Monday, 3 December 2012

Busfare Babies Birth Centre is 2 years old

2012 has been an interesting year at Busfare Babies.

We have been privileged to have received generous support from many unexpected sources.
These include friends and private individuals who have generously contributed monthly amounts. Max Bastard is a special friend who needs special mention, for his funding alone has floated the Birth Centre for a full year. Many many thanks Max!

Zita West Clinic in London and Yehudi Gordon were also funders this year. Both have been very supportive and interested in the work of Busfare Babies. Being a new organization their support has been crucial and much appreciated.

Funds were gathered in April by WILD WOMEN ON THE RUN. A group of 17 women who took time out of their  busy lives to do a 3 day long run (averaging 30km per day) in order to raise funds a generous portion of which went to Busfare Babies Birth Centre. Women running for women. We really appreciate the support from the Wild Women on the Run. All of you women are an inspiration. To read about this epic run please have a look at

This was followed by the passionate and hard work of a group of Doulas in Johannesburg putting on the Karen Brody Bold production of “BIRTH” in Johannesburg in August 2012. Nomvula and I took the opportunity of taking the train to Johannesburg to attend the opening of this courageous and informative production aimed at informing women and encouraging them to look carefully at their birth choices and to demand better care.
This production took a lot of hard work and time from already busy women juggling children, doula work and life in general. Thank you for your time and passion and for the proceeds that you have given to Busfare Babies Birth Centre.

Such generosity and such commitment of women for women. Thank you all.

Nomvula has now been assisting me at the birth house for 2 years. We have attended many amazing births together and she has had the opportunity to learn a lot. This initial time had been necessary for her to become familiar with the work of a midwife and we are planning to register for her to start her official training to become a midwife through the NARM (North American Register of Midwives) program in January 2013.

Our latest and most exciting news is that the land in Bodiam  village that we have waited four years to obtain will be ours in December 2012. This heralds a new phase for the Birth Centre and we look forward to all the challenges and possibilities that this will afford.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Rural birth for rural women

South Africa is a middle-income country and the richest in sub-Saharan Africa. It spends more on health per person than any other on the continent, and it provides this healthcare free, including services for pregnant mothers.. Despite these facts, according to the recent Human Rights Watch Report, our maternal mortality has more than quadrupled over the past decade (from 150-625 deaths per 100 000 women).

Rural women bear the brunt of these statistics due to lack of transport and inaccessible facilities.

I recently attended a conference at which, "how women access care" was being discussed. A recurrent issue identified, was that care was often inaccessible to women. The dialogue that followed focussed on how better roads were required, how more infrastructure was required to enable women to access care, and how this was very costly.

For a long time, this problem has been looked at from this perspective. Perhaps it is time to look at it from a different angle.

Instead of building better roads at great expense, maybe it is time to take the midwife back to the women.

Think of it this way. Think of yourself going into labour at night or maybe on the weekend. Think that your family has no vehicle. In fact there are very few vehicles in your village. Think that the at your last checkup the midwife had talked about how important it was to take your antiretrovirals through your pregnancy, and that in labour she would give you some medicine to stop the HIV being transmitted to the baby. Think of the nearest hopsital being 60km away and having no way to get there at night. Think of phoning the ambulance, but then remember how long you waited for them in your first labour. Remember the many stories of other women from the village, who have waited many hours for an ambulance, and who have given birth before the ambulance came. Think of the many women who have lost babies. Think of maybe walking the 15 minutes to the police station in labour, some women say that ambulance might come sooner if the police call the ambulance. That is if the police are there.

Then think about the little blue house next to the park. Think of the warm, friendly Thursday mornings, when all the women come for their checkups. Think of the comfortable double bed, the quietness of the birth house. Maybe you should phone Nomzamo and tell her that you think the pains have started.  It is 2am but the pains feel strong, you do not want to walk in the rain to the police station. You remember the way you were treated at the hospital when you gave birth to your first child, how impatient and harsh the nurses were. How will they be this time? Maybe you will call Nomzamo, she will know what to do. She told you you could call at any time, she will not be angry and she will fetch you in her car and take you to the birth house. There is a shower and toilet there, and you will be able to labour with privacy and Nomvula will look after you with Nomzamo. Yes, perhaps you will call.

When you think of it this way, although we do need roads, they suddenly do not feel as important as taking the midwife to the women.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Maternal health in South Africa: Delivering Women's Human Rights

Over seventy students, lawyers, nurses, midwives, NGO staff from across Africa and other interested individuals packed a lecture hall on Wednesday 19 October for a panel discussion on maternal health in South Africa presented by the Centre for Human Rights. As the rate of maternal mortality more than quadrupled in South Africa in the last decade, the need to examine the related issues, challenges and opportunities is critical.

 To see photos and read the write up of the event please click here






Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Our first "Girl Talk"

In July, Unathi and I decided that we wanted to start to nurture the young girls in our community. There are many young girls and we felt that it would be good to provide a platform from which we could get to know the young girls in Hamburg and surrounding villages and to trickle the message to them that they are special.

