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Suzanne Ehlers Headshot

Bringing Up Baby

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I'm not one for platitudes.

That's why the onslaught of promotional emails for Mother's Day is irritating me. Sure, send flowers as a token of your love and appreciation. Splurge on a spa package for that hard-working wife of yours (on behalf of your young children who don't yet -- yet! -- have access to the family plastic).

But also let the day be defined by showing your love, rather than telling her about it. And one way to show your love is to pay homage to those mothers, both well-known and not-known, who keep trucking away, despite the odds and the opposition.

Let's start with Melinda Gates, a very well-known mother who is dedicated to making the pursuit of motherhood safe and always by choice. Her recent speech in Berlin, "Contraception is not Controversial," raised the ire of the Catholic church, which in my mind is a sign that she's saying the right things. Leadership at its core is about making people respond -- either through emotion, action, or both. Having recently been mentioned in an opposition Catholic blog, I know that speaking truth to power may have near-term "costs," but the long-term benefits are worth it.

How about another well-known mother, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton? Her schedule is punishing (consider last week's three country tour), her international counterparts a mixed lot (of mostly men), and her image (at least the one made famous by Texts from Hillary) one of a formidable power broker who suffers no fools. And yet I have a sense, as you likely do as well, that she is a fantastically adoring mother to her talented and well-adjusted daughter, Chelsea. Hats off to an amazing role model.

2012-05-10-images-SE_blog300.jpgNow on to lesser-known mothers, like Kartuma, a mom to several and mentor to me during my Peace Corps service in Poumayassi, Central African Republic. Her twin daughters are pictured at right; they should be enjoying their 20th birthdays right about now. When I knew Kartuma in the mid-90s, she was raising a family by herself while her husband worked in a remote diamond town. She managed a small store out of the front of her house, and she kept me alive -- literally -- as I learned the ropes of fa yaka (work the field) and da ti mbi (keeping my own home). I hope her daughters aren't mothers yet, although I know it's very likely that they are -- and perhaps have been for as long as I have, almost five years.

The truth is that from Bringing up Bébé to Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, from Glennon Melton's take on mommy wars and carpe diem -- we each are making it work, in our little way, in our own little corner of the world. I, for example, leave for business travel on Saturday, so I'll be away from my family this Mother's Day. In that rather perverse way of humans, where anticipating a departure can often make remaining days together fraught with passive aggression, I am bearing the brunt of my almost-five-year-old's outbursts. So, sometimes it feels like magic, and sometimes it's a big drag to "be all that you can be" to the little people in your world.

But rather than listen to tabloids and talk shows about how to do it right and stay thin (or how to do it wrong but still have fun), how about we train our attention on the part of the equation that is our business: mobilizing political will and financial resources to save mothers' lives. That means saying, to whoever will listen, that 215 million women in the developing world still don't have the basic ability to decide when and if they want to become mothers, because they lack contraception.

Regardless if your perch is that of a famously wealthy philanthropist, a high-level politician, or a woman whose physical ties to her own children seem to be invisible to the powers that be -- this Mother's Day, maximize that perch on behalf of women and mothers everywhere.