Tag Archives: natural birth

Positive Birth in South Africa: This is Heidi Padoa


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 the processes before, during and after birth.

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.

Heidi is a doula based in the Garden Route area, Western Cape, South Africa. I met her at the Midwifery and Birth Conference in Cape Town in 2015. Heidi has been a doula for 6 years. She qualified as a professional labour and birth assistant through WOMBS in 2010 and has birthed 8 children herself (her own and surrogate), including; home, hospital, caesarean, breech and twin birth.

“I believe that the birth of a baby is a deeply sacred and miraculous event, filled with mystery, challenges, beauty, power, love and great joy which will affect women emotionally for as long as they live. It is divinely created to be a perfect, safe and strengthening process.
A woman is in her greatest power during childbirth, working with the co-creative forces of nature to allow the miracle of life to pass through her.”


“I most love to help women throughout their journey in pregnancy and birth, by providing emotional, informational and physical support, as I serve them as a doula.
I have attended many home, hospital and caesarean births, including the unassisted, undisturbed HBAC of twins and an amazing, unassisted HBA5C  (home waterbirth after 5 cesareans), amongst all the other miraculous births I have had the privilege to support”.

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

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

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.

Birth-Photography-Cape-Town---001-Newborn-birth-maternity-photography-Leah-Hawker

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.

Birth-Photography-Cape-Town---002-Newborn-birth-maternity-photography-Leah-Hawker

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.

Birth-Photography-Cape-Town---003-Newborn-birth-maternity-photography-Leah-Hawker

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.

Birth-Photography-Cape-Town---004-Newborn-birth-maternity-photography-Leah-Hawker

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.

Birth-Photography-Cape-Town---005-Newborn-birth-maternity-photography-Leah-Hawker

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.

Birth-Photography-Cape-Town---006-Newborn-birth-maternity-photography-Leah-Hawker

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.

Birth-Photography-Cape-Town---007-Newborn-birth-maternity-photography-Leah-Hawker

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.

Birth-Photography-Cape-Town---008-Newborn-birth-maternity-photography-Leah-Hawker

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.

Birth-Photography-Cape-Town---009-Newborn-birth-maternity-photography-Leah-Hawker

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.

Birth-Photography-Cape-Town---010-Newborn-birth-maternity-photography-Leah-Hawker

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.

Birth-Photography-Cape-Town---011-Newborn-birth-maternity-photography-Leah-Hawker

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.

Birth-Photography-Cape-Town---012-Newborn-birth-maternity-photography-Leah-Hawker

Birth-Photography-Cape-Town---013-Newborn-birth-maternity-photography-Leah-Hawker

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.

Birth-Photography-Cape-Town---014-Newborn-birth-maternity-photography-Leah-Hawker

Birth-Photography-Cape-Town---015-Newborn-birth-maternity-photography-Leah-Hawker

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.

Birth-Photography-Cape-Town---016-Newborn-birth-maternity-photography-Leah-Hawker

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.

Birth-Photography-Cape-Town---017-Newborn-birth-maternity-photography-Leah-Hawker

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.

Birth-Photography-Cape-Town---018-Newborn-birth-maternity-photography-Leah-Hawker

Birth-Photography-Cape-Town---019-Newborn-birth-maternity-photography-Leah-Hawker

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.

Birth-Photography-Cape-Town---020-Newborn-birth-maternity-photography-Leah-Hawker

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Positive Birth in South Africa: This is Marianne Littlejohn


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.

Marianne Littlejohn has been a midwife for 34 years (actively practicing for 25 years). Marianne runs the platform Spiritual Birth which encourages women to have more empowered and profound birthing experiences. She is also the founder and director of the Mtwana Birth Centre in Muizenberg and specialises in natural births for which she is a fierce advocate.

Based in Cape Town, Marianne runs Antenatal Clinics in Rondebosch and Muizenberg, but travels to the northern suburbs for mothers who want homebirths.

Marianne Littlejohn Indipendent South African Midwife portrait by Leah Hawker

 “I have witnessed a lot of changes during my time as an active midwife and seen how birth has become more medicalized over the years in both the private and public sectors for different reasons.

In the public sector, the sheer numbers of women needing assistance and the decrease in the number of midwives, results in less one-on-one midwifery care for mothers.
Ideally midwifery care should be one midwife per each mother.
My approach is to educate and empower the mother to surrender to the physiological process of birth (yes, this innate knowledge is part of how we are made) and become conscious of the opportunity for growth and empowerment in the process of becoming a parent.”

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

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Positive Birth in South Africa: This is Sydney Grove


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.

Sydney Grove is an advanced midwife , specialises in neonatel nursing science, has a degree in nursing, education and health. Sydney has been in his profession for 40 years and has delivered too many babies to count. He now works in the birthing industry in service management and covers the whole CBD and peninsula.

Sydney Grove -Midwives & Doulas of South Africa - Portraits by Leah Hawker

“I am a male feminist doing advocacy for women in labour.
I believe that women should not be indoctrinated into intervention in labour unless strongly indicated.
I believe in informed consent and pro-active informed decision making.
Any women in labour and even during pregnancy should feel special and made to feel sacred.”

