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Hoping for Healthy Mothers All Over the Globe

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Progress is being made to save the lives of mothers and newborns around the world. Still, every minute, a woman dies of complications in pregnancy and childbirth, leaving her baby more likely to die within two years. Most of these deaths could be prevented. Join The Huffington Post and the Mothers Day Every Day campaign in the global movement to call upon world leaders to invest in health workers and strengthen health systems so that every day, everywhere in the world, all women and newborns have access to lifesaving care.

My experiences of giving birth and becoming a mother have profoundly shaped my life and the way I see and relate to girls and women around the world. With spring finally upon us, the promise of life is ever present. I can't help but reflect on the meaning of motherhood, which to me represents the continuum of life and the promise of new beginnings. I can remember my first Mother's Day after becoming a mom and the pleasurable, if not indulgent, feeling of being celebrated. Even if my own daughter could not express her gratitude in so many words, I felt cherished.

Mother's Day has become a day to recognize those special women who have nurtured our development and shaped who we are today. The annual celebration began almost 140 years ago as something altogether different. One woman, Julia Ward Howe, who had witnessed the hardships of war and fear that so many women were suffering through, rallied women in a cry for peace with her Mother's Day Proclamation. Today, like so many of our holidays, the commercialization of Mother's Day has somewhat shifted from its original intentions. However, it still carries with it a very personalized and celebratory power. The sacrifices a mother makes are incomparable and they begin even before birth. Her first sacrifice is her body as it begins to make a home for new life. Next, she must let go of many personal freedoms, which one can never truly anticipate nor prepare for until they are gone. From the moment of conception, your body somehow changes from being your own to becoming a shared and relatively confined space. As the size of the fetus increases, so does an overwhelming sense of responsibility. The physical sacrifices, however, are only temporary as something else inside of us begins to grow -- the heart. As mothers, we sacrifice this above all else, which, like our bellies, grows to accommodate its new and precious contents. The truth of the matter is, I'm not sure any of us are ever truly prepared for what motherhood entails -- whether it be those sacrifices or the profound and unexpected new feelings of love and connectedness.

When a woman chooses to become a mother, the news that she has become pregnant is perhaps the sweetest she will ever hear. Some of us prepare for that moment for much of our lives. For many of us American women, we masterfully plan our lives, carefully navigating timings, education goals and careers while countless millions of other mothers around the world cannot afford such luxuries. For so many, becoming a mother is often an unplanned event where questions of whether or not to have children or how many children to have are rarely given consideration, let alone offer up a choice.

While I continue everyday to be inspired by the many mothers in my life (my mom, my sisters and my friends), it is the women and girls across the world who I have encountered that I will celebrate this Mother's Day. Their stories of struggle and strength remind me that we can seek solidarity with other mothers around the world. Be they adolescent mothers (still children themselves) who were married off at 13 years old, young women in their mid-20's already with 6 children, or 40 year-old grandmothers raising their children's children because their parents have died from AIDS, we must remember that motherhood should be that very gift we honor and celebrate. In my travels, I have met these mothers. More often than not, these women are victims of poverty, have not been educated (for any number of reasons), and have no access to contraception. Sadly, this cycle is not uncommon in many parts of the world, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, where women are especially vulnerable to HIV and AIDS. It is to those women that I dedicate this Mother's Day.

Because of gender inequality among other things, women are much more susceptible to contracting the virus that causes AIDS than men, and yet they are rarely in a position to protect themselves against exposure. Some women are utterly powerless in their homes and communities, considered property among men. Until relatively recently, there were very few socially-accepted reasons in many communities that justified being tested for HIV. For those who do get tested, the stigma alone of any association with this devastating disease is well beyond our comprehension in the West. As prevalent as HIV/AIDS is in some regions, it was this very impact of stigmatization that surprised me when I last visited Africa with (RED). Fortunately, there is hope and more and more, solutions are being made available not only to help combat the spread of the disease but to also help alleviate these social issues. While in Swaziland, I learned that ARV (Anti-Retroviral) therapies have become widely available there and are now supported by (RED) monies generated from the collective proceeds of products created in partnership with some of the world's most desirable brands (which to date have contributed more than 130 million dollars toward the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria ). As a result, more and more individual families have access to testing, treatment and support. For the first time, being diagnosed as HIV-positive does not have to be a death sentence. ARV therapy is changing the face of HIV and AIDS, helping make it a more manageable disease through daily medication. Pregnant mothers who might otherwise overlook their own fates are getting tested and receiving treatment in order to prevent the transmission of the virus to their babies and to enable them to continue to care for their families. These moms, because of efforts like (RED)'s are now able to receive a highly effective form of treatment for themselves before and during labor, and a liquid form of it for their newborns, greatly reducing the risk of mother to child transmission. I witnessed this phenomenon first hand when I met an HIV-positive mother of 6 who began the ARV treatment when she was first pregnant with her last child. On the day that I met her, she had just received news that her 6 month-old had tested negative on his second test. He was a normal, healthy baby boy who, like his mom, had a future to look forward to, thanks to ARV's.

As I celebrate mothers on this Mother's Day, I am reminded of how fortunate those of us who have access to healthcare are and I am hopeful that those who do not, will, in the foreseeable future. The importance of our global commitment to mothers in need, as well as their family's is crucial -- we must remember that as a worldwide community, we can help provide the support they deserve. For me, being a mother goes well beyond the creature comforts of home (which I am blessed, as a mom, to have) and extends to a greater sisterhood in which we share the common role as mother. Join me as I celebrate mothers around the world with the hope that soon every mother will be honored with that basic human right of being able to give new life, while ensuring both her safety and the safety of her family.

Happy Mother's Day

The White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood and CARE, two organizations at the forefront of global women's health issues, have joined Secretary Donna Shalala and UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman and a distinguished group of advocates to promote Mothers Day Every Day, a campaign that raises awareness and advocates for greater U.S. leadership to improve maternal and newborn health globally as part of a global campaign uniting advocates around the world to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity. Follow the action at www.twitter.com/WRAGLOBAL.To learn more, visit www.mothersdayeveryday.org.

Check out the rest of our Countdown to Mother's Day series by clicking here