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Sandiswe Bhule the Birthing Doula

Profiles & Interviews

Sandiswe Bhule the Birthing Doula

Sandiswe Bhule the Birthing Doula

As a doula, I offer childbirth education, prenatal and postnatal support for mothers and their families

Sandiswe Bhule

Sandiswe Bhule

Sandiswe Bhule has been described as a Jack of all trades since she was young, because most of the things she set out to do she would do with much enthusiasm. Now that she is getting older she is realising that there are things she does well, and things she loves doing. Nurturing people, brands, objects, animals (especially cows) and really anything that needs nurturing is her real jam.

Sandiswe stumbled upon Marketing and the business world in 2009, which is a real turn from the world of Sciences she was hoping to stay in originally. With time she got into developmental work through a trust she founded to give underprivileged children and youth a better chance at social, educational and professional success. She has since brought that home by working hand in hand with the Department of Social Development and becoming a foster and adoptive mother to a few children.

Sandiswe fostered 4 children in her first year of fostering; it was during this time that she realised the importance of the link between the mother’s state of mind during the journey of pregnancy and birth. Her sister sent her a few birth doula videos when she was pregnant, she recalls that as the time where her journey as a birth doula began!

What is your definition of a birth doula, and what services do you offer to expectant mothers?

In my view a doula is a support person who provides the necessary support for the people they are working with. There is a wide variety of doulas, birth, death, postpartum and fertility doulas, and they all exist to provide support during a stage in life.

I offer childbirth education, prenatal and postnatal support for mothers and their families, cliché as it is I love to say I mother the mothers because I am so motherly ☺.

How does the role of a doula differ in the Zimbabwean context compared to other countries?

I have not seen much of a difference except for the novelty of doula work in Zimbabwe, and somewhat a misunderstanding of what it means to have a doula. It’s not a popular option for most birthing families, so that would be the major difference I am always seeing.

Are you affected at all by your role being culturally reserved for the grandmother (first birth anyway)?

No, I don’t see myself as being affected because we provide evidence based support and education for the parents and then step back to make their own choices. I have had family interference in some of my interactions with family, however, what mama wants mama always gets. Sometimes myths are brought up, but I work with them more than around them because my job is to be someone mom and the family can lean on regardless of their choices.

On the flip side I have come to realise and form my birth philosophy, and I am quick to recognise and decline working with families that are bringing up contrary actions, thoughts and energies. At the beginning I used to work with all families, but I am now recognising that I cannot be effective and be for everyone. All that to say I am slowly discovering my speciality.

What are some of the unique challenges and rewards of being a doula in Zimbabwe?

The biggest challenge is explaining what a birth doula does LOL! That’s always the biggest hurdle, until the mother gives birth and then you start offering postnatal support and they are like, ‘I should have come earlier!’ LOL.

The best reward is seeing a woman morphing into this happy and fulfilled ninja of a mother before, during and after the birth. I always see it, but it’s really hard to get used to it – it’s incredible how the changes happen!

How has been the market’s response to doulary?

It was cold at first, but now the market is warming up to our work. I guess the biggest job we have is education and visibility.

How do you work with expectant mothers to understand their individual needs and preferences for childbirth?

I love fostering a relationship built on listening, listening, listening and listening some more. This is usually enough for me to see areas of support then I confirm the areas with moms. I have had a mothers and fathers who just want me in the birth room while they do everything themselves. I have had a mom calling out for me when she was about to push, everyone’s needs are different – it is important to work with mom and the family and read the room.

What kind of emotional and physical support do you provide during pregnancy, labor, and postpartum?

It depends on what they need really, but usually I educate them, run errands, remind them of what their birth preferences are, calm them down, carry bags between rooms, show mom how to breastfeed, assess the feeds, give feeding advice etc. Mostly I am a reassuring presence and I flow with the family’s needs at the time.

Between pregnancy, labour, and postpartum, which stage do you enjoy offering support for the most?

Tricky question LOL – I used to think I enjoyed pregnancy until I did postnatal – man! That stage is beautiful, but I also love love love the labour stage because that’s when mom shows up as a beast and you can tell she has been preparing well for it! As you can tell, I am mighty confused right now, but gun to my head I will say labour is my favourite by 0.01% LOL!

How do you collaborate with medical professionals to ensure a safe and positive birthing experience for mothers?

We mostly interface during the labour, and it is important for me that I don’t take over and or undermine the clinical staff in any way. To stick to this, I follow their lead and explain procedures to mom and the family should the need arise. I am not a clinical professional, so I avoid meddling in that area between medical professionals and their patients.

How does one become a doula?

There are plenty of courses for doula work online, I chose that route because there no physical ones in Zim. That being said, each course really is designed for a particular style of doula work and for a particular doula. It is important that each person who desires to become a doula combs the internet for the course that best fits them and they go for it. My only advice is avoid the short and free courses as they usually don’t do justice to the work at hand.

