeply inside yourself but you’re also outside of yourself in the experience of labor and I think you get to actually look at your self and go,”Wow, look what I can do! Look what I’m made to be able to do! What an amazing thing!”I mean it gives you such an appreciation and a value in yourself which I think for women is really hard. In our culture too there’s such a self-loathing thing that happens and people aren’t happy and its always like “I can be better and I should look better”. To know that just by the nature of who you are and how you were made you’re able to do the most incredible thing ever. It just puts things into perspective in a way that think nothing else can.
-Christy Turlington Burns

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An Interview with Two South African Midwives | Doulas

I met Ruth Ehrhardt and Lana Petersen at one of their Home Birth Gatherings at the end of last year which I attended in order to learn more about pregnancy and birthing experiences for South African women.

I later contacted them and asked if they would be willing to meet and discuss some more questions and ideas I had around the subject.
We met at Marianne Littlejohns birthing clinic, Mtwana Birth House, in Muizenberg.

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We talked about a number of different things revolving around what they do as well as my interest in some issues I’ve noticed related to the subject of pregnancy and birth for women.
How long have you been interested in birth and what made you decide to make it your vocation?

Lana: For me, my interest started when I worked in a primary health care facility where mother and their newborns would attend the clinic for postnatal care. I would hear their birth stories which ranged from ecstatic to traumatic. I became obsessed with everything related to pregnancy & birth when I was trying to conceive my 1st child and even more so once I had given birth – which was a life-changing experience, I knew I had been bitten with the oxytocin bug and needed to be around labouring women….I then trained as a doula and as demand grew, left my work at the clinic to pursue attending births full-time – best decision ever!

Ruth: Even though my mother was a midwife, I was completely uninterested in birth and babies (I think I was very self absorbed and selfish beforehand) until I had my own first birth and that experience completely transformed me. Wow! What an experience – eye opening, scary, empowering, enriching, beautiful, angry, painful, ecstatic, peaceful, energetic, strong, pathetic, humbling, awesome…I could go on.
And throughout…: This calm, quiet presence of my mother holding me, reassuring me with a soft touch, or a soft gaze.
Afterwards I thought, “I wanna do that!”

What is your personal birth philosophy?

Ruth: The more I experience working with pregnant, labouring, birthing and new mothers, the more I feel that my role, more than anything, is to provide a feeling of safety and security. It is not about giving birth in a particular way, or any particular outcome, but ensuring, as much as possible, that the mother and baby bond is intact and that the mother feels secure in her bond and ability to parent this baby.
I walk away after the birth. The new mother has to parent this child, and just as she innately knows where the best place is to birth that child, she knows instinctively what the needs of that child are.

My role is to protect that space for mother and baby, so that mother and baby can safely find their way.

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Which are the most significant moments of a birth for you?

Lana: Geez, there are so many….

When a mother has put plans in place for her optimum birth and she feels excited and empowered for the experience of labour.

Moments when mothers feel desperate and afraid but then go ahead and do it anyway.

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I absolutely love the moments when a woman is  naked and labouring hard and then suddenly, she looks like a Goddess! – breathtakingly beautiful!

The faces of fathers/siblings/extended family seeing a baby being born…those moments have brought me to tears often.

And finally – that moment when a mum realizes “she did it”….best thing ever.

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Ruth: The moment the mother realises that only SHE can give birth to this baby, only SHE.

And when she accepts that and finally surrenders to the process, it is quite miraculous and beautiful what unfolds.

Ruth said about her experience as a doula & midwife: fulfilling, exhausting, privileged, humbling, peaceful.

Ruth said about her experience as a doula & midwife: fulfilling, exhausting, privileged, humbling, peaceful.

It was great to be able to join an educational get-together with you both when I met you on the Home Birth Gathering last year. Ive since gone through your amazing resource site and been amazed at the feeling of community and sharing of information I found there.

