We believe there is nothing more powerful and more sacred than the act of childbirth. When a woman brings a child into this world she is partnering with creation itself. Just as her body instinctively knows how to grow the baby for 9 months, a mother knows how to birth that child too. Natural childbirth is an intuitive and deeply mysterious experience – and one that every woman should have the right to.
But unfortunately in South Africa, that’s a right to which many women are denied. Pregnant and birthing mothers lack access to quality, safe, compassionate care that promotes maternal and child health and safeguards a positive birthing experience. In the government sector, interventions can be too few and, at times, too late. In the private sector, interventions can be too many and, at times, too soon. In the absence of women-centred, continuous, midwife-led care, both sectors tend to generate poor outcomes, including birth complications, infant mortalities, low breastfeeding rates and high incidences of postpartum depression. Rather than feeling empowered by childbirth, a mother is all too often left disconnected and dissatisfied by her experience. But there is a solution to curb the growing crisis and mend the disconnect.
Independent Midwifery is a rising trend in South Africa. Backed by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to endorse Better Birth Initiatives, more women are starting to look beyond the hospital walls and adopt a more personalised, home-based approach to deliver their babies with private midwives. Home-based, midwife-guided deliveries offer pregnant and birthing mothers an alternative option, through quality, maternal care in the comfort of a safe, supportive environment. This care extends beyond delivery, and into the early stages of motherhood.
The Current Crisis
There are several challenges facing community health in South Africa. Weak maternal support and insufficient birth education leave women in a vulnerable position, forced to give birth in inadequate conditions. Maternal education programs, particularly in the Eastern Cape (EC) province, are few and lack the support structures to guide and undergird mothers through their labour and motherhood journey. Doctors are often stretched beyond capacity because the bulk of medical care falls on their shoulders. The healthcare system gets easily bottlenecked when they are unable to keep up with the demand, and pregnant mothers pay the highest price for a system that hinders holistic health treatment.
We need to shift the narrative of childbirth in South Africa, and nurture positive environments where mothers are safe and supported and encouraged to navigate their own maternal journey. A new kind of culture is required – one that engages with the community and scales up our efforts to educate new mothers and vulnerable women on HIV prevention (particularly mother-to-child transmission) as well as the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding.
In South Africa medical practitioners need to move the needle from vulnerability to empowerment by helping mothers to own their right to a positive birth experience. A holistic birthing centre, based on women-centred, continuous, midwife-led care, is our way of offering a solution to the crisis. Currently, Nelson Mandela Bay does not have a centre that can provide these services for low-risk women. Aloe Tree Birth Centre would be the first of its kind in NMB.
Our vision is to offer a birthing centre that will help pregnant women transition into becoming healthy, loving mothers. Alongside a passionate, highly committed team of midwives, doulas and allied support, women can receive the necessary care to set them up for a successful transition into motherhood. We want to see more ‘wins’ for maternal health, where, in the comfort of a beautiful home environment, mothers can give birth naturally; breastfeed more easily, and sidestep the pitfalls of postpartum depression.
This low-risk birthing facility will be more than a medical centre; it will have a homely atmosphere and will be a place of comfort where a sense of connection between mother and child can be fostered. It will be a space where women are encouraged to trust and listen to their own bodies and to feel ‘heard’ through their birthing experience. If the need arises, they could be safely transferred to a nearby hospital.
The Aloe Tree Birth House team will also extend their reach outward, into the NMB and surrounding communities. Our passion is to equip more families with hands-on, holistic birth education so that women can make informed decisions that will cultivate meaningful, healthy, parent-child relationships within their homes and communities. We believe that if we can help improve the mother’s birth experience and attachment with their child this could go a long way with reducing the high rate of child abandonment in our region.
This translates into regular community outreach opportunities, such as open days and educational talks, training programs. Where young mothers can learn and grow together. Antenatal seminars, parent education, breastfeeding support and postpartum workshops are all services we aim to provide. We will work alongside the midwives and doulas in the community and ensure their often-tireless efforts stay relevant and well resourced.