Maternal mortality is a hot topic right now—and it should be. One woman dies every minute during pregnancy or childbirth. Essentially, while you read this, a woman, a mother, a sister, a wife, a person, will die. That’s pretty disheartening. It is also, on the inspirational side, almost entirely preventable.
The duality of sadness and joy—death while giving life—is explored in Christy Turlington Burn’s moving directorial debut, No Woman, No Cry. I had the opportunity to view the film during a special screening at Harvard Medical School last night in Boston. The documentary takes viewers on a journey to four remote regions of the world, sharing stories of at-risk pregnant women in rural Tanzania, a slum in Bangladesh, a postabortion ward in Guatemala, and a prenatal clinic in the United States.
During the film I was struck by the strong themes that emerged around access and equality. Whether in Tanzania or Bangladesh, Guatemala or the United States, women can face incredible obstacles to skilled care that are often tied to financial means, transportation options, and education. I was impressed by Turlington Burns’ passion for saving women’s lives and respect for the complexity of the issues that maternal mortality involves.
Maternal mortality goes beyond a woman simply having access to a trained medical provider during delivery. The film explores challenges around cultural norms that value home delivery without a skilled birth attendant; sensitization of medical providers who sometimes judge or stigmatize lower income or less educated patients; as well as difficulty of addressing unsafe abortion, one of the leading causes of maternal mortality.
Following the screening, there was a palpable sense of frustration and inspiration during the question and answer period with the filmmaker and leading health experts. The audience—predominantly medical students, public health advocates, midwives, college students and international health experts—engaged in a lively discussion about how we can address the challenges presented. Everyone was eager to know: How can we raise our voices and make a difference?
I would argue it starts with all of us sharing her film! No Woman, No Cry will debut on Oprah’s new network May 7—just in time for Mother’s Day. If you can do one thing today, post this blog on Facebook, Twitter or send an email, and let people know about the film. Education and inspiration are the first steps toward larger change. Together we can raise critical awareness about maternal mortality and make sure no woman has to face death while giving life.
Photo from Every Mother Counts