Birth Stories:

Phoebe Elizabeth James


May 27th, 2011

by Marianne Littlejohn.

Megan and Russel live on a dairy farm in Mooi River,one hour’s drive from Pietermaritzburg in Kwazulunatal, South Africa. Russell, who grew up on a farm in the Underberg (meaning Below the Mountains), manages the large dairy herd and pastures, the beef cattle and maize plantations, while Megan had to adjust to the isolated lifestyle on a large farm as well as being pregnant and expectingtheir firstborn baby. For Megan’s parents this baby will be the first grandchild.


Megan in the Garden at 25 weeks

I got to know Megan and Russell after these pictures were taken at the Kwazulunatal Workshop 2011 in March. Baby Bean was due to be born on the 21st May 2011 according to the dates and ultrasound. Initially, Megan and James decided to give birth at the Medi-clinic in Pietermaritzburg with myself and Ginny Oosthuizen in attendance, as the farm seemed a bit remote for a first time homebirth. Megan REALLY wanted a natural birth, a gentle birth, in fact even a waterbirth and longed for a homebirth, and was committed and wholehearted in her preparation for birth. She also chose her team carefully and enlisted her family’s support.


Then Ginny, our resident doula from, who lives close to Pietermaritzburg, offered her home as the Home-from-Home birthing solution, and the Hilton Home Birth Unit was born. While Russell tended the cows and calves, Megan and Ginny set about turning the allotted bedroom into a Mother-Baby-Friendly Facility. A double bed, changing units and shelves were arranged and filled with towels, maternity pads, and surgical supplies.

Hilton Home Birth Unit May 2011

A Birth in a Box birth pool was ordered and set up next to the bed and then the waiting for the labour to begin.

We were all so excited that around and just after her due date, poor Megan was feeling the pressure to perform that so many women feel when friends and family enquire about the birth in phrases like ” Is anything happening yet?” or “Is the baby born yet?” and “How are you feeling?”! As if by asking we could stimulate the start of the process of labour.

Megan and Russell practicing the Kneeling Position Birth - Workshop 2011

Now that really is magical thinking! Although, magically, the fruit falls from the tree when it is ripe and when conditions are favourable. In human terms, it means that the mother needs to be confident and ready, the body soft and

surrendering, and the baby is mature enough to initiate the labour process by releasing hormones in tandem with the mother. Our back-up Obstetrician was very supportive of Megan’s choice of birth place and with a wink, even gave Megan a natural remedy fro bringing on the labour that is often used in her community. I tried to keep a low profile, not wanting to put Megan under pressure, yet feeling quite under pressure myself for reasons which I will soon explain.

The pool ready for relaxing in the warm water during labour

In the meantime, Ginny and her husband David organised the Birth Pool, inflating it ready for filling it with warm water. Everything was ready. Four days after her due date, Megan couldn’t wait any longer and took an old natural remedy used to initiate labour after breakfast. By 8pm in the evening signs of activity were present, by 11pm labour was beginning to swing and Megan and Russell left the farm at midnight to arrive at Ginny’s house at 1am on the following morning of the 25th May 2011.

Megan was feeling spontaneous urges to bear down as she walked into the house and there was a flurry of activity as we filled the birth pool with enough warm water so that Megan could sink into the water for pain relief. When the pool was ready, Megan asked me to check progress and we were delighted to learn the baby was making her/his way down the birth canal, the amniotic membranes were still intact and all was as it should be, with the baby’s heart rate beating at a steady trot.

Megan, Russel and Phoebe minutes after the birth, 25th May 2011

At 4.30am the membranes burst and Megan’s effort became more apparent. Soon the top of the baby’s head was visible and at 5am a little baby girl slipped into the water and was lifted out of the bath by Megan’s waiting arms. We unwrapped a length of cord from around her neck and she lay on Megan’s chest recovering, crying and breathing as newborn babies should.

We were all delighted that Megan’s Birth Plan was fulfilled and once we had settled the new family into bed for some skin to skin contact (Kangaroo Mother Care or KMC) and for little Phoebe to intitiate breast feeding behaviours, I made a phonecall.


And this was my little secret, I made that call to a Cape Town client Susan, who was holding  in her twin babies until I could arrive in Cape Town for the birth! Susan had just been despairing to her sister that I would not make it for the birth, and two minutes later I called with the good news of the birth of Phoebe  and confirming that I would be travelling soon. Ginny took over caring for Megan and Phoebe, while Russell kindly volunteered to drive me to King Shaka Airport in Durban (after his turn to KMC his precious daughter) and I caught the flight to Cape Town at 12.15.

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What I Do

I am living my dream while working with mums and babies. I see mums when they are 34 weeks pregnant and then go to their homes once they go into labour. I stay for the full duration of the labour and after the birth I assist them with breast feeding. I do another visit after the birth to see that all is well and to help where I can.  Mums are always welcome to call me in the event that they have any questions, whether before or after the birth. I am passionate about my work as a doula and I care and love all the families with which I work. Once you have been present at a birth you feel part of the family and it’s wonderful to hear news of the new baby’s life as he or she grows.

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