Im fascinated by the descriptions I have read of the transition labouring women go through from self-consciousness/awareness to the primal instinctivness and responsiveness of the body (generally described in the cases of natural birthers). You must bare witness to this often.

I’ve noticed how often the issues of tearing and or stretching come up for women as a “problematic issue” post-birth. In a society that is quite effected by media influences about gender identity and sexuality, how have you found your experience on the issue of vaginal tearing and the issues with aesthetics associated around this for women?

Lana: The large majority of the women I work with come to realize that the body and the pelvic floor specifically is designed to withstand and recover from the experience of birth. My focus would be more to teach women to make the connection with their vagina’s and learn to trust that if they are healthy, choose to birth instinctively (specifically not being coached to push!) …then their perineums will weather the passing of  a baby either in tact or with minimal to moderate damage and to remember that vagina’s are fantastic and healing themselves afterwards!

A still from the birthing room at the Mtwana clinic in Muizenberg

A still from the birthing room at the Mtwana clinic in Muizenberg

I was sent this link to an interesting article about French photographer Christian Berthelot who documented a series of images of brand new babies, moments after their (cesarian) birth into the world.

From the article I found this piece quite interesting:

“When I saw [my son] for the first time, he was bloodied and covered in this white substance called vernix,” Berthelot recalled of his first experience with a caesarean. “He was like a warrior who has just won his first battle, like an angel out of darkness. What a joy to hear him scream”.
The babies captured through Berthelot’s lens reveal various ways to enter the world. Some scream and cry, some gesticulate wildly, while others appear still and calm, and a few, in the words of the artist, “do not yet appear to belong to the world of the living.”

Leanne - born April 8, 2014 at 8:31 am
1kg 745 - 13 seconds of life. Photograph by Christian Berthalot

Leanne – born April 8, 2014 at 8:31 am
1kg 745 – 13 seconds of life. Photograph by Christian Berthalot

His images are raw, beautiful and dramatic and are so very different to the pristine, rosey-cheeked newborn images one more often sees. Berthelots images, however, represent the messy miracle of birth in the way that only midwives and obstetricians really get to see; those first living moments of a human being. What do you think about the images or about your perception of birth as apposed to societies adjusted one?

Liza - born February 26, 2013 at 8:45 am 
3kg 200 - 3 seconds of life. Photograph by Christian Berthelot

Liza – born February 26, 2013 at 8:45 am 
3kg 200 – 3 seconds of life. Photograph by Christian Berthelot

 Ruth: When I first saw these images I thought, “That’s it! That’s that moment! That’s what we get to see!”

There is still a part of me that wonders at whether we should be allowed to capture this very sacred and personal moment but at the same time I see how for people who do not work in this field, it is so incredible to see how fresh and raw and real these images are.

A still from the birthing room at the Mtwana clinic in Muizenberg

A still from the birthing room at the Mtwana clinic in Muizenberg

I remember the first image of a birth I ever saw, it was an incredible and very beautiful B&W, grainy image, I’ve never forgotten it.

At that stage, about 10 years ago, I had never considered these moments from a photographic perspective and am interested in the idea since I find the idea of birth to be such an intimate experience for a couple. How do you feel about having a photographer present and working on births and what are the differing feelings about this subject you’ve heard from clients?

 Ruth: We have all obviously been influence by images of birth, breast feeding and babies and what wonderful tools they are to show what we want to teach and convey.
At the same time though, and as I said previously, are we tampering with the sacredness of it all by having someone there snapping away?
Does it change anything? Does it alter the event?

Would we have someone there to photograph the intimacy of our wedding night? Giving birth is as intimate and personal as that and I completely understand wanting the moment captured but I sometimes wonder at what cost?

Dr. Michel Odent talks about observers (including cameras) at a birth inhibiting the release of oxytocin during labour (the hormone which contracts the uterus, but also the hormone of love) so basically, if a mother is aware of a camera or an observer, this may hinder the labouring process.

