What Does Beyonce’s Recent Birth Say About How We Value Mothers?

NOTE: This is a guest post from Clare Winterton, Executive Direction at the International Museum of Women.

As we look at the prominent and adoring coverage of celebrity moms and babies – such as the media excitement that surrounded the birth of Beyonce’s daughter Blue Ivy – how can we doubt that motherhood, and the health and welfare of all mothers, is a cornerstone of our culture?

The International Museum of Women’s new online exhibition, MAMA: Motherhood Around the Globe, suggests a far more complex and confusing picture.

Both the global statistics and our exhibition tell a story that is very different to the glowing and positive picture that surrounds each new celebrity birth.

Every 90 seconds, a woman somewhere in the world dies from a complication of pregnancy or childbirth, and most of these deaths are preventable. While it is true that the vast majority of these deaths occur in the developing world, the U.S. significantly lags behind other developed nations: the United States’ rate of maternal mortality is the highest of any industrialized country. The United Nations rightly identified reducing the number of global maternal deaths as a key millennium development goal. Yet of all the millennium goals, this one has made the least progress.

Due to these statistics, we are partnering with Christy Turlington Burns and the Every Mother Counts campