So much of life depends on the womb from which you arrive. Imagine if your birth deposited you in Afghanistan instead of the US? Your life, quite possibly, would have begun in tragedy. There would have been a good chance your mother wouldn't have made it through alive. A staggering 1 in 8 mothers die in childbirth in Afghanistan (1 in 4800 mothers die in childbirth in the US). For you, there also might have been a short distance from womb to tomb, 1 in 7 children in Afghanistan die within their first year and 1 in 5 die before the age of seven. Mother's Day in Afghanistan, for too many, is a day of mourning.
Death in childbirth is a crisis. Every minute a woman dies somewhere in the world while giving birth -- 536,000 deaths per year. And here's the real tragedy, almost every one was preventable. The most common causes of maternal death are hemorrhage (25%), infection (15%), unsafe abortion (13%), eclampsia (very high blood pressure leading to seizures - 12%), and obstructed labor (8%). And for every woman who dies in childbirth, around 20 more suffer injury, infection or disease - approximately 10 million women each year. The injuries, like fistula, are often debilitating, leaving many women unable to contribute to their family's health or well-being, many end up abandoned.
And death and injury are avoidable. The only reason birth becomes fatal or dangerous is the lack of accessible, affordable, quality prenatal and emergency obstetrical care.
The loss of the mother can have cataclysmic consequences for other family members, particularly children. According to The Report Card on Maternal Mortality 2008 published by Unicef, "The avoidable loss of each woman who dies from pregnancy or birth-related causes is disheartening enough in itself, but the problem is much graver and more widespread than the death statistics show. The impact on children is enormous. Evidence shows that infants whose mothers die within the first six weeks of their lives are more likely to die before reaching age two than infants whose mothers survive."
This is an issue you'll likely be hearing more about in coming weeks. Supermodel-filmmaker Christy Turlington has devoted herself to improving the outcomes for women in childbirth through her work with Unicef and CARE and has recently come out with a powerful documentary, No Woman, No Cry, about childbirth in these dangerous environments (See trailer below.) Turlington hinted at her film's TriBeCa Film Festival screening last week that there will be much larger exposure for the film very soon. Next month, the best and brightest public health experts will descend on D.C. for the Women Deliver conference to strategize on reducing maternal mortality worldwide by 75% in 5 years.
There's things you can do too. Unlike many of the world's problems, making huge strides in the fight against maternal mortality is actually easy. And relatively inexpensive too. So here's a modest proposal: Let's transform Mother's Day into a day of saving mothers' lives worldwide. The flowers you bring mom will wilt and die after a few days. All we mothers ever want anyway, besides the dried pasta necklaces, is for our children to be safe and happy. For the same amount you spend on flowers you may be able to help a mother and her child survive. Most moms I know would forgo a Mother's Day gift in favor of saving another mother's life. The list below tells you what to do and how little it costs to help. The embedded links will bring you to the organization accepting those donations and leading the initiative.
$9 enables a couple to postpone pregnancy for two years using oral contraceptives: Giving a couple the ability to plan a pregnancy through access to modern contraception can prevent up to 40 per cent of maternal deaths.
$24 buys a woman a safe birthing kit: For expecting mothers who must give birth in the wake of crisis, there may be few medical resources to adequately support them. Your gift can provide essential items such as blankets and clothing to ensure a safe birth for a child born in a crisis zone.
$25 can get women the obstetrical care they need: This gift will cover two weeks' transportation costs, enabling Family Care International's community organizers to reach dozens of isolated villages to ensure that every pregnant woman gets the obstetric care that can save her life. A $25 donation will save lives by covering two weeks of fuel costs for an organizer's motorcycle -- and will make sure that the community organizer can reach the most remote villages and help rural women understand and act on their right to life-saving care during childbirth.
$52 can provide prenatal care to women in war-torn areas Given critical medical care during her pregnancy, many potential problems can be identified and monitored early on. Your gift can provide essential prenatal care for a woman in a war-torn area.
$170 makes a LifeWrap available to a woman suffering obstetric hemorrhage: The LifeWrap is a first-aid device used to stabilize women who are suffering from obstetric hemorrhage and shock. This simple device helps women survive delays in getting to a hospital and getting the treatment that they need. It can be applied by anyone after a short, simple training. (See LifeWrap video below.)
A donation of your choice can get a Solar Powered Lights and Communication Kit to a small hospital for emergency obstetric care: WE CARE Solar brings portable solar electric kits to clinics and small hospitals to power lighting, mobile communication and essential medical equipment for emergency obstetric care. 'Solar suitcases' are low-cost, easy-to-use, robust and reliable, enabling health care workers in low-resource areas to provide safe and prompt obstetric care. (See WECARE Solar video below.)
Your donation can help reduce the number of unsafe abortions worldwide: International Planned Parenthood Federation aims to reduce the number of abortions worldwide that are unsafe by identifying actions that will increase a woman's right to access abortion-related services, including counseling and post-abortion care, as well as safe abortion services.
Signing this Petition can Help Lower Maternal Mortality in the US: According to Amnesty International, "The maternal death rate in the U.S is higher than 40 other countries, despite the fact that we spend more on health care than any other country. The stark differences in risk for minorities are particularly disturbing - African-American women are almost four times as likely as white or Hispanic women to die in childbirth." Sign this petition in support of creating an Office of Maternal Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to breakdown the barriers to care for pregnant women in the U.S.