As we celebrated the women who gave us life on Mother’s Day, let us also honor the moms who are too often forgotten. Mothers in Akron and Addis Ababa have the same hopes and dreams — to have happy, healthy families. In these difficult economic times, moms face many challenges here at home. But one of them isn’t likely to be dying during childbirth. In upper-income countries around the world, the chance that a woman will die around the time of delivery is one in 4,300. In some low-income countries, one of every seven moms will die while giving life.
The tragedy of so many women dying unnecessarily is compounded by the impact on the whole family, and therefore on their communities and nations. When the mother dies, infants and children are up to 10 times more likely to die. Kids are less likely to be fed, receive medical care or go to school. And girls suffer at much higher rates, perpetuating a vicious, unfair cycle that dishonors women and girls — dishonors mothers.
But I want to talk about hope — hope for happy, healthy families. Relatively simple and inexpensive interventions to prevent or treat high blood pressure, bleeding and difficult births could save the lives of more than half the women who die in childbirth. And another 30 percent of deaths could be avoided if women and families had access to programs to prevent unintended pregnancies.
In the U.S., we have the knowledge and ability to decide the family size that is right for us so parents have the best chance to provide the love, education, food and opportunity for the whole family not just to survive, but to thrive. In countries with the highest rates of maternal death, few women and their families have information or access to programs that allow them to determine the right family size for them. All too often in some places, pregnancy is not the manifestation of love; it is the result of violence and abuse. I have had the great privilege to meet, and sometimes cry, with women scarred and battered who suffer through the wrenching decision of what to do. Looking into the torment in their eyes is like looking into the depths of hell. There are a staggering 35 million abortions each year, many of them in back alleys that further contribute to maternal death. Seventy percent could be prevented if women who wanted family planning had access to it. I recently served on the study group for a report released by the Council on Foreign Relations on the issue.
Eighty percent of maternal deaths and 70 percent of abortions could be prevented with proven and cost-effective interventions. There is great hope for a world filled with happy, healthy families. But only if we act now. Budgets are tight and many needs are unmet. Surely we can get our fiscal house in order while giving everyone a chance for a loving home. Several years ago, the White Ribbon Alliance and CARE launched Mothers Day Every Day, a group of women and men from a broad array of professional and political backgrounds dedicated to making that hope a reality. Join me as I each honor my mother and the hopes and dreams of every mother. What better way to celebrate Mother’s Day every day?
Mark Dybul is currently at Georgetown University and the George W. Bush Institute. He is the former director of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and a member of the Mothers Day Every Day Advisory Committee.