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Randi Hutter Epstein, MD, MPH Headshot

Shh! It's Almost Mother's Day

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When I was a kid, every Mother's Day started the same way. I'd say something along the lines of "Happy Mother's Day." And then my mother would respond with the same old thing every year: "Every Day Should be Mothers Day." To be followed with the You-can-be-nice-and-polite-appreciative-and-help-around-the-house-every-day line.

Nowadays, on that special one-day-a-year event whenever my kids say, "Happy Mother's Day," I respond: Every Day Should be Mothers Day. You-can-be-nice-and-polite-appreciative-and-help-around-the-house-every-day.

Somehow it sucks the happy out of Happy Mother's Day. Whatever.

In any event, with all the hoopla and sales and ever-growing selection of cards for your mother, your sister, your aunt or any female that has a kid, I was utterly flabbergasted to hear that Christy Turlington Burns, a motherhood advocate, model and mother of a son and a daughter, was calling all mothers to Just Say No to Mother's Day.

Really?

Well sort of. Her point is not a massive boycott against the commercialization of Mother's Day. She is on a mission. One that began with the powerhouse documentary, No Woman, No Cry, directed by her husband, Ed Burns. The film traces the dangerous plight of pregnant women in developing countries. We meet women with huge bellies short on food and short on medical help walking miles just to get to the closest clinic. And clinic is really a euphemism for what is often a barren shack with a minimally-trained health worker. In the film, Christy tells us that hundreds of thousands of women die every year from things that are really easy to prevent. So on May 13th, 2012, she is pleading for a day of silence.

The new film, by Christy and Ed, gathers together mothers and advocates urging us to just be quiet, in an all-together kind of way. Think of it as a memorial to all the expectant mothers who died while giving birth. So while others are screaming about their causes, Christy is using silence as power. (And if want to know how truly powerful silence can really be, check out Susan Cain's Book: The Power of Quiet.) And watch Christy's latest film here.

I spoke with Christy recently:

R: You are an advocate for mother's worldwide. What's the deal with telling everyone to forget about Mother's Day?

C: I am actually trying to get people to consider the value of the world's mothers and not forget them. It may be that when we start to imagine a world without moms, we begin to appreciate them that much more. Personally, It doesn't feel right being celebrated as a mom on this one day of the year when so many other moms will never be.

R: Okay, but are you saying, I'm not supposed to call my 78-year-old mother? I'll feel so guilty. And what about those mom's (not me) whose kids make them breakfast in bed? Forget about it?

C: My mom will be with me on Mother's Day this year and I am not sure what we'll actually do or not do. I know we will honor one another and that is the point. Not with stuff, per se, but with respect and compassion. I am not going to deny my children if they are hell-bent on doing something special for me, but I will share what I am feeling and explain in advance why I am choosing to honor other mothers on May 13th with silence.

R: After working on your film, No Woman, No Cry, which got the world thinking about mothers, why did you choose to take the opposite approach?

C: It is a different approach to the same end. I want the world to come together on this issue. We know what needs to be done to prevent women from dying in childbirth. So why are we allowing it to continue?

R: Your organization, Every Mother Counts, has been gaining a lot of momentum. You always say that the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of maternal deaths are preventable. How?

C: For starters, we could help prevent girls from being married so young and delay first pregnancies. Pregnancy is the leading cause of death for girls ages 15-19. Family planning alone would reduce maternal deaths by almost a third.

Another way to address maternal mortality is to train more health workers within remote or rural communities. When these community health workers are trained and linked to facilities that are equipped to manage emergency obstetric care, they are able to refer cases when necessary. Mobile phones have been an amazing asset to community health workers in many countries and have proven effective in reducing maternal mortalities and morbidities.

R: What are some easy-to-fix changes that you think can help save a woman's life during childbirth?

C: I think that increasing access to sexual and reproductive health information to adolescents through community health workers and other mid-level providers would help tremendously. In terms of preventative care, education is critical. Without that knowledge, many mothers become pregnant without knowledge for far too long. It is far easier to care for mothers when pregnancies are planned. If women only attempt to seek care when an emergency arises, the chances of her survival and that of her baby is that much more unlikely. There are also some inexpensive lifesaving drugs that can be critical to a mother with postpartum hemorrhage, the leading cause of maternal mortality in the world.

R: When you say global, you mean the entire planet, not just developing countries. What do you think -- if anything -- can be done to help women in the U.S.?

C: I do mean the entire planet when I say global. This is not an either or either situation. Of course, we don't always have the same challenges in all parts of the world. There is often a problem of excess. The U.S. spends more per capita on health care than any other country. We also have a dangerous C-Section rate (34%). The WHO reccommends a rate of 15%. Many developing countries are below 5%. This growing number of C-sections has begun to take a toll on women's lives as well. Obesity is another factor that sets us apart from other parts of the world.

R: For all the moms who are thinking about be quiet for a day (quiet the challenge for me, at least), you may also want to hint to your loved ones about the gift you really want: Tell your child to make a donation, even one dollar, to Every Mother Counts, and use your mother's day to help another mother.