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Martha Wainwright

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Maternal Mortality: It's Time for Our Leaders to Take Notice

Posted: 06/04/10 07:36 AM ET

My story had a happy ending. Thousands more mothers would too if world leaders stick to a promise they made 40 years ago.

Once upon a time, I was working in the UK and seven months pregnant with my first child. After a show one evening, not feeling 100 percent, my husband Brad took me home to the place we were staying at in North London. I had been excited to get my last week of work over with and go home to the U.S. to prepare for our new arrival. But that night everything came crashing down. All plans flew out the window and Brad and I found ourselves in the emergency room at 2 a.m.

I was admitted right away, which scared me of course, and taken to the maternity unit. I was in pain and bleeding, but I felt calm -- believing, naively, that I was going to get out and still have a normal pregnancy. A midwife visited us and then the consultant. Then the pain became sharper, and my water broke. I yelled and the mood in the room went from calm and jovial to scary and serious. Brad took my hand and we realized that we weren't going anywhere.

During the night we called our parents and cried a lot. We cried because I was only 30 weeks pregnant and there were concerns based on the scans. It was our first glimpse into the absolute fear you can feel as a parent. Brad and I quickly pulled ourselves together and prepared ourselves for the arrival of our son. We decided to allow ourselves to be excited and happy about what was coming and went into the operating theater smiling and full of joy.

I had planned to try for a natural childbirth in Canada, and had been reading before my trip to the hospital about home births and the importance of treating labor as a beautiful and natural thing rather than as a potential disaster. Whatever opinions I had about my birth plan went out the window quickly. This baby had to come out, there was something wrong and he was going to be premature, but if they had to cut my head off to get him out I would have agreed.

When we saw him and considered his special entry into this world, Brad's grandfather's name seemed the best name for our son. Arcangelo was born on November 16. He is my miracle.

In 1970, rich countries promised the world a miracle -- to give 0.7% of their GNP to countries who needed aid to fight poverty, get children into school, and to hire and equip doctors and nurses so that mothers could give birth safely and affordably.

That promise has been broken. So far, just five nations -- Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Luxembourg and the Netherlands -- have reached the 0.7% target. Canada actually cut development aid this year.

This is unacceptable in a world where at least 350,000 women die every year from complications developed during pregnancy and childbirth. That's an unthinkable 40 women every hour. Now we are counting down to the G8 leaders' summit, and our leaders are going to have to explain why they've broken their promises, and how they plan to fix things.

I am constantly reminded of how lucky Brad and I are. Our son is with us today because we had the best medical care possible. The term "it takes a village" really came true for us. My village was filled with super-smart, trained experts who showed me humanity and compassion.

The Canadian government says maternal and child health is going to be a priority for the G8 summit at the end of this month. If humanity and compassion prevail, there will be money on the table for mothers less lucky than me.

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