Midwifery in South Africa, back in the day…

Dear Readers,

A while ago I mentioned that I’ll get some interesting stories for you from family members who have worked (or still do), as childbirth professionals. Here’s the 2nd one, and this time it’s by a cousin named Louise. I found it fascinating, and hope you enjoy it as well.
Thank you Louise for sharing your story and photos.

As usual, feel free to share and comment.

Happy Day to you all,



Young cousin Jodie has asked me to relate my studies leading up the status of Nurse/Midwife in South Africa. She is not aware that she is asking me to turn back the pages of my life to 1955, to when I was 22 years old.

In South Africa, you needed a registered nurse certificate – a 3 ½ year hospital training – in hand, in order to become a Midwife. Midwifery was a further one-year course after your 3 ½ years Registered Nursing Diploma course, all taken in a hospital with a mandatory stay in the Nurse’s quarters when not at work. No sleeping around in those days… University training was not available until somewhere in the late 1960s.

In the 1920s a woman had to stay in bed for a full 14 days after delivery before she was allowed up and about. This led to thrombosis and often to maternal death.

In the 1950s a woman was ambulatory after 12 hours confined to the bed, but had to remain in hospital, along with her infant, for 10 days. That was viewed as a rest period for the mother prior to her return home and all the chores that she would be subjected to!

The course was tough but fun since there were a bunch of 40 nurses all running around in different sections of the maternity section of Addington Hospital in Durban, South Africa.

The year was divided up; working periods on Night Duty, Anti Natal Care (Clinical), Labor and Delivery, Post Natal Care for the mother and Post Natal Care for the infant, and back to the Clinic for follow up on mother and baby. Then there was the stressful nightmare (8 weeks of it) of “District” work – more on District later…

We had no vacation, nor long weekends, for the entire year. One day off per week but when you were off during the week, there were lectures to attend. You worked day duty from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. with 4-hours off during the day. You attended lectures during that time, and studied should you have any tests the next day.

Night Duty you worked 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. with 2 hours off for eating a full meal and hopefully getting a little shut-eye.  When on night duty, you had to attend lectures during the day – except on weekends. However, you worked weekends as though they were weekdays!

The routine basically was work, lectures, study for tests, and hopefully having a kind boyfriend who does not mind putting up with your strange and unorthodox night and day routine! Doctors made excellent boyfriends since they lead basically the same crazy routine…

“District” was basically “home deliver” and this was accomplished mainly up in the hills in a certain area of Durban where the Indians lived. Not American Indians, but rather Indians from India. Some had fashionable homes; others lived modestly or in poverty. We had to

always be available, night and day, in-between lectures, anytime, for when the call came that the woman was going into labor.

When that call came, a car and driver would drive one or two of us, students, along with a trained midwife, up into the hills.  Each of us carried a big brown doctor’s bag containing whatever was needed for a home delivery. We would set up “shop” in the bedroom, and monitor the mother-to-be until such time as the baby was due… if things progressed normally, you waited it out and partook of the curry meals and drinks that the hospitable Indians lavished on us profusely.

I might add that we never needed to purchase stockings since those also were lavished on us as gifts for services delivering the baby from the mother. They were generous and kind people.

Often the homes did not have more than a candle and many a delivery we had to perform holding a flashlight either by someone else or often nestled under your own armpit. When things progressed slowly, the trained midwife and one of us would be driven back to the hospital and one of us would be left praying, and praying, that all went well should the baby suddenly decide to come early and we were the only one present to do the delivery.

Also included in this grueling “District” work was going back into the hills of Durban the next day to give the mother and baby postnatal care for the 10 days that were required by law. In that case, you would run, again with your district bag, in and out of the homes, to do the necessary care needed.

They often named their babies after us and there were quite a few Louises in the Indian community.

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