Pierre and Gwénaëlle Dereymaeker
Baby Emile born at Vincent Pallotti Hospital on 26-04-2016

When Gwen and I met Charlene, I was immediately drawn by her soft manner and reassuring voice. I could tell that Gwen also felt reassured, and that Charlene was exactly the doula we were looking for: her experience, knowledge and holistic approach to birth made her an obvious choice. The background was that our first child, Aliénor, had been born by emergency caesarean, and Gwen in particular was devastated. It took me months, perhaps even longer, to understand how much she had been affected by that first birth experience and how important it was for her to do everything possible to have a natural birth for her second pregnancy. Charlene became an essential part of that story.

Having a VBAC in South Africa is not that easy. Only a few doctors are willing to support mothers who want it. There is an element of going against the establishment and standard medical practice in South Africa, which can be intimidating. Charlene was instrumental in providing us with the moral, emotional, and practical support to go down the VBAC route with confidence. I particularly enjoyed the hypnobirth preparation classes a couple of months before Emile’s birth, which also allowed me as a father to understand much better what it involves to give birth and how I could support Gwen on the day itself.

As it turned out, Emile’s birth was pretty dramatic. Where labour for our first born had taken 12 hours before anything really happened, Emile was in a real hurry. Not only was he 3 weeks before his due date, but he wanted to get out extra quick. We barely had time to reach Vincent Palotti, but Gwen was ready, and Charlene’s soothing, calm voice was incredibly helpful to me as well. When Gwen’s obstetrician Dr Dumbrill walked into the labour ward, it appeared that Emile’s heart rate was irregular and that he was in distress. Dr Dumbrill had to make a call, and instructed everyone to prepare for an emergency caesarean. This was a devastating moment and my heart sank. I remember thinking that we had been through all these careful preparations for all these months for nothing. There was, of course, no way we were going to put our baby in any danger and we knew that Dr Dumbrill, who had given us amazing support over the months, was right. Yet Gwen, in between contractions, essentially put her foot down, and insisted on trying for a bit longer. She later told me she just knew instinctively that it would be fine, that her body was ready. I was not so sure at the time ! But at that moment, Charlene and Angela, Gwen’s midwife, stepped in decisively and gave Gwen just the little extra courage she needed to go on. Emile was born literally a few minutes later. I could not have been more proud, not just to be the father of a beautiful boy, but also that Gwen had made it! Without Charlene and Angela, we could never have found the determination to keep going. It was a huge relief and gave us a real sense of victory against the odds. We were filled by a sense of gratefulness towards Charlene, Angela and Dr Dumbrill.

Pierre and Gwénaëlle Dereymaeker, Vincent Pallotti Hospital