As Mother’s Day approaches and I see more and more advertising, ecards, and media I can’t help but stop and ponder the many complicated facets of Mother’s Day. For women in the US, Mother’s Day is often about getting that perfect Hallmark card from your family or being treated to breakfast in bed. But for women in the developing world, celebrating motherhood through such a simple holiday is not even a possibility.
Every minute a woman dies during pregnancy or childbirth—and overwhelmingly these women live in less developed countries. Not so long ago, even in the US, childbirth was dangerous. My own mother lost her first child—and almost her own life—in the mid-twentieth century. I know she carried that trauma with her through four other successful pregnancies. Three decades later, at a top teaching hospital in the US, my first labor lasted more than 60 hours, resulting in an emergency C-section. Had I not had access to some of the top care in the world, neither my son, nor I, would have survived.
I started working in reproductive health in 1973—first in the US, then abroad, and I have dedicated much of my career to trying to improve women’s access to reproductive health care. Despite all I have seen, I am still deeply moved by the stories that come across my desk. Recently, one of our interns at Pathfinder International traveled to Bangladesh to document our maternal care work. His powerful three-minute video captures the story of Ruma, a 19-year-old Bangladeshi woman pregnant with her first child.
Imagine living in a one-room shanty with your husband and not having any knowledge about pregnancy or childbirth—I can only begin to fathom what that must be like. Luckily, Ruma received the care and information she needed and delivered a healthy baby girl just a few weeks ago. She also received family planning information and guidance—a key step to ensuring she and her baby continue on a path to healthy future.
We need more women with experiences like Ruma. For those passionate about women’s reproductive health, we must take more action to improve maternal care and family planning in the developing world. Every woman, no matter where she lives, deserves access to quality health care.
If you believe, as I do, that reproductive health care is a basic human right, join me in taking action to ask President Obama to increase funding for international reproductive health care. Together we can help change the lives of more women like Ruma by giving them access to quality reproductive health, family planning, and maternal care services. I’d also be interested to hear what others have experienced, both in the US and abroad. Share your stories and stand with Pathfinder this Mother’s Day as we advocate for zero tolerance for maternal mortality!
- Linda Suttenfield, MPH
With more than two decades of experience in international health, Linda Suttenfield has produced a number of award-winning publications including Courageous Pioneers. She co-authored one of the leading texts on the management of family planning programs, used widely by professionals and public health graduate programs. Linda served as the Deputy Director and Medical Programs Administrator for the International Rescue Committee in Bangkok, Thailand, where she directed the planning and daily operation of programs providing medical, educational, and family re-unification services to Southeast Asian refugees in Thailand. She also was the clinic manager for two family planning clinics in Maine and started her career in reproductive health working for as a clinical assistant for Planned Parenthood.
(This blog is posted on behalf of Linda Suttenfield, Director of Communications for Pathfinder International.)