Joburg Expat: Giving Birth in South Africa

May 30, 2012

Giving Birth in South Africa

Before you put yourself in a frenzy and start congratulating me, let me point out that this post is not about me. I just happened to interview a friend some time back about her experience when I was writing an article for the website Expatica. I thought it might be a good idea to re-post it here for those among you who might find it relevant. I HAVE given birth abroad, so I know the feeling. It's just that two of my babies have since turned into teenagers, meaning I am not so keen to add any more to the teenage pipeline.

I do know that when you’re an expat, one of the things you most worry about is the prospect of giving birth abroad. But it can also be one of the best experiences of your life. Below, Lydie Buwalda tells her story of giving birth (several times over!) in South Africa.


It started fourteen years ago when we got transferred from New York City to Johannesburg. One of the first pieces of advice I heard was to get in touch with a gynecologist for my annual checkup. Really? I never had that done in Holland, where I’m originally from and where they believe in home birth and midwives. It was a good thing I did, because less than a year later I fell pregnant, and Dr Cameron at the Morningside Clinic was the perfect address for me. What a pleasant man! He gave me the idea that I was the only patient he had. He always took time to talk to me and my husband Mark, who came with me to almost all the check ups, about all sorts of things besides the baby.

When I explained that I would like to give birth naturally - South Africans seem to love caesarian sections – that was fine with him.

My due date came and went and Daniel did not decide to come and face this world. There was a Friday the 13th in February that year, and boy, let me tell you I was up the whole day and prayed that my baby would not pick that particular date to make his appearance. He didn’t, and thankfully also skipped Valentine’s Day, but on the 15th the first signs appeared. After eight hours of contractions and only 8 cm dilation, the doctor opted for a C-section anyway, because the umbilical cord was around our boy’s neck. That gave me a jolt of panic but all went well. After an emergency C-section, our first son Daniel was born that evening just before 6pm, weighing in at 4.1 kg and 53 cm long. I was very impressed with all the attention we got and how carefully I was monitored the entire time. Everyone at the hospital made me feel like I was the Queen. I’m convinced I never would have gotten that type of attention in Holland.

I had a room to myself and stayed for three nights, receiving visitors and presents during the day. Even though this was my first experience at this, I thought my “loot” was a bit meager. It turns out that friends and colleagues of Mark’s had flowers delivered to “Mrs. Buwalda,” but since I (not really thinking, but who can actually think when they’re arriving at the hospital in labor) had checked in under my maiden name, there was no Mrs. Buwalda to be found and all the flowers were sent back. It made for some very confused people phoning my husband and wondering what was going on.
My mother arrived from Holland that day. We had agreed that she would come a week or so after Daniel was born. Anyone from Holland will know that new mothers there receive “kraamhulp,” where someone comes to your house for a week to help with the baby and show you the basics of childcare. Besides that she also helps with household chores, cooking, and even the guests that arrive! None of that happens in South Africa, of course, so I was grateful that my mother decided to come and lend a hand.  

With our next baby we decided upfront to go for a C-section because it was also going to be a big one. I’m a bit of a freak with dates, so it was wonderful to be able to choose a birth date for Julius - the 7th of the 7h in the year 2000. Good or what? He was born early in the morning and after I got my epidural, it felt like a piece of cake, other than the normal discomfort the first day after a C-section, when every cough and sneeze feels like a cramp. This time I was a bit more experienced and knew what to do with a baby. But all of a sudden I had to learn to manage my time because there were two children to look after, which was quite a shock.
Since I come from a family of girls, I couldn't understand why I was only having boys. I wanted a girl! So I took up my cause with Dr. Cameron, explaining my dilemma. We wanted another child but could we have a girl please. 


”No problem,” he said to me, “sit down so we can talk and I will give you the recipe.” (For those of you who want to learn his secret, let me know.) I was so worried throughout this pregnancy about having another boy that during all the check-ups I refused to be told the sex of the baby. I had convinced myself that it would indeed be a boy and was flabbergasted when our daughter Sophie was born on the 1st of February 2003. Concerning that date: I had requested it (another nice one: 1-2-3) but was told by the secretary that Dr. Cameron would be busy that day playing in a golf tournament. I was dejected, but when he heard about my request, he immediately said that of course he would do it. “Just come in at 6:00 am and we’ll get it done early, then you’ll get your day, and I’ll get mine.” 

I think this can only happen in Africa.

All in all I had a great experience giving birth in South Africa. If you want to pick the sexes and birth dates of your children, maybe you should consider it too!


The original of this article appeared on Expatica on June 27, 2011.

5 comments :

Miss Footloose | Life in the Expat Lane said...

This was fun to read. I'm Dutch but never gave birth in Holland.

My first baby was born in Ghana, West Africa and I had excellent care in a private clinic owned by a Ghanaian doctor and his midwife wife.

Number two was born in the US, and that too was a good experience apart from my husband not being allowed within miles because he had a severe throat infection.

Number three was born in Brazil, but I had nothing to do with his birth because we adopted him at age 6 ;)

Of course I would have loved "kraamhulp" which is a fabulous service in Holland. Fending for yourself is not easy in a foreign country when you have no family around to help.

Sine said...

Wow, Miss Footloose! You definitely have a diverse mix there among your kids, thanks for sharing. What citizenships does that leave you with? I'm sure you can relate to my passport stories...

Brenda Olwagen said...

It's wonderful that Lydie had such a wonderful birth experience in SA. My first was born in Cape Town, my second in Copenhagen. Giving birth in Denmark (a VBAC) was a nightmare. I suspect that for most the experience is not that bad, but when things went wrong, they grossly exceeded all safety measures.

Yes, as far as the hospital stay goes, we're so spoilt in SA...in Denmark, regardless of whether you've just had a caesarian or not, you have to change your own sheets, go to the canteen to eat, and there's no nursery - if you're immobile, it's up to the dad to care for you and for the baby until you're on your feet. In all aspects, you're on your own (not necessarily a bad thing).

On the upside, dads have 2 weeks of paternity leave straight after the birth and can take a further 3 months (if the wife doesn't work, more if she does) later on. Paid maternity/paternity leave for a working couple is 1 year and can be shared between them, so you often see dads out and about caring for their babies - awesome! Something I think helps dads bond with their children in a way that doesn't happen otherwise. 3 months of being a stay-at-home dad opened my husbands eyes to my world :-DD.

Sine said...

Hi Brenda,

thanks so much for sharing your story, that is amazing! I told my husband about the bit about changing your own sheets, and he almost fell over backwards. With that service, they should be practically free, but I"m sure they're still charging you through the nose. Then again, the paternity leave bit is truly wonderful, I guess if I had to change sheets in order to get that, I'd go for it (not sure that my husband would, though:-) as I agree that that first bonding is so crucial for dads.

handmedowncook said...

Thanks for this post! I am an American married to a New Zealander about to give birth in a few months with Dr. Cameron as well. A question in case you or your readers know: we will get our kid his US and NZ passports soon after he is born, but will he then have to get a visa to stay in SA? As you can imagine, Home Affairs is no help!