How My Great Grandmother Influenced Thousands Of Lives

When my dad was a kid, he would have the same conversation over and over again. He would be walking in his hometown and someone his age or considerably older would approach him and say, "Your grandmother delivered me." He would patiently listen as people shared the stories about the events surrounding their birth and the role his grandmother, a midwife, had played. It surprised my dad that she had delivered so many babies. Even more, it surprised him that so many years later, they wanted to express deep gratitude for what she had done.

The world has changed dramatically since my great-grandmother's day, but in communities around the world midwives still face the same challenges she faced at the turn of the twentieth century. These challenges, and the opportunities to address them, are among the topics highlighted as UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, released the State of the World's Midwifery Report (SOWMY) at the 30th Triennial Congress of the International Confederation of Midwives, where more than 3,700 midwives from 126 countries are convening this week. The launch of the report presents an important opportunity to use new data as a tool to support and advocate for midwifery, especially in areas of the world where the absence of midwives results in high maternal and newborn mortality.

The World Health Organization reports that 289,000 women died due to pregnancy or childbirth-related complications in 2013. It makes me shudder to think that the loss of the lives of so many girls and women, and the negative impact of their deaths on families and communities, was preventable. The fact that maternal mortality dropped by nearly 50% between 1990 and 2013 offers no consolation to the 289,000 families who watched their wives, daughters, sisters or mothers die last year while trying to give life. Very sadly, if these girls and women had had access to trained health workers during pregnancy and childbirth, it is likely that their deaths could have been avoided. In fact, according to UNFPA, "Midwives can help avert two thirds of all maternal deaths and half of newborn deaths, provided they are well-trained, well-equipped, well-supported and authorized."

The State of the World's Midwifery report provides an excellent springboard for advocacy at national and local levels in countries where midwives' skills are desperately needed. At Johnson & Johnson, we applaud the people and organizations who are committed to developing, disseminating and ensuring the impact of the new report, including our partners, the International Confederation of Midwives, UNFPA, the World Health Organization, and the Report's secretariat, the Instituto de Cooperación Social Integrare. Like these organizations, we believe that the most powerful and knowledgeable advocates for midwives around the world are the midwives themselves.

In support of that effort, we are honored to partner with Family Care International to develop and publish a toolkit that will help midwives interpret the data in SOWMY and provide resources for them to develop country-specific advocacy messages promoting midwifery as an important solution to improve maternal and infant survival. One key element of the project is a focus on young midwifery leaders who have the potential to convince policymakers of the critical role midwives can and do play in improving the health of mothers and newborns.

At the Triennial Congress of the International Confederation of Midwives, my colleagues and I are listening to and learning from midwives from around the world. We celebrate their commitment to moms and babies, their passion for providing skilled care for all women and families and, most important, their ability to save lives. My great-grandmother would be proud.