Several months ago, I contacted the Genesis Clinic in Johannesburg, South Africa. Before my invitation came to volunteer at RFM hospital here in Swaziland, I was concerned about getting into the ward and gaining experience. For my almost-there-doula certification, I need signatures from doctors and nurses, moms or dads basically confirming that I really attended births and wasn’t a crazy person, but you know, actually helped during the labor. I hoped Genesis would allow me to shadow, even attend births as a doula.
Lucky was I, when the Head of Nursing said, “Yes. Pick some dates, and we’ll get you into as many births as possible.”
Pretty excited to rub elbows with leading midwives in the area, I headed to Joburg last week. I learned that Genesis Clinic is a Private Maternity hospital that upholds the truths that every woman’s body was created for labor, and that given a supportive, safe environment a desiring mom can healthfully deliver with minimal medical interventions. They have two doulas per shift, whom I shadowed.
Their doulas help run the ward – making beds for incoming patients, changing bedding after a delivery, warming food for families; stocking cupboards and shelves for the midwives’ easy access during birth; packing birth boxes, suture sets, and delivery packs. In addition to running many of the behind-the-scenes-operations, the doulas, well, doula. When a laboring mom comes in, they take turns offering their services to the private midwives and families. I found that some families were very open and accepting of doulas coming in to help, while others felt confident and relied on their partners’ for the nurturing care and love. Either way, I was happy to hear of so many women feeling supported and cared for during their labor.
While there I witnessed my first C-section, which was interesting. Sheesh! I always knew Cesarean recovery was rough, but now I more fully understand why. Let’s just say at one point, I saw the surgeon pulling the uterus out of the woman’s body, turning it around to check for any abnormalities, nicks, or concerns, then re-inserting said uterus back into place. No wonder C-section moms feel like a bus ran into them! (And note: The uterus being taken out is both completely safe and normal protocol for all surgeons.)
I also got to help a mom who delivered her baby in water. My first water birth. Very wonderful in fact. The midwife did a fabulous job of creating a warm, caring environment. At one point, I longed for the stress-balls I usually carry in my doula bag. I watched the mom squeeze my hands so intensely that I genuinely wondered if she could break them. I found myself breathing and trying to relax right there with her, even as I guided her breathing. Thankfully all digits were accounted for in the end!
I know South Africans are hospitable, kind, and welcoming in about every circumstance I’ve met them. The staff, midwives, and doulas at Genesis were no different. Some surprising things between their working environment and others I’ve been in were:
1) There was no need for “political correctness” and the accompanying tip-toeing I often found in the USA. Staff spoke openly about their faith, beliefs, prayer lives, ethnicities, and encouraged both clients and other staff-members in those ventures.
2) Their team jived fairly well. Gather together a staff of 30+ female-only, and I anticipated serious drama. Sure there were a few complaints here and there, but all-together the women worked tirelessly to provide excellent care to their patients. Once when one midwife rushed into the nurses station and yelled, “Help in resus,” (short for resuscitation) every mid-wife jumped up and ran to the NICU. Their quick, focused care ensured the newborn quickly regained breath and returned to its mother and father promptly.
3) It’s wonderful and life-changing to be involved in birth. Even more so in a birth where mom (and partner) understand and cherish her body, and where informed decision-making is encouraged and supported by the midwives. Magnificent.
One midwife whose spirit really spoke to mine said it well. “If your trip here has only shown you that indeed there are people and medical staff left who value natural birth. We are still holding the sacred space of birth and fighting for it everyday. If that’s all you learn here, then let it serve you well and fuel your charge onwards.”
May it be so.