My Vocation as a Midwife

Sister Mbalenhle Kunene OP

Sister Mbalenhle feeding a newborn baby

When I became a Sister, my dream had been to be a medical technologist or a dentist. I never thought that I would become a Nurse and a Midwife.

After Profession, I was assigned to our Community in Benoni, Gauteng for a pastoral year where I worked with the Council of Churches and the local Hospice. I used to come home and talk about my experiences. I developed a love of caring for people.  My Sisters were supportive of my ministries, and they saw that I would make a good nurse.

A year later I was assigned to St Mary’s Convent, in Blaauwbosch, KZN a semi-rural area near where I grew up. Here I worked with Sister Leo, who was Matron at Rosary Clinic, for two years. This was really ‘coming home’ because I was born at Rosary Clinic.

At the Clinic, I had a room where I met each patient to take their observations, basic things like blood pressure, temperature, respiration, pulse, or to do a urine dipstick, pregnancy test or wound dressings. At the time I knew very little about what these ‘obs’ meant. The Nurses helped me to read the mercury of the thermometer when taking someone’s temperature, and the other tasks that I needed to know how to do. I enjoyed going to the clinic. Everyone knew I was a Sister because I wore my veil.

With my Sisters’ encouragement, I applied to St Mary’s Mariannhill Nursing School, in Pinetown, KZN to train as an Enrolled Nurse. I was lucky to be on contract at the Hospital for three months. Later, I completed a Bridging Course and qualified as a Professional Nurse. I continued to work in Marianhill for three years but then wanted to continue my studies and develop my skills. I grew to love the field of Midwifery in particular. I had seen women who died during pregnancy or giving birth. I wanted to know more about why this happened.

I started my midwifery training back at St Mary’s, Mariannhill, and when I finished I returned to Blaauwbosch. I was lucky that a Midwifery post was being advertised in Newcastle, KZN at the time. I applied and was successful! And I love every minute of my job!

Part of my job is to teach new mothers and families how to handle and care for their newborn baby. I show them how to give a bath, how to breast feed, or how to sterilize bottles. We’re known as a ‘Baby Friendly’ Hospital because we emphasise the benefits of breastfeeding, for mother and baby.

Being a midwife is not always a joyful experience: not all babies are born healthy. I’ve ministered to women who miscarried, or who gave birth to stillborn babies. I’ve had patients who died in childbirth. And often no one knows why. All I can do is be present to give support. That’s where my Vocation as a Sister comes in: I pray for and with these women and their families.

Midwifery is challenging, but by the help of God and my community I’m managing well. There are sad days and happy days. What makes me sad are the times when I know a baby is not going to survive, or when I deliver a stillborn, or a mother dies leaving her baby behind. Sometimes, the worst, both mother and baby have died.

I’m the only Religious Sister at the Hospital. People who have faith often approach me asking for prayers, including members of Staff that I work with. And at times, I’ve even had the privilege to baptize babies who are dying. During tea breaks or lunch times, and even some times when things are quiet, the Staff take part in Scripture sharing.

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