Although our baby was carefully planned and prayed for, when I became pregnant for the first time at age 38, my lifelong fear of childbirth suddenly became reality. I decided to arm myself with as much knowledge as possible, and soon realized that natural birth was the healthiest option for moms and babies without medical complications. Over fifteen years prior, my sister delivered two children naturally with the assistance of a midwife, and I helped her labour with her second baby. Thus, a midwife-supported delivery became my primary objective. I found a hypnobirthing program that I could learn through self-study and looked for a midwifery practice that would support this approach and help me overcome my fears.
As a US diplomat living in Botswana, I was required to give birth in a location with better maternal and child healthcare than I could receive there, and Cape Town became my safest choice late in my 2nd trimester. I found the Birth Options team online and set up a meet and greet with Ciska Van Straten. She was warm and welcoming, happily answered all of my questions, and even did a quick measurement to reassure my sister that I was progressing on track. Although I was already 27 weeks along at our first meeting, Birth Options managed to find space for me in the practice.
When I began having complications in my third trimester, Birth Options connected me to Dr. Jacky Searle and assured me that she was a natural birth advocate. Upon arriving in Cape Town, the Birth Options team and Dr. Searle’s office worked closely together to keep me and my baby healthy and avoid a pre-term delivery. I eventually was cleared for a natural delivery with Birth Options and I was ecstatic! As fate would have it, I only had the opportunity to meet Ciska during appointments but my due date was during the week that Glynnis was on call. The team realized this, and Glynnis came in on her day off just to meet me, so that we would be familiar with each other if I went into labor while she was on duty. Glynnis monitored me frequently by phone the week I was due, sending lots of encouragement and positivity. A few days after my due date, she examined me, did a stretch and sweep, and reassured me that I would soon have a great natural delivery.
Early the following morning, I went into labour. With the knowledge that the capable, positive, and caring Birth Options team would be ready to receive me, I laboured peacefully at home for 3 hours. As the contractions became more intense, Ciska spoke to me on the phone, excited and cheerful, greeting me like an old friend. I immediately relaxed and chatted with her between contractions. As the wave of a strong contraction came over me, I tossed the phone aside and Ciska confirmed to my husband that it was now time to bring me in to the hospital.
Ciska was waiting for us in a dimly lit, welcoming Labor and Delivery room and had a warm bath running for me. After a quick exam, she confirmed that I was 6cm dilated and helped me into the bath. She poured a bowl of water over my belly, which immediately soothed and relaxed me. Ciska clearly had my birth plan memorized and supported my quiet concentration and hypnobirthing techniques beautifully. As labour intensified, Ciska gave me the best advice for handling contractions– that I only had to get through half of the contraction, as if it were the upward slope of a hill. As the contraction hit its maximum intensity, she told me to just let it go and coast down the rest of the slope. This immediately enabled me to use hypnosis techniques to envision a snowy hill, ice cold and numbing, and all I had to do was trek up the incline as the contraction peaked and then slide down for the rest. This image got me to a full 10cm with no medication or intervention.
To my surprise, I didn’t feel ready to push even though I was fully dilated and effaced. Ciska just went with the flow and allowed my labor to progress naturally. She used my body’s gradual transition between stages to guide her in her guidance of me. Ciska monitored the baby frequently, and I was reassured that she was stable and handling the slow active labor phase without distress. She encouraged me to try various positions and we eventually were able to get the baby to crown. Following my birth plan, Ciska encouraged my husband and me to speak to our baby so she would hear our voices first. When Ciska felt an episiotomy may become necessary, she let me know, but also assured me that she would not perform it unless there was no other choice. She agreed to let me keep pushing, and my baby arrived in the next push. Ciska immediately realized the baby extended her arm and tore my labia, so she repositioned her to minimize further tearing. Ciska continued following my birth plan, allowing more than an hour of skin-to-skin bonding post-partum while she consulted with colleagues to stitch my minor lacerations. In an unexpected twist, she assisted me to enter a fresh bath with the baby to allow us both to get a bit cleaned off. This was a beautiful bonding moment for my newborn and I, and to this day, we loving bathing together.
Following the birth, Ciska allowed us to rest and share our joy with awaiting family. She made sure I was medically stable and returned the following morning to clear us for an early discharge. She assisted me with breastfeeding, helping me learn to look and listen for effective swallowing. When she visited us at home on the 4th day, she was happy with our progress and encouraged me to continue breastfeeding and following my natural instincts. Her reassurance was uplifting! She taught me another great trick of maintaining skin-to-skin contact with my baby while being mobile. I’m 100% sure this fantastic tip enabled my newborn to regain her birth weight in her first week of life, and super charged our close bond.
The confidence I gained, going from being terrified in early pregnancy to happily completing a natural, intervention and medication-free birth, has been tremendous. The Birth Options team was instrumental in guiding me along this journey. Their calm, capable, knowledgeable approach is ideal for first time and experienced moms alike; I recommend them with the greatest enthusiasm!