 Did you have a doula? Why?

I never had a doula because I have never been a biological mother.

What are your observations on the current state of maternal healthcare access and education in Zimbabwe?

In my view it seems to be improving, especially with the rise of the internet. Some of the questions mothers have had overtime are being answered easily, and the hospitals are doing a great job of providing education and answering questions.

How do you see your role contributing to improving maternal health outcomes in the country?

I see great potential in the maternal health outcomes with the presence of doulas, which is why I am always saying we need more doulas – especially for the underserved markets. Statistically speaking, where women in labour have doulas present they are:

28% less likely to have a caesarean section

31% less likely to use synthetic oxytocin to speed up labour

9% less likely to use any pain medication

34% less likely to rate their childbirth experience negatively

What is the most outrageous old wives’ tale you’ve heard about pregnancy?

This is a risky question because I know many will fight me LOL, but hey no guts, no glory lol!

If you eat or drink a lot of cold and icy things you will be cold in labour. The truth is for some people the process of labour is such a shock to their bodies and they will shiver uncontrollably and feel cold because of the shock. Your body will NEVER stock up on cold and then unleash it on one particular day – RELAX bandla!

Are there any specific advocacy efforts you are involved in or passionate about?

Right now I work with underprivileged children and youth in the areas of education, careers and social development under Footprints. In addition to this I work for the amplification of the voice and visibility of alternative families mainly adoptive, foster and kinship care families under LoveBeyondBlood. I am also the CSR lead for the company where I spend my time Mon – Fri between 8am and 5pm, there I am involved in various work in the education, hunger eradication and menstrual health and hygiene spaces.

What are your hopes for the future of doula services in Zimbabwe?

May we have more people stepping up to become doulas, not for the money, but for the impact. The truth is you can NEVER charge someone enough money to fulfil you in this space. You will always be drained, it will always be emotionally challenging because you carry their burdens around with you AND you sometimes have to show up physically and that is so tiresome (because birth is long and unpredicted.

In short, it’s not the best place to make money, but it’s the best place to feel good about changing lives.

 What advice would you give to women considering hiring a doula for their childbirth journey?

DO IT!!! Do it early – in fact, just do it (sorry Nike – but it is what it is)!

Is there anything else you would like to share about your experience as a doula in Zimbabwe?

It’s been a wild ride, and I know of 3 other doulas who are doing fantastic work in this space! I am super excited for the future of doula work and birth work in general!

Can you share a story about a particularly impactful experience you’ve had as a doula?

Yho! Again, this is a heavy question because I have had so many moments that have taken my breath away. My first time at a birth was just magical, because I had had the theory in check, but here was a client that I had to work with. She went into labour on the day of our first consult, and I immediately went and bought a birthing ball, snacks and tons of liquids. I must have spent a ton of money on that day because I did not know her so I stocked up on multiple options.

I think when she first saw me she was like IS THIS the doula?! Cause I look 23 isn’t? Anyway, I went on with my work, trying to introduce myself, not touch her in case she was not about that life and all the while asking myself what I got myself into. I don’t know if she could tell that I was uncomfortable at first, but I eventually shook it off and got to work. I noticed she was a bit tense, so in between contractions we would practice breath work to get her to relax. Eventually I threw in some physical comfort measures like massages here and there.

When her husband came I could see the relief on her face, and then I could tell she was more comfortable with him and I started showing him how to support her. 12 hours later mama was giving birth, I was in awe – the doctor made a comment about my eyes being opened so wide LOL (yes, I have strong facial expressions). Eventually it was 12pm, I had stayed over for another hour after birth and I was getting ready to say my good byes. The couple both begged me to stay on a little longer – apparently my presence was enough for them (who knew).

I point this out because I learnt a lot on that day – we moved from strangers to a dimension I can’t even explain. I was their pillar of strength perhaps, but for me, they were my confirmation that I belonged in the birth room as that pillar of strength!

What are some common misconceptions about doulas that you encounter in your work?

That we take over from the midwife or we turn mothers and their families into hippies who want to give birth at home surrounded by the whole village and candles. LOL There is no one sized fits all to doula work, and I would be very upset if we were all the same honestly! In fact, I would just burn the whole thing down.

What resources would you recommend to women who are interested in learning more about doulas or childbirth options?

The big ol’ internet is the first place I would suggest, but most importantly I would say talk to a doula or someone who has worked with a doula locally. Reason being the internet has a lot of things that are not applicable in Zimbabwe, whereas getting first hand info from a doula or a doula client would bring context to a lot you learn on the net.

How do people get in touch with you?

My phone number is +263 779 065585 and I am on social media as SweBhule (Tiktok & Instagram).

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I'm Noni Zulu, editor of iNgudukazi Magazine and I'm proud to say that. This is a magazine that looks to empower the youth. We hope to entertain, inspire and motivate our subscribers and to help make a difference.

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