02/14/2012 06:41 pm ET | Updated Apr 15, 2012

The Heart of the Matter

Every year when February 14th rolls around, I search within for a real connection to the symbol of this over commercialized event we call Valentine's Day. Sure it's a nice gesture to send cards and love notes to our loved ones but that certainly doesn't and shouldn't limit us from doing so whenever the urge strikes, and it strikes a lot in my home.

My family knows they are loved. As a mother, it is my job to let them know that they are and it's a job I take quite seriously. So, since I know my immediate family is all covered, I challenge myself to look outside my own circle. Have you ever wondered what happens to families without mothers on these sorts of holidays? I do. I think about those families a lot as a global maternal health advocate and founder of Every Mother Counts.
In the years since I first became a mom, I've been spending a lot of time advocating for improved maternal health. And often, especially at global health conferences and or the like, we get caught up in statistics of the associated morbidities and mortalities, or 'near misses' as they have become known in countries where we have gotten quite good at saving lives. But when I pause to think about those families without their moms on Valentine's Day, that's when I get the chance to really think about what those statistics imply for the world as a whole.

Yes, you may have heard me say this before, that 1000 women die every day due to complications caused from pregnancy or childbirth and this is a figure that just doesn't sit well with me for a number of reasons. These 1000 women I so often refer to don't sit in a vacuum alone. Every year, more than 1 million children are left motherless and vulnerable because of maternal deaths, and children who have lost their mothers are up to 10 times more likely to die prematurely than those who have not. Children who have their mothers are more likely to get vaccinated and more likely to get an education. Implications for girls tend to be exacerbated, leading to a continued cycle of poverty and poor health after her mother dies.

While maternal deaths happen all over the world, the large majority of them take place in the developing world. In fact, 66% occur in ten countries. In 2000, the United Nations established the Millennium Development Goals as an effort to eradicate global poverty by identifying eight of the world's biggest development challenges.

1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

2. Achieve universal primary education

3. Promote gender equality and empower women

4. Reduce child mortality

5. Improve maternal health and reduce maternal mortality

6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

7. Ensure environmental sustainability

8. Develop a global partnership for development

MDG 5 is often referred to as the heart of the Millennium Development Goals because of the innate centrality of a mother in her family and community. If mom is healthy, then her child is more likely to thrive, more likely to have a better quality of life and, ultimately, better able to provide for his or herself. A mother who is able will do all she can to nurture and support her children. Yet, somehow, this is the MDG that has continued to lack support to put it on track to achieve its goals by 2015. Some countries have made the health of mothers and children a priority, and in those countries, there has been considerable progress which goes to show that political will does make a difference.

So today, on this day symbolized with a heart, let's think of our mothers and as mothers, the direct impact of our good health on those we love.

Happy Valentine's Day.

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