Sometimes, becoming a mother is dangerous business ... but it doesn't have to be.
A study published recently in the weekly medical journal, The Lancet, estimated that 293,000 women worldwide died of pregnancy-related causes in 2013. In the developing world, pregnancy is the leading cause of death for girls ages 15-19. Global improvements in healthcare are helping overall numbers fall, but the United States still has work to do: We ranked 22nd in 1990 for maternal deaths, but in 2014 are ranked 60th out of 180 countries. (According to the study, it's safer to give birth in China than in America.)
These statistics are discouraging and not well-known. That's why a group of artists and musicians took a stand last week at Brooklyn's Life On Mars Gallery during Motherlove, a special exhibition to raise awareness for Every Mother Counts, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to making pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother.
Motherlove participants pose in front of Joan Snyder's painting, "Prosperpina," at Life On Mars Gallery in Brooklyn on May 21, 2014. From left: Rufus Wainwright, Karen Schwartz, Joan Snyder, Christy Turlington Burns, Martha Wainwright (and newborn son), Marilyn Carino, Arnold Mesches, Michael David, and Farrell Brickhouse. Photo by Philippe Tremblay-Berberi. Courtesy of Life On Mars Gallery.
Although a percentage of art sales benefited Every Mother Counts, the evening wasn't a typical celebrity fundraising event. Motherlove participants came together around personal connections and the shared joys and perils of childbirth. During the presentation, Christy Turlington Burns, who founded the maternal health advocacy organization Every Mother Counts in 2010, recalled suffering a life threatening hemorrhage after the birth of her daughter in 2003. Singer Martha Wainwright, who nursed her newborn son at the gallery, told a story about meeting Burns at a United Nations dinner shortly before giving birth to her first child prematurely. Both women said that those birthing experiences changed them forever.
The art on the walls and the sounds in the air honored motherhood, too. Painter Joan Snyder showed two works based upon the songs of late folk singer Kate McGarrigle ("Tell My Sister" and "Proserpina," which chronicles a mother's search for her lost daughter); painter Karen Schwartz had two daughters in attendance and artist/curator Michael David proudly introduced his 86-year-old mother to the crowd; artists Mary Lee Bendolph and Loretta P. Bennett exhibited quilts to honor mothers and sisters; and Wainwright (daughter of McGarrigle) performed "I Am a Diamond" with her brother Rufus as well as her own composition, "Everything Wrong," about the ups and downs of becoming a mother. Singer Marilyn Carino opened the evening with a haunting set and a statement which captured the intent of Motherlove: "Anywhere in the world where you elevate the status and life conditions of women is a place where all the boats float higher," she said.
Although a woman dies every two minutes due to complications from pregnancy and childbirth, 90% of these deaths are preventable. That's why Every Mother Counts is working in several countries to provide access to transportation, skilled birthing attendants and basic supplies and equipment so caregivers and health centers can do their jobs and ensure safe motherhood.