Just something to consider and think about.

Clients are usually very happy and grateful for the photos they have of their births. I know I am of mine. But I do remember feeling slightly distracted by having photos taken…

After our meeting Ruth sent me a link to a series of photographs of “half born humans” which we had discussed.
They show the moment that also Berthelot discussed when he explained how the brand new baby does “not yet appear to belong to the world of the living”, I’d never quite put my mind to it in this way, but that is exactly what it is, a kind of in-between moment… these incredible images are by Jaydene Freund:

From her series of "Amazing Birth photos of Half Born Humans". Photography by Jaydene Freund

From her series of “Amazing Birth photos of Half Born Humans”.
Photography by Jaydene Freund

Jaydene writes:

“I have rarely shared images of the actual moment of birth to protect my client’s privacy, however I have received permission to post these incredible images of these little super-humans when they were only half earth-side. Don’t be scared to be amazed by these images! This is human life before it has taken it’s first breath. Suspended between 2 worlds, life is waiting for that final push to be born.” 

From her series of "Amazing Birth photos of Half Born Humans". Photography by Jaydene Freund

From her series of “Amazing Birth photos of Half Born Humans”.
Photography by Jaydene Freund

If you could communicate one message to women about the birth experience, what would that be?

Ruth: Listen to yourself and what your needs are…the decisions you make around your pregnancy and birth are your first parenting decisions, so find a caregiver who really gets you and what you want.

I asked Lana & Ruth which 5 words best describe their experience as a doula or midwife. Lana: "awesome, sleep-depriving, life-affirming, addictive, soul-fulfilling! "

I asked Lana & Ruth which 5 words best describe their experience as a doula. Lana: “awesome, sleep-depriving, life-affirming, addictive, soul-fulfilling! “

Lana: Women are not doing nearly enough research into pregnancy & birth in this day and age! There’s far too much focus on obtaining the latest gadgets that will “make parenting easier”….Nonsense! Parenting is the hardest thing you’ll ever do – otherwise you’re doing it wrong!…

Rather focus on what type of pregnancy and birth you would like and explore ALL the options …..you only get to have your 1st birth experience once!

Make sure its a good one!

A still from the birthing room at the Mtwana clinic in Muizenberg

A still from the birthing room at the Mtwana clinic in Muizenberg

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A Home Birth Gathering
Cape Town, November 2014

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Birth and pregnancy have pretty much always interested and fascinated me. The body’s ability to house, create and nourish as well as birth another perfect being is a marvel.
The first time I really read or looked into birth was through a book by Dr Christiane Northrup called Women’s Bodies Women’s Wisdom when I was at school (amazing birth stories as well as attitudes towards the body and birth) and I also count myself lucky that I was surrounded by the kind of people, teachers, friends and parents alike, that were open to a more natural way of being (probably because it was a Waldorf School).

I heard about the Home Birth Gathering through Facebook and followed links to the event and other connected websites. The gathering was held in a beautiful old mansion in Muizenberg with about 22 guests and two hosting midwives/doulas Lana and Ruth. The gathering was relaxed and basically an open conversation with questions, answers and discussions about a mix of things related to birth.
Questions raised by other attendees ranged from concerns about what the most common problems one could face during labour, how midwives are equipped, how long it would take to get to a hospital should the situation arise and the subject of when to cut the umbilical cord if at all (see Lotus Birth).

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Ive started doing a lot more research online into birth, clinics, midwifery, etc as I’m really excited to shoot more on this subject, in fact, attending a natural birth is on my “bucket list”.

I noticed how people looked quizzically at me when I said I was attending a home birth gathering and realised how I felt I had to defend myself about going which is bizarre.
Ive been reading so much about the taboos associated with the subject as well as how women have such differing ideas and experiences of the pregnancy and the birth process.

More on home birth on Lana & Ruths great resource website here.

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