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

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Positive Birth in South Africa: This is Lynne Groenewald


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.

Lynne Groenewald is a birth educator, trained Mama Bamba Antenatal Facilitator and yoga teacher who focuses on prenatal yoga. Lynne has a background in fine arts, clothing and surface design and decided to follow her passion into the birthing arena.
She’s based in Woodstock where she shares suites with midwife Caitlyn Collins and Homeopath/GP Daphne Lyell but also travels all over for her clients.

Lynne Groenewald Doula and yoga south africa COMPRESSED

“It is time that we take responsibility for ourselves, our births and our families.   As a mother, the three things that I feel will support this are:

  • learning to trust our bodies, ourselves and our processes;
  • empowering ourselves through information;
  • and being supported by midwifes as a matter of course.

We have the power to find out all the information we need, so that we can make informed decisions…  We have information at our fingertips, and there are passionate people wanting to share their knowledge and experiences.  We cannot base our choices on ‘the way things are’, or the expected norm.”

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

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Positive Birth in South Africa: This is Nomvula Muriel Gxaka


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.

Nomvula is a doula and midwife-in-training at Busfare Babies in the Peddie District, Eastern Cape, South Africa. She’s been working with birthing for 5 years.

Nomvula Muriel Gxaka -Midwives & Doulas of South Africa - Portraits by Leah Hawker

 “What inspires me about my job is the way we do things here at Busfare Babies: I’m also so interested in helping others, supporting one another, especially as a midwife, here in the Eastern Cape.  I enjoy being there to support a  women in that hard process when she is scared and in pain, but we are there, watching and waiting respectfully, to make sure she is safe and to catch her innocent baby.”

“My experience is that as midwife you have to be someone whose got a passion for what you’re doing. Love and care is the best thing you can give a woman in birth, you have to be someone whose got a vision of a motherhood…”

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

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Positive Birth in South Africa: This is Sian Williams


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.

Sian Williams is a prenatal Vinyasa yoga instructor, a doula, and a baby massage instructor at Glow Prenatal Yoga in Cape Town.

Sian Williams -Midwives & Doulas of South Africa - Portraits by Leah Hawker

“My doula journey began with the birth of my divine son, North in 2013.  That was the moment I chose to support women during one of the most phenomenal phases of their life; pregnancy & birth.  I absolutely honor the gift of fully supporting and guiding women on their chosen journey to embrace the process of pregnancy and birth from a deeper, more meaningful place within.   This spiritual and sacred journey of pregnancy and birth that is bestowed upon women is an opportunity to tap into their profound and powerful wisdom nestled deep inside the layers of their existence, their minds, their hearts, and to truly follow their intuition for the birth that they desire.”

“I wish to see for every birthing woman
more trust, less rush
more confidence, less fear
more research, less doubt
more ‘how, why?’, less ‘okay’
more compassion, less external pressure
more voice, less silence
However, the ultimate wish for my birthing goddesses is the very wish of their own.”

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

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Positive Birth in South Africa: This is Vania Truter


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.

Vania Truter is a doula. She works predominantly in the Northern suburbs and Belville. Vania has been a doula for just over 4 years now.

Vania Truter -Midwives & Doulas of South Africa - Portraits by Leah Hawker

“These are things I’d like to see changing in South Africa:

  • gynaecologists to be more supportive of vaginal births,
  • newborns to always have skin-to-skin directly after birth,
  • women to be more empowered and supported to breastfeed,
  • gentler c-sections,
  • more home births and
  • more VBAC births!”

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

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Positive Birth in South Africa: This is Jill Bergman


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.

Jill Bergman is a doula, counsellor and skin-to-skin (previously known as kangaroo care) specialist, she writes and lectures on these subjects as well as developmental care for pre-term babies.. She’s been in developmental care for 10 years and working as a doula for 4 years. Jill works in the Southern suburbs and central suburbs around Cape Town

Jill Bergman -Midwives & Doulas of South Africa - Portraits by Leah Hawker

“Parents are not properly informed on the negative impact of Inductions, Epidurals and Caesareans on the baby.”

“Statistics I would like to see changed? The caesarean Section rate to lower dramatically in South Africa (World Health organization says C/S should medically be between 15-20 %, in SA in private sector it is between 60- 90 % different in different areas and hospitals).”

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

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Positive Birth in South Africa: This is Lana 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.

Lana Petersen has been a doula for 12 years and is currently an apprentice midwife. Lana works mostly in the Southern Suburbs.

Lana Peterson -Midwives & Doulas of South Africa - Portraits by Leah Hawker

“Women don’t know enough about the various options around birth in this country. They don’t do enough research around those choices and they are losing touch with the very thing that makes them uniquely feminine….The learning from and supporting of each other around pregnancy and birth has been taken away from the home and the community and hence the deep seeded fear women have about their bodies and birth.”

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

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestEmail this to someone