Every time President Obama speaks of his mother, my eyes tear up. He has referred to her influence on his life, her strict adherence to the belief that education can improve the lives of people around the world, that access to credit for the poorest of the poor through microcredit is a must and, sadly, to her passing in 1995, and the worries she had as she lay dying of cancer in Hawaii.
Ann Dunham was between jobs in the world of microcredit and Women's World Banking when she had to undergo a routine physical in New York. The results came back; there was indeed an irregularity. She did not have health insurance and decided to return to Indonesia, where she could afford some kind of health care. They misdiagnosed her. By the time she returned to Hawaii and found out about her cancer, it was too late.
As someone who has lived as an expat and has been an independent consultant and entrepreneur for most of my life, not covered by big health insurance plans, I can relate to what she went through. And many, many people in the US can relate to avoiding going to the doctor until it is too late, simply because they cannot afford the consequences... even when it turns out to be too late.
Ann Dunham was worried not only about how she would pay her medical bills as her cancer became worse, but that she would be a burden on others; her elderly mother and her children who were just beginning their adult lives. This was a woman who had served others all of her life, who was an academic, a single mother, who helped her children be accepted to the best universities in the US. This was a woman who helped those who were less fortunate than herself and did not complain when things were hard on her. She was an optimist, and both an idealist and realist.
I remember when I was first covered by French health care when I gave birth to my daughter. Being married to a Frenchman meant my child and I were safe. I almost lost my baby at five months, 26 weeks. I spent three months in bed, visited three times a week by a midwife, one week in hospital, and then finally gave birth. The normal amount of time for a woman to stay in hospital when she gives birth here in France is three to four days. Someone makes food for you and helps you with the baby and lets you sleep! The entire cost of my hospital stay, even with all of the problems, was the cost of my phone calls, that was it.
We do pay a lot in taxes in France. I do pay out a hefty chunk for good public education, health care, infrastructure, unemployment insurance, etc., and I am happy to do so!
Now that President Obama has helped get health care for all Americans passed, let him remember his mother once again and focus on great public education, like we used to have in the US. I attended some of the best public schools and am a huge supporter of them. Thank you Obama! And thank you so very much Ann Dunham! What a wonderful example of a mother, and of a true American!
Vivian Norris de Montaigu and Gloria Origgi are producing a documentary on the life of Ann Dunham.