This is Marthe and she had a Home Birth…

Posted by on May 31, 2015 in Writings

This is Marthe and she had a Home Birth…

When Marthe was eighteen years old and newly married, she went into labour one Cape Town spring morning.

She was living down the road from her Aunty Maggie and Aunty Martha’s house and the two busy body aunties came to see if the pains the expectant mother was complaining about were indeed the pains of labour, they were there to keep the nervous young husband at bay, and to send a young boy to summon the midwife.

The local midwife soon arrived on her bicycle and stayed with young Marthe for three days before deciding to send the young woman off to Groote Schuur hospital. The labour was taking too long and the baby was not coming. The midwife was concerned.

After three days of labour and after being transferred to the hospital, Marthe gave birth to a skinny little baby girl. The doctors were baffled as to why the tiny girl had taken so long to come.

Eighteen months later, Marthe was in labour again. Again she was at home, and again the local midwife joined her. This time the labour seemed to be progressing smoothly and soon Marthe began bearing down.

By some strange twist of fate, the house across the road caught alight. While Marthe easily heaved out a large ten-pound baby girl, a woman died as the house opposite burnt to the ground.

(Birth and death walked side by side down that road that day…)

Marthe was my grandmother and the large baby girl was my mother.

Marthe was pregnant again three years later, and she gave birth easily, at home, attended by a midwife, to another girl.

Smaller this time.

Life went on and many things changed, especially my grandparents’ social status and when my grandmother fell pregnant in her thirties it was only natural, that this laatlammetjie(1)  birth would take place in a hospital, under the care of the best doctors that money could buy.

It was years later, when my grandmother was hard of hearing, and cataracts had begun to form in her eyes, that I took her along to a birth film festival I had organised in Cape Town at the Labia theatre.




On the drive home, she divulged her birthing stories to me, and she admitted that giving birth at home, had been for her first prize and that paying all that money to have her baby “delivered” in a hospital had been a disappointment.

After watching these beautiful birthing films that night, she had only one regret.

She would have liked to have had a water birth!


(1) Afrikaans: a child born many years after his or her siblings


My grandmother died in France two years ago, whilst on holiday with my aunts. She had been quite ill and been a given a short time to live so she took herself and her daughters off on one last holiday and shopping spree before she passed away in Nice. She was cremated and has been at rest in a crematorium in Nice. This week my aunts bring her back to Cape Town where she will be buried, alongside my grandfather (who passed away over twenty years ago).

Rest in Peace Jiajia, and welcome home.

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