Last updated on Jun 21st, 2021 at 12:26 pm

A mom was forced to give birth by the light of her cellphone torch – after the hospital she went to was hit by power outage…

Can you imagine giving birth in the dark during a power outage?! Some moms don’t imagine it. They live it. Here’s Gugu’s story…

When her water broke four weeks before the expected delivery date (EDD), 25-year-old Gugulethu “Gugu” Nyembe was overcome by the fear of unpreparedness. In her head, she still had a month before her daughter would arrive. Her water breaking signalled a completely different reality.

The Braamfischer-based mom was scheduled to give birth in a Soweto clinic in Mofolo Central on 12 March 2021. Instead, she was rushed to the clinic at midnight on 18 February.

However, due to criminals tampering with one of the main power stations, residents of Mofolo Central had been without power from 14 February!

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Power was only restored by Eskom’s team on 20 February. The clinic where Gugu gave birth managed to get its backup power going on 19 February.

Giving birth in the dark

No family was allowed to accompany Gugu due to lockdown protocols, so she was admitted alone. The entire facility was dark. At one point in the delivery, the nurses asked Gugu to use her phone as a torch. That was her only source of light.

At admission, she was only 1cm dilated and had a few more hours to labour before she could give birth. Alone, in pain, and darkness, she screamed for the rest of the night.

A labouring woman is incredibly vulnerable – that is the time they need the most support. Without the right support structure or even knowledge of what they are experiencing, childbirth can quickly turn into a traumatic event.

Gugu had no idea what she was doing as she navigated her contractions

She did not know about any breathing techniques or pain management strategies she could use to calm herself.

According to her, the clinic did not offer any antenatal classes. When asked, the clinic said “we cover health education topics on a patient’s clinic day. As they sit and wait for a clinician, they get educated on different topics about pregnancy and childbirth.”

Gugu’s sessions with the nurses, however, were always short and uninformative, according to her.

Why was there no backup generator?

The issue of government clinics with no backup generators or ill-maintained ones is no new one.

In 2015, the Democratic Alliance disclosed that there were 248 clinics without backup generators.

All4Women   spoke to the DA’s Health shadow minister Jack Bloom who says the situation has improved. “A lot of the clinics now have generators, but the biggest issue is maintaining them,” he says. “The generators have to be tested once a week and diesel is very expensive.”

The generators also offer support for up to 24 hours.

Mofolo Clinic confirms that they have a generator to help during power outages, and Bloom adds that generators are used for essential services only.

“Emergency services and appliances such as fridges for medicines take precedence and all other non-essential services are cancelled.”

In the case of Gugu’s experience, lights are considered non-essential and that is why her torch on her cellphone was used when she needed light.

At some point during the night, her phone battery died, and she had no power source to charge it. She could not even take a picture of her newborn daughter after the birth.

Gugu gave birth to a healthy girl at 10am on 19 February – 10 hours after admission.

Mom and baby are both doing well at home. But Gugu’s traumatising experience has made her reconsider ever having another child.

What was meant to be a beautiful moment for her turned into a nightmare for Gugu – who was the only one in the labour ward that night.


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