Trauma led her to a heartbreak decision and an eating disorder. But now she’s calling on her tough experiences to empower the moms and babies of Westlake Village, a Cape Town community facing many challenges. How do the wounds of community nurse and midwife LOUETTE MACCALLUM help her bring comfort to others? She sat down with Katy Macdonald
‘I’ve had messed up relationships and God has restored me,’ says nurse Louette Maccallum. In her sixties, she is finally where she always wanted to be, serving the challenged community of Cape Town’s Westlake Village | Photo: Nicky Elliott

Louette (64) grew up in Johannesburg with three older brothers. After a brief stint in photography, she trained in nursing at Groote Schuur Hospital, and has nursed ever since. She’s married to Mike, who works in industrial refrigeration. They have three adult children between them, and live in Cape Town’s Marina da Gama

‘I always had a heart for people who had less than me. My first pocket money went to support children in Nepal, and I dreamt of being a Florence Nightingale working with the poor. I gave my life to Jesus when I was 15 and had a strong relationship with him. However, I also suffered sexual abuse in my community. This hugely impacted my life by distorting my sense of worth and my sense of who I was as a person.

I moved to Cape Town to study nursing at Groote Schuur Hospital and, once qualified, I carried on working at the hospital. There, I started having a relationship with one of my patients. Although my Christian values told me to abstain from physical intimacy until marriage, I struggled to remain faithful to what I believed God wanted for me. Somehow, as a result of the abuse, I’d come unconsciously to feel that I was only worth something if I complied sexually even though I didn’t feel good about myself afterwards.

We eventually got engaged but, after a few months, my fiancé became verbally and emotionally abusive. The only way I could break up with him was to go back to my home town of Johannesburg. So I packed up and left without him knowing.

burden of scandal

But then I discovered I was pregnant with his baby. Some of my family encouraged me to give my baby up for adoption because they didn’t want me to bear the burden of scandal. It never crossed my mind to have an abortion.

It was a very traumatic pregnancy. I was angry at myself for being pregnant, angry with the father, angry that my plans to travel overseas were messed up. I was very confused as to whether to keep or give the baby up for adoption. I didn’t really bond with this baby growing inside me, which was really hard, and I hated everything I’d become, including my body. I got into a terrible cycle of bulimia and only put on 3kg during the entire pregnancy.

Kevin, Louette’s first child. She was encouraged to give him up for adoption to avoid the burden of scandal, but after three weeks of agonising, she knew this was not an option she could bear

When I gave birth to a little boy he was taken from me straight away, but I would sneak down to peep at him in the ward. After three weeks of emotional agony and hours of prayer and crying out to God, I knew I couldn’t give him up for adoption. I brought him home and named him Kevin. My parents got fully on board and supported me, which was amazing. My baby’s dad tried to get me to marry him but I didn’t want to get back into that abusive relationship, and discouraged contact.

Unplanned motherhood and single parenting were not easy. Some people looked sideways at me, but my church was supportive, as were my colleagues. Kevin and I moved into a flat at the Johannesburg General Hospital, where I was working. I worked night shift while Kevin slept in the doctors’ resting room, and then he would go to crèche or school in the morning while I slept. My parents often looked after him at weekends when I was on duty. My colleagues all had children at the same crèche, and we helped each other with lifts and looking after each other’s kids.

I can’t do this any more

My bulimia continued to be an issue for 10 years. One day, at the age of 34, I’d had enough. ‘God, I can’t do this any more,’ I said. ‘Please, please take this away from me!’ I believe God then gave me a very clear vision of who He had created me to be, and how others saw me: a beautiful person. I’d always shrugged it off when people said I was amazing or lovely, I couldn’t see that at all. But I felt Him saying, ‘Louette, you’re not who you think you are, this is who you are. I have immense joy in you and so much for you to do.’

It was amazing. I found I had the power within me to control what I was eating so that I wasn’t triggered to vomit. I had to work very hard at it, but if I was overeating I was able to say to myself, ‘Hey, this is leading to something! Stop and walk away from it.’ In most cases I was able to stop the eating and vomiting cycle. And eventually it really did stop. I am occasionally still triggered by certain emotions to want to binge, but mostly I manage to control it.