Instead of telling them off, off instructing them not to fall in love, as the school system teaches, in order to avoid early pregnancies and HIV.  We thought a more effective route would be to encourage the young girls to start to see value in themselves. To realize that they are special and that they need to safe guard this specialness. That their lives have value and that they are each unique. We decided to have a Girl Talk day to open dialogue between the women and the young girls and to start to create a network of support fro the girls. The event was hosted at Vulendlela thanks to the generosity of Collette, and with the help of Andisiwe, Manjezi and Tiia. various individuals of the community of Hamburg contributed generously towards the day with money and food items, we really appreciated this assistance which made the day possible and affordable.

Around 50 girls attended, which was a lot of girls for the first of these days, advertised mostly by word of mouth. The day started with a welcome and then we all did some flower drawings to ease us into the day. When paints and papers were put away, Unathi had arranged guest speakers Ati bravely spoke first about her life story and choices she had made and that she might have made differently had she known the route her life would take. And then Sibongile Kumalo who spoke about choosing a career by doing a few fun group work exercises with the girls looking at personality types and ethical scenarios. We had a tasty lunch (curtesy of Unathi and family) where the young women served the girls and had planned to end the day with a movie but due to a technical difficulty had to cancel this.

All in all, it was a fun day and much enjoyed by everyone. We plan to do similar Girl Talks 4 times a year with the changing seasons, the second one being planned for October.

As the poster suggests 'Notyatyambo Masinonelelane' -"They are flowers let us hold them carefully'

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Private Clients Make Busfare Babies Possible

Busfare Babies seems to be taking on a life of its own. The first half of this year has been so busy that I have not had time to do much more than midwife and mother. I am realising an increasing need for some one to help with the administrative side of things as I have not got enough time in the days to do this.

Having not really focussed on fundraising, we are still trying to finance the running costs ourselves. Thankfully birth works so well, and a baby slipping into the world is not generally very expensive, but having no funding has meant that I have needed to take on private clients in order to afford to run the centre.

These clients have been such wonderful births that despite having to travel long distances (sometimes up to 3 hours each way) to attend them they have been worth every kilometer of travel. Births in Hamburg I find so beautiful in their simplicity and in the way women are able to labour with such focus. In the private sector, I am amazed at the unflailing determination of women to claim birth back as their own despite a private medical system that believes that a 60-80% cesarean section rate is acceptable.

I am sure Carina will not mind me telling her story here. After 3 cesareans Carina was determined that she would not have another cesarean. She felt that cesareans had been damaging physically and emotionally. She had been obsessed with normal birth since her first child was born by cesarean 9 years ago. This cesarean she felt was unnecessary and she felt the same way about the next 2 cesareans, all of which plunged her into deep post natal depressions which she struggled to shake.
With her fourth pregnancy she carried beautifully. Carina is tall and slim, with hips that no obstetrician could believe could birth a baby naturally. Her belly grew rounder and rounder and her pregnancy lasted longer and longer. She struggled with her own fears and with the concerns of her family and friends and the idea that her notion to have a home birth after 3 cesareans was foolish and risky. Thomas stood by her solidly. In his role of protector, he weathered the wait with her, not bowing to the opinions or pressures, he was a solid, unwavering rock of support.

Eighteen days after the estimated due date, labour started. Labour was slow and steady and I went to her in the night as I had a few nights previously. We slept on and off until labour strengthened and sleep was no longer possible then with the waves of labour we paced stronger times with sleepy times. Children went off to stay with helpful grandparents and there was time to focus on the labour. By the afternoon, Carina was weary and feeling despondent, the place many labouring women must journey through. The terrible place of impossibility. Carina mustered her strength in this difficult place, laying down all her fears and wishes and surrendering to a process that was so much stronger than herself. With this frightful surrender, and Thomas beside through each contraction, her labour strengthened and following a final, intense phase, she birthed her baby. All 4.180kg of baby boy from her own womb, all by herself, despite all the prophets of doom and their predictions of impossibility.

What a healing moment. It was as if she had birthed her fourth baby to make up for all the other births of her babies that she was not able to experience. The delight was tangible. The relief enormous.

For the next few days Carina reveled in the elation that comes from giving birth to a baby. The tiredness came, but this time she had a wholeness that made the tiredness manageable. She felt complete, like she had done this herself and was able and strong to go forward as a mother with confidence. In one of her sms messages she summed it up: ' O Karen, I am wonderful! Rupa is awesome! What a glorious experience giving birth is."

As a midwife there is not much that compares with the satisfaction of attending women who realise what it is that they want and go forward towards that strongly and resolutely.
The satisfaction that these woman feels after giving birth against so many odds is so powerful and incomparable with anything else and it is such a privilege to be in attendance.

It is births like these that fuel my work as a midwife. And it is wonderful that births like these make Busfare Babies possible at the moment and allow the women in these villages around Hamburg and Bodium to have these same experiences which would otherwise be so unaffordable.

Thank you Carina and all the other women that trust me to attend them through their pregnancies and labours and as they give birth to their babies and who make Busfare Babies possible.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010


We were fortunate to have Human Rights Watch pay us a visit in November. This visit was part of research that HRW are conducting, looking to examine gaps, challenges and failures in emergency obstetric referrals, as well as health system accountability deficits that contribute to maternal mortality. They are also looking into whether certain groups of women face any specific barriers and whether emergency obstetric care is provided to all women on a non-discriminatory basis.

