Giving birth in South Africa

Giving birth in South Africa

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Dutch expat Lydie Buwalda tells her story of giving birth (several times over!) in South Africa.

When you're an expat, one of the things you probably 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 get a gynecologist, however, because less than a year later I fell pregnant, and Dr Cameron at the Morningside Clinic was perfect 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 baby Daniel decided to wait awhile before he came and faced 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 8 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 of childbirth, 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 helps host the guests that arrive! None of that happens in South Africa, of course, so I was grateful that my mother decided to come and help me.

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 could actually not 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." He was joking.


I was so worried throughout this pregnancy that I'd have 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 be another 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!


Sine Thieme / Expatica

When it became clear that her family of six would have to relocate to Johannesburg, South Africa in 2010, Sine immediately knew that she would have to start a blog about their trials and tribulations.  Read her often-humorous, always informative observations on life as an expat in South Africa at Joburg Expat.



Photos: Flickr: photon_de (tulips) / nicoleabalde (crown) / kristin_a (cupcakes) / chiecrochets (booties)

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2 Comments To This Article

  • Sine posted:

    on 25th April 2012, 21:04:39 - Reply

    I'm sorry I'm responding so late. I find your response very interesting. We come from the American health care system which is good but very expensive, and we find South Africa a delight - more affordable, good service, and an amazing bedside manner by most doctors who take real time to talk with you and address all your issues. Yet no one would expect anything good from an African country, as you're saying. I think long-term it will change, as more and more people go overseas for cheaper care that ends up being better than what you get in your home country.
  • Tee posted:

    on 6th August 2011, 11:53:45 - Reply

    Im south african and i live in holland. no-one here believes anything out of the mouth of someone who comes from a thrid world country, especailly if you say the health care in SA is better (if you have health insurance of course). Here you're lucky if the doctor can even pronounce your name. I loathe the dutch health care system. Just another un-transparent compulsory system thats of course riddled with bureaucracy and the obligatory dutch 'its not my problem' attitude.