Forty-three years ago my mother went into labor for the second time. It was either very late New Year's Day or very early on the second day of 1969 depending on how you looked at it but either way- it was a full week past her due date when my mom woke up knowing it was time to wake my dad up, get dressed, pack up the car and head to the hospital. Her regular doctor was on vacation and when they reached the hospital they planned to deliver in were told that the backing ob was on his way to another hospital so they should head there, in a neighboring city. Most surprising to me now is that she felt well enough to attend a New Year's party the previous night and stayed long enough to toast in the new year!
My mom and her family had immigrated to the United States just twenty years earlier from El Salvador. And that was a lucky thing for me. Not only did my mom gain access to a better education and career options here in the US for herself, each of her three daughters would also enjoy her access to quality maternity care. While the U.S. is hardly the world leader in maternal health or birth outcomes, these days a woman faces a 1 in 2100 risk of dying during her life and in El Salvador, it's 1 in 350 - 6 times worse. In 1969, that disparity was even greater.
Ironically, I was pregnant with my second child and in El Salvador six years ago when I realized how very different my life might have turned out if I'd lived there when I delivered my first child. I traveled down there with CARE, the humanitarian relief organization, whose efforts my mom had long supported, to see some of their principal programs in action. Among them was one in particular that remains with me today. It was a water project where pregnant women, many of whom had walked miles to access this clean water and receive some basic ante natal or post natal care. Here these women were, facing the exact same physical challenges (at the beginning of my third trimester) as me but still carrying the full work load of the family and with little to no resources for information, care, transportation or comfort during or after their pregnancies.
By this time, I was all too aware of what a challenge childbirth could be. After delivering my daughter in 2003, I endured and survived a hemorrhage, the leading childbirth-related complication that takes the lives of thousands of other mothers all over the world. One girl or woman dies every 90 seconds in pregnancy or childbirth from what is in most cases a preventable death. I was as shocked as you are when I discovered this fact but I was also grateful. Grateful because I had been in the care of a competent team of health workers (which included a doula, nurses, midwife and ob) when I needed them most.
It was in El Salvador that things really clicked for me though. I thought of my mother's life. While she had been born in a good hospital in San Salvador in the 1930's, at that time pregnancy-related deaths were commonplace even in the US. My great grandmother also hemorrhaged, only after delivering her fifth child and she died. Her husband, my mom's grandfather was a physician at the time. He would give up practicing medicine forever when he couldn't save her.
But it wasn't only my mom and her family that I thought of as I considered my own fate and good fortune, it was all those women I'd spent the day with in the rural community I'd visited with CARE. We'd made a connection that day, we mothers, as women. These women did not have access to the simple interventions that could insure their survival and that's what concerned me. It did more than concern me, it woke me up and begged this question, why should any one life be of different value than any other?
And so, I made the commitment right there and then to do all I could to improve maternal health and reduce maternal mortality around the globe.
Since that day when I delivered Grace eight years ago, I know just how critical access to proper maternity care is. And, I have a deeper sense of gratitude toward my own mother each year when my own birthday rolls around. I enjoy the celebration of my birthday as much as anyone else does but I always remember to start my day thanking my mom because she did most of the work the day I came into the world, not to mention all she has done throughout my life that has contributed so much to the woman I am today.
So this year, I want to dedicate my birthday to her as well as the one thousand women who will die before this day ends. My birthday wish is to raise funds for a community crusader and midwife, Robin Lim, in the Crowdrise Mozilla Challenge. This extraordinary woman has safely assisted thousands of mothers during their births, delivering thousands of babies and impacting countless families' lives in a region where three out of five women give birth without a skilled birth attendant.
Robin's dream is to build a new birthing facility that will allow her to continue to serve many thousands more. Robin knows that Every Mother Counts and has dedicated her life to making sure no matter where a woman lives- that her life matters and that she need not die a survivable act such as bringing a new life into the world.
My mom and I are both making a donation today.
Please help us help her make this a reality. Click here to donate.