Their visit was welcomed at the Birth House, where Agnes and Tozama from Human Rights Watch spoke with women from Hamburg village as well as other health care workers. Women spoke about difficulties that they had encountered previously in obtaining transport to hospitals in labour, about having to assist other women in labour as ambulances had failed to arrive, about drunk ambulance staff and tragedies that could have been avoided with better infrastructure in place.

The Busfare Baby concept was discussed and the women were very enthusiastic about the presence of the birth centre and how it is a benefit to the community.

We ended the occasion with a home visit to one of the Busfare Babies who is now 6 months old, and to speak to his mum who knows from personal loss and experience what a difference it can make to have good access to care.

In rural areas many women suffer much loss in and around pregnancy and childbirth and during the first year after birth. Many of the women that I care for have lost a child previously, due to mostly avoidable causes. With HIV affecting at least 30% of the pregnant women in the Hamburg / Bodium area, it is high time we prioritise women and their access to care.
Busfare Babies aims to roll out an effective prevention program and to help to stem the tide of the HIV epidemic in this area, whilst at the same time giving women access to good care particularly during pregnancy and childbirth when it is possible to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV. Women having to wait 8 hours for an ambulance and not having anti retro virals in labour significantly increases the risk of the child contracting HIV.

In the words of Nelson Mandela : "We are all affected by the AIDS pandemic. But more than others, this epidemic carries the face of women. For it is women who bear the most significant burden of HIV and AIDS. As daughters, mothers, sisters, and grandmothers, every day they experience and live out the reality of this epidemic…we must proclaim that the women of Africa cannot continue to bear the burden of HIV and AIDS alone. For every woman and girl violently attacked, we reduce our humanity. For every woman forced into unprotected sex because men demand this, we destroy dignity and pride. Every woman who has to sell her life for sex we condemn to a lifetime in prison. For every moment we remain silent, we conspire against our women. For every woman infected by HIV, we destroy a generation.”

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Busfare Babies Opening Ceremony-Thank you BREADLINE AFRICA

Although the first Busfare Babies cottage  has been in use for a while, we wanted to have an official opening ceremony to let the community know that the centre was open. Due to my having been in the UK and not too much time in between babies being born and completing the finishing touches on the cottage, invitations were created and sent out late. My apologies to all who could not make it for this reason.

Last minute preparations turned into a festive week with a birth cottage full of women peeling vegetables, cupboards being fitted (thank you Garvey), roofs being painted (thank you Sam), guest book being hand made (thank you Kay) grandmothers beading (thank you Mama Nora and Margy) and sewing garments. Friday was baking bread day, dough was kneaded in the morning (thank you Mum, Nondiliseko and Nopeddi) and then fires lit and bread baked in pots on the fire in the afternoon.

In true Xhosa fashion, the catering went off without a hitch. On the day, huge pots adorned the garden and women with long spoons stirred the stews and other dishes on the fire in the cooking area. Unathi MC'd the occasion with style. Nomvula Ghaka was introduced to the community as the woman who will be assisting me at the centre. Some of the women who had had babies at the centre brought their babies to join in the celebrations and gave speeches about their experiences. When speeches were over and translations made thanks to Mama Zita, the Bell "Culture" choir performed on the lawn followed by the young traditional dancers from Hamburg.

A cue of young girls lined up at the cooking area after the dancers had finished. Here Lungelwa and Nomvula sat as matriachs dishing up the food. Every one was served with traditional food and delicious ginger beer, with a deliberate absence of traditional Xhosa beer, as we preferred a more sober occasion.

The day was a celebration as well as a feast. Ntando from the Dispatch newspaper, with her colleague photographer, summed it up in the article published the next day in the Dispatch. To read the article please click here

We are really grateful for the financial assistance from BREADLINE AFRICA who have financed the renovation of the first birth cottage. Thank you too to Frik from Something Old, Gonubie Main Road, East London for the contributions of disposable nappies and blankets to the Birth Centre. Thank you to Johnson and Johnson for the donation of the hamper. Thank you to Collette Driessel for being the conduit for sweet little knitted baby goods to the birth centre from the  Damant Lodge ladies in Port Alfred and Elsebe Cresbe. All the mums and babies are going home with a special bag of goodies thanks to your generous donations. A big thank you must also go to 25:40 for their generous donation of beautiful, handmade baby quilts, they are proudly worn by the mothers as they take their babies to clinic and are being much loved.

And most of all a thank you to all the women who have trusted me to be with them as they give birth to their babies. To the mothers who have trusted me to take care of their daughters as they labour and give birth, and to the fathers who have been willing for the mothers of their children to try out this new style of having babies. Thank you to the women that are working with and supporting me, particularly Nomvula, Unathi, Noluvo, Noluntu, Nosisa,Totyiwe, Mama Zita and Mama Nora for their confidence and support.

Without the support of the community and without the confidence and start up funding from Breadline Africa there would be no birth centre.