Tag Archives: doula

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.



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.


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.


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.



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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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).



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.


 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.



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.



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.


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.



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.


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.



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.


 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.


 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”.


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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An Interview with Doula & Peri-natal Yoga Instructor Harriet Came
Part II

A few days after I documented yoga instructor and doula Harriet Came teaching pre-natal yoga I attended a special evening event she hosts once or twice a month.
I watched as she guided a large group, all couples in their third-trimester of pregnancy, in a workshop on birthing support and yoga practices for labour.


The workshop was hosted in the evening at The Shala and lit primarily with candles. The large attic room was filled with soft music, nervous men and their heavily pregnant partners.
Harriet discussed the labour experience, oxytocin, postures and partner support. One could describe the workshop as a mini-doula training experience, it was holistically and sensitively approached.
After my own busy day it was soothing and inspiring to watch and quietly document the process Harriet led her clients through.


Afterwards I discussed some of the workshop and Harriets opinions on birthing with her, here is some of what she had to say:

What would you say best contributes to a happy pregnancy and confident birth?

In point form, I believe the following are the some of the most important factors:

  • Taking it seriously but not too seriously
  • Using it as permission to be soft, to nurture, nest, take care of yourself and not feel guilty about it
  • Good diet
  • Regular (non strenuous) exercise
  • Yoga
  • Tissue salt program
  • Homeopathy
  • Positivity
  • Genetics
  • Great support network
  • Supportive partner
  • Reading enough but not too much
  • Believing in yourself
  • Staying away from negativity
  • Letting go
  • Having a supportive and experienced birthing team


Society, usually via advertising/media, puts a lot of pressure on women to maintain a sassy, effortless, young identity and the iconic mother figure. This leaves no space for leaking breasts, stretch marks and exhaustion. How do these polished notions of women influence a mother’s experience/choices about birthing as well as her experience as a new mother? Have you noticed issues here for the women you’ve worked alongside?

 This is a great question, and issues that I have to deal with on a daily basis in the industry that I work in, and as a 40 something mother myself.
I think it’s incredibly hard for a woman now.  I think there are many things that come into play.

Firstly the media: We see so many celebrities/female roles models in the media having these perfect transitions into motherhood… the photo shoots, the seemingly effortless morphing back into their pre-birth weight, the movies, the magazines, the internet etc etc.  So much of what we see is hype and photoshopping.

I don’t believe that there’s a woman, who, at some point, hasn’t wept at great length over breastfeeding, who hasn’t lost herself completely and felt overwhelmed  by the magnitude of the task, who hasn’t realised that she will never truly be alone again and had moments of “what the fuck have I done”.

We live in a world where often the truth is completely glossed over in order for things to look more beautiful and, for a lot of women, the journey into motherhood is a complete shock.
This quest for perfection influences us without a doubt: sometimes in a good way, sometimes negatively.

On the positive side, women are very switched onto a healthy way of life during pregnancy. Pre-natal diet and exercise is well researched now, pregnancy apps that give us such an incredible visual journey through the 9 months are encouraging and insightful, different natural birthing techniques, superb pain relief during birth, information on post natal recovery… all these things that can make a real, positive difference to a pregnancy and a successful and fulfilling birth.


But, I think on the downside, women now want it all because we see so many other women in media who appear to have it.

We want the perfect bump and a body to match. We want a beautiful family, we want to birth idyllically, we want to breastfeed, we want to have successful marriages, we want to have a career, we want to have a strong network of friends, we want the good body, the beautiful skin, the kids that eat broccoli and don’t watch TV, we want to eat organically, we want the best schools and the 4×4’s…

My experience is that you can’t have it all without something giving… and my advice (mainly anecdotal I hasten to add) is to be true to yourself, to let go a little and to realise that so much of what was important pre-kids, really isn’t anymore.

I work very hard to create this support network through my post natal classes, whastapp groups amongst students, an address book of professionals to supply to my students, regular tea parties/forums for a local support and community, great websites/blogs that give a real and encouraging insight into motherhood and life with kids.


Many of us are having our children late in life; I did myself and I’d say well over 50% of my students are in their mid to late 30’s.  In the first 6 months of last year I had 4 news mums having their first child in their early and mid 40’s (fabulous to witness something wanted and waited for so much).  As a result, women have a lifestyle that is more affluent, more selfish, more sorted (emotionally and financially) than the younger mums and I often see them struggle in the beginning as they realise that the spontaneity and glamour of their ‘selfish’ life is being replaced by nappies, sleepless nights, leaking breasts, marital strife and pureed butternut squash.

Of course as women, they adapt and cope, but it’s definitely a shift in society and culture since our parents parented and something that I don’t think many of us are aware of or expecting.


After meeting a number of South African doulas and midwives I’ve been surprised at how very differently each approaches her profession.
Hence our conversation gave me a new perspective. Your approach struck me as kind of go-between in that you focus a lot on your clients having a pro-active experience which is influenced by the kind of person they are to start with. 

My attitude is simple. I’d love for every birth that I go to to be natural, drug free, 5 hours long, candlelit and peaceful! But it’s not about me.  It’s about the mother and the father and the kind of birth that they want.
I guess I’m not really ‘pro’ anything, or, perhaps, I’m ‘pro’ everything!
I’m supportive of all kinds of birth, as long as the parents recognise what they want to work towards and make informed choices as they go through their pregnancy to try and achieve that.

As a result of this approach I support all types of birth happily and with no judgement, whatever they are; natural, caesarean, drug free, medicated, epidurals, hypnobirthing, home births.

Doula &  Pregnancy Yoga instructor - Harriet Came - Couples Workshop Cape Town 003 Photograph by Leah Hawker

I have helped clients make decisions to have elective Caesareans (for whatever reason), and I’ve helped clients go from wanting an elective Caesarean to choosing and preparing for a drug free vaginal birth.

As long as they are happy with the choices they make for their birth, I’m happy, and I feel that I’m doing my job.
Some births don’t quite go according to the wishes of the parents, and at that point, my job is to help make the birth as peaceful and fulfilling as I can do and support a couple as they make the transition into parenthood.

A birth day is the most magical, intense, fulfilling and extraordinary day of a mothers (and fathers) life.
The day that one gets to meet ones child for the first time and breathe in that intoxicating love is irreplaceable. This is why I tell my clients that the most important things they can do is to make decisions around their birth according to what they want.  I ask them to try not to listen to judgement or opinion, and to employ a support team (Obstetrician, midwife, doula etc.) that they trust implicitly to help them prepare themselves and hopefully achieve the birth that they wish for.

Doula &  Pregnancy Yoga instructor - Harriet Came - Couples Workshop Cape Town 012 Photograph by Leah Hawker

A last quote I liked from Harriet…..

Being pregnant and becoming a mum is not always glamorous or beautiful.  Birthing (particularly naturally) certainly is not.  It is raw, challenging, exhausting, instinctive (often primal) and at times not always intensely fulfilling.  For me, it’s about understanding your needs as a woman and mother, blocking out the negativity, and then drawing on a real, truthful yet positive information sources or support systems of which there are many!

A few weeks after attending this event at The Shala I was present at the labour and birth of one of her clients, also a friend of mine. It was the first time I had the honour of witnessing birth as well as the responsibilities of the different people present during a birth. What an experience! More on this later…

Harriet, thank you for sharing your insights and having me present during your classes. More on what Harriet does here.

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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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