After 10 years of an eating disorder developed during her emotional first pregnancy, Louette had had enough and prayed for God to take it away from her. ‘It was amazing, I found I had the power within me to control what I was eating in most cases,’ she says | Photo: Nicky Elliott

My relationship with Jesus grew dramatically as a result, and I started making plans to join a missionary organisation in Cape Town’s Muizenberg called Youth With A Mission (YWAM). I was scuba diving during this time, and my diving instructor and I started a relationship. Once again I found myself unable to say no to sexual intimacy, and found myself sliding away from my values. The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. After eight months, I was accepted into YWAM, my boyfriend went overseas and our relationship ended.

Two months into YWAM, I realised I was pregnant with the scuba instructor’s baby. I told the father but he wasn’t interested in pursuing the relationship. I was devastated, being very ready for marriage and another baby. I told my leaders at YWAM the situation and they were incredibly supportive. After much praying with them, introspection and personal prayer, I started to feel peace. I felt God was telling me that He wanted to heal me of the abuse and trauma that had led to both pregnancies, and that this baby would be a gift for someone else.

Kevin and I had many chats about the pregnancy. I tried to explain that I didn’t have enough money to bring up two children alone, and would need to give the baby to a family to raise as their own. This wasn’t an easy discussion as he was very excited about having a sibling. I spent many hours praying that God would prepare his heart and help him understand. He came to terms with the decision, and we spent time together praying for the baby and for the right family for him.


When the baby was born, I called him Jonathan. I breastfed and held him for 24 hours. In the hospital, Kevin and I went through the files from the adoption agency to choose a family for Jonathan. When we met the family, we both felt very confident that he was going to the right place. It was, however, awful dropping Jonathan off at Mowbray Maternity Hospital to be picked up the next day by a social worker and his new family. It was just so traumatic to leave him with staff who didn’t know him, and my heart felt broken in two.

But I believe God gave me a peace that was beyond understanding. Once I had a call from the social worker to say Jonathan was safe and I received photos of him with his new family, that peace increased and I felt I was doing the right thing despite the aching of my heart. I waited eagerly for God to heal me from my past of sexual abuse, of promiscuity and of the guilt and pain of surrendering my baby to another family. I wondered what His plan was, and when it would happen.

After another year at YWAM, I needed to go back to work and earn money, so I started working at Mediclinic Constantiaberg in Cape Town. Needing accommodation for Kevin and myself, one evening I pulled a three-week-old newspaper from the hospital recycling bin. In it was an advert for a flat-share with Mike, a single dad who had custody of his two daughters, Charlotte and Megan.

I knocked on Mike’s door, we met and, two months later, Kevin and I moved into a bedroom upstairs together. Mike and I got on very well and his daughters and Kevin also connected well. I shared my life drama with Mike and spoke a lot about God and His goodness in my life despite my problems. I told Mike all about Jonathan and the adoption experience and he was very supportive and caring. Soon we began to feel serious chemistry between us and I knew that he’d be my husband one day. We got engaged three months later and I told him that I’d made a commitment to God not to be sexually involved with any man again until I was married. He was very honouring of that.

A three-week old-classified ad in a recycling bin. offering a room in a family home, connected Louette with Mike, a single dad who had custody of his two daughters. She and her son moved into the room and ‘serious chemistry’ developed between the two single parents. Three months later they were engaged 🙂 

A few weeks after our engagement, I heard that I’d been accepted for a three-month voluntary nursing position on Anastasis, a medical Mercy Ship that travels around the world to perform surgery on people with all sorts of conditions that aren’t treatable in their countries. I was told Kevin wouldn’t be able to go with me. This was very hard, but I knew God would keep him safe and that Mike would honour his promise to look after him.

This was an experience of a lifetime. I did what I’d always envisioned: setting up and working in clinics, educating, helping mothers and babies, doing antenatal care and running health clinics for the people in Madagascar, and just being with these wonderful, welcoming people in their very poor country. They had so much joy despite poverty and lack. Three weeks before we left Madagascar, I was informed that Kevin could join me for the last two weeks and the journey home. I fundraised for his air ticket by selling cinnamon buns on board the ship. We had a beautiful time together, loving the experience of sailing back to South Africa as mom and son before becoming part of a blended family.

