We speak to Suzette Bester-Cloete, a natural birthing expert about the possibility of pain free birth and an empowered and beautiful approach to pregnancy.
It was Suzette Bester-Cloete's own experience of being pregnant that led her to become a professional doula (birthing partner) and then even further down the road to create a dedicated birthing facility.
It's more than just a facility though ' Origin Maternity Hospital is equipped with a state of the art theatre complex, and all the doctors, obstetricians and professionals anyone would ever need. But it also comes with a philosophy completely different to the one you get in standard hospitals. We spoke to Suzette to find out what brought her on the crazy journey from a career in marketing to spearheading a hospital.
'When I was pregnant I assumed I would be given an opportunity where and how I want to give birth. After seeing 3 obstetricians, and each one of them insisting I opt for a C-section I felt bullied. 'You look like a C-section client', said the one. 'I felt my power had been taken away from me.'
'From then, I got myself a midwife and rather than any interferences from doctors I had a 'hormone driven' natural birth. I had an amazing birth. My midwife gave me emotional support, advice, care and everything I needed.
Talking to other women I realized how many of them have been traumatised by the medical environment. The more women I spoke to, the more stories I heard. Many of them felt they'd been robbed of having a natural birth.'
Statistics show that the rate of C-section births in South Africa in private hospitals is higher than anywhere else in the world. According to an article in the Guardian, up to 90% of pregnant private hospital patients opt for C-section in parts of Cape Town, far exceeding the World Health Organisation limit of 15% and far exceeding international ratios. South African Caesarean section rates worry experts because the procedures are often based on convenience, not medical necessity.
Researching the different experiences women have had when opting for a natural birth as opposed to a C-section is the entire reason Suzette made it her life's mission to create positive birth experiences. There is a huge difference in the way Mum's bond with their children, in the continuing relationship between mother and father of the child, the rate of post-natal depression and so much more. Firstly traditional hospital births are conducted with the mother-to-be on her back. This is not necessarily the position women feel most comfortable in and can make the experience a whole lot more painful. Sanding, kneeling or squatting is a more natural and instinctive way to give birth yet allowance isn't made for this.
Being in a clinical environment with bright lights and harsh noises isn't conducive to the body relaxing and feeling safe enough to relax so contractions can start naturally. In a sterile environment it's very difficult for labour to progress, the body registers the environment as an unfriendly one. As a result many babies are induced. This creates danger and possible complications. There's a high chance of having to perform an emergency C-section.
Babies at Origin are not separated from their Mum's after birth. They are given immediate skin-to-skin contact. Research shows the first hour after birth lays the foundation for the psychiatric wellbeing of the child for the rest of their life. Suzette cites the high levels of anxiety in the world today as partly a result of not having that early bonding experience. Not only is it not necessary to take the baby away from the mother it has negative effects and creates trauma for both.
'The birthing environment should be very similar to the environment where you make love - warm, soft lighting, with beautiful music and familiar smells. It should be an environment that allows complete relaxation', says Suzette. Just as a cat may wait until everyone is asleep and then crawl into a cupboard where it's peaceful dark and warm, instinctively women feel similarly.
'There's a physiological orchestration of hormones that in the right conditions will naturally support the birth. You go into your primordial brain ' it's like a labour 'bubble' and can be an ecstatic experience, The oxytocin is in charge. When you stretch the birth control and hormones are secreted its an incredible experience, almost like skydiving,' says Suzette. 'Women in traditional hospitals don't get to experience this.
When working as a doula in previous hospitals, all the birth wisdom practiced is completely opposite to normal procedures and there was a lot of conflict between 'doctors orders' and instinctive methods that created difficulties. It was very frustrating for me. The mothers felt guilty for not wanting to follow doctor's orders, and they felt compromised too. I couldn't wait to be in a facility where natural birthing was encouraged, promoted and supported.
As time went by I realized the medical system is flawed. It's a broken system. Doctors are essentially businessmen and it's convenient for them to have women give birth at times that suit them ' during the day, and have bright lights and theatre equipment with the woman on a drip or catheter, oftentimes legs in stirrups and shaven and given an enema. The obstetric system is not conducive to natural birth as the staff on-hand all need to be booked in advance. It was impossible for me to administer the care, love and support in amongst this system.
Babies are taken away from Mum's as soon as they are born and often given a bottle. This makes it difficult for mothers to get them to breastfeed, it interrupts the baby's natural instinct to suckle on their own. So many babies are put onto bottles and deprived of the soporific qualities that breast milk uses to calm them.
During birth the mind is totally porous and anything said during this heightened time is imprinted into the Mum's mind. Harsh words or words of danger are easily constitute negative programming onto the mother. There was an incident where Suzette explained that she had just got her 'about-to-give-birth' client into a completely calm and zen state, ready for a water birth when a Doctor arrived and loudly exclaimed, 'What happens if she passes out, how are we going to get her out the tub?' A fear statement like this is highly detrimental to a mother in a pre-birth state who can easily be put into a state of panic and have her birth process interrupted.
Research also shows that bonding is more complete on many different levels when there's a natural birth. There is more eye contact between mother and child and they form closer relationships.
A strong conviction that natural birthing principles will bring families closer together, reduce and even eliminate post natal depression, grow stronger and more adaptive children and a host of other benefits influenced Suzettes decision to open a centre dedicated to giving women the birth experience they deserve.
DID YOU KNOW? Women who use a doula as a birthing partner experience 60% less pain than women who don't.
Origin Maternity Hospital is situated in Cape Town and offers natural birthing, water birthing and softer more natural C-section births when they are absolutely necessary. www.originmaternityhospitals.co.za
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