Louette got a longed-for opportunity to volunteer for three months on a Mercy Ship called Anastasis, serving the people of Madagascar. Kevin joined her for the last part of the trip. ‘We had a beautiful time together,’ she says

I spoke earlier of my longing for God’s healing from the sexual abuse and promiscuous past that had caused me so much pain and left me with so much guilt. Well, it came on my honeymoon. When Mike and I were intimate for the first time, I had never felt so beautiful. I felt like a princess. There was no guilt. It was unbelievably right and perfect. I felt healed from all that trauma and free for the first time, free from all my messed-up relationships. Now I understood why God sets boundaries: because He doesn’t want us to get hurt. I believe that it is within the boundaries, under His umbrella of protection, that we have true freedom.

Mike and I have now been married 26 years. It was very challenging for a few years to build a happy family and make all the children feel equally loved. It was tough for the children themselves, and I felt I was walking a tightrope between the various family members. But Mike sought out God and became a committed Christian. We joined the church that his sister attended and made wonderful friends. The kids fitted in well and many of the friends they made are still some of their closest. While the church supported us, God was our biggest help. I believe He really did strengthen us to understand each other and stand together as much as possible, handling situations as a couple in unity. Help also came from Mike’s sister, who was incredibly encouraging and supportive of our big new family.

Mike and Louette today with their blended family, which just keeps growing! ‘It was a big challenge to build a happy family but I believe God strengthened us to understand each other,’ says Louette

I worked as a midwife at the private Constantiaberg Hospital and in private practice for a number of years. This was great, but I still had this desperate longing to give poorer women the care I was giving middle-class women on medical aids. The inequality drove me insane so in my spare time I volunteered at Princess Alice Home, a centre for abused women. Then, in 2021, I received a phone call asking if I’d be interested in working at a clinic run by Westlake United Church Trust (WUCT) in a low-income area of Cape Town called Westlake Village.

I jumped at the chance. I worked in home-based care for the first 18 month and have been in charge of healthcare since April 2022. Despite proximity to the beautiful suburb of Tokai, Westlake residents live in a combination of low-cost housing and informal structures, and the women don’t normally have access to this kind of education and support. One of my main roles is supporting the mothers and babies through the first thousand days, basically from the womb to the age of two.

Working in private practice, Louette had ‘this desperate longing to give poorer women the care I was giving middle-class women on medical aids. The inequality drove me insane,’ she says. Then she was asked to work at a clinic in Westlake Village where people face a number of social challenges while living in informal houses like this one | Photo: Leentjie du Preez
The clinic is run by Westlake United Church Trust (WUCT) and serves everyone, irrespective of their age, race or beliefs | Photo: Nicky Elliott

I can’t change the hospital situation, but I can change how families support each other, and how women understand themselves. Given my own difficult experiences, I try and empower women to believe in themselves, trust their bodies and have beautiful birth experiences. I love being able to do this.

Once the baby is born, I help mothers connect with their babies because in this community there can be a huge lack of this. Parents don’t always connect with their babies and may leave them to play by themselves. Many children are in the streets from the time they can walk. Fathers are often not around and there’s a lot of alcoholism, drug addiction and brokenness. I encourage the mothers to love, play, read and connect with their children. This is the essence of our First Thousand Days plan. According to the World Health Organisation, it creates awesome learning pathways in the brain which can lead to a higher IQ and better school readiness and may help to break the cycle of poverty.

Above and below: Louette’s mother and baby clinic and exercise class at WUCT. ‘In Westlake, parents don’t always connect with their babies and leave them to play by themselves. Many children are in the streets from the time they can walk,’ says Louette. ‘I encourage the mothers to love, play, read and connect with their children. This may help to break the cycle of poverty.’ | Photos: Nicky Elliott

I also visit the elderly and organise a weekly doctor’s clinic for them, give lots of education, assist people to get to hospital and clinics, and pick up issues that need emergency attention, including delivering babies! I love the home-based care, connecting with people in the village, being able to pray with and talk to them. I feel my own heartache has given me compassion and all the sad stuff inside me has been turned into the joy of being in the right place.

Louette organises a weekly doctor’s clinic for the elderly and visits them in their homes
Visits may include a parcel at Christmas time! ‘I love connecting with people in the village, being able to pray with and talk to them. I feel my own heartache has given me compassion and all the sad stuff inside me has been turned into the joy of being in the right place,’ says Louette
In the pink: Louette’s assistant, Kaylin, who supports the Westlake community with her in a variety of ways
A beach outing for the mother and baby group helps clear heads

I definitely would do things differently if I had my time again and this is what I share with many of the single and teenage mothers in the hope of helping them avoid the same trauma, pain, hurt and disappointment that I went through. If I can support women going through traumatic pregnancies, some of which even result from rape, I walk a journey with them. I’ll never forget the trauma of going through a pregnancy when you don’t know what to do with your life. I believe that when I rejected my first pregnancy Kevin experienced some internal rejection, so I also encourage the pregnant moms to get into the right headspace: if you don’t, parenting can be an incredibly difficult journey.

My moms know there’s an open door for them to come and talk if they need to, and I encourage them to join the mother and baby group as soon as they’ve given birth. I’ve had incredibly positive feedback from this group. They love coming and meeting other women. We do baby massages, even take them to the beach, and we want to get more dads involved with baby care so that they too can bond. Some moms are also keen to study the Bible, which I hope to organise soon.

‘My moms know there is always an open door for them to come and talk if they need to,’ says Louette. ‘I believe that when I rejected my first pregnancy Kevin experienced some internal rejection, so I also encourage the pregnant moms to get into the right headspace’ | Photos: Nicky Elliott

Girls and women here are vulnerable to abuse in the home, which many see as the norm. Because of the lack of employment, education and family love in some of these homes, there’s a tendency to find ‘sponsors’: men who give them food or drugs in return for sex. So my next plan is to bring the Dignity Campaign into this village to empower girls and tell them how valuable, loved and worthy they are, that they have the right to say no and that they have an inner strength they can call on to do this.

And so, in my sixties, I’ve finally fulfilled the desires of my heart and connected with vulnerable people, which I longed to do since I was a young girl. I love sitting with the people here, talking to them, being able to offer someone a hand or pray with them into situations. It really seems to mean something to them to hear a kind voice or to find a listening ear. It’s as if God led me in a full circle. I’m here for a purpose and I love bringing a little light into the dark spaces people find themselves in.

My self-image is still a struggle. Some days I still look in the mirror and think I’m ugly and fat. Then I have to talk to myself and remind myself I am beautiful because I’m made in the image of God.

Kevin and I now have a great relationship. He works in animation in Cape Town and since he’s had his own two beautiful daughters we’ve had excellent open conversations about the way I parented, why I gave a baby away for adoption and many other deep discussions. I believe God has blessed me with a very special bond with his daughters and his wife, Lindsay, that’s healed anything we lacked in our own relationship in his early life due to my rejection of the pregnancy and adoption of Jonathan. I love him to bits and he’s a wonderful, gentle and caring son and father.

Louette’s son Kevin is now a father. ‘Kevin and I have had excellent open conversations about the way I parented, why I gave a baby away for adoption and many other deep discussions. We now have a great relationship,’ says Louette. ‘He’s a wonderful, gentle and caring son and father.’
Louette with Kevin, daughter-in-law Lindsay and grand-daughter Saige

Jonathan is a doctor now. His adoptive parents, who gave him a different name, stayed in touch with me and I sent him letters every birthday. I recently messaged him that I’d love him to contact me if he would like that, but he hasn’t yet. I trust that he will one day. I’d be very sad if he never made contact, but I know He’s in God’s hands.

I think life is about comforting people with the comfort that you yourself have received, helping people through the traumas that you’ve experienced. It’s easy to get caught up in our own issues but, for me, life is about helping, strengthening and encouraging other people to understand their worth and to become what God created them to be. I think God actually allows us to go through some things so that we can help others.

I believe in God even in this day and age because He’s worked in my life and healed me. When I’ve been in the darkest spaces, I’ve cried out to Him and felt His peace so many times. I’ve had messed-up relationships and God has restored me. It will be amazing if telling this story can make a difference in someone else’s life.’

Above and below: ‘I think life is about comforting people with the comfort that you yourself have received,’ says Louette | Photos: Nicky Elliot

Westlake United Church Trust (WUCT) has been responding to the needs of Westlake Village since 2001 by providing preschool and primary education, healthcare, youth and senior support, and social and information services

  • DONATE YOUR TIME If you can offer volunteer assistance with legal/compliance advice, adult education or business mentoring, please email
  • DONATE TO WUCT’S GENERAL NEEDS, including Louette’s health programmes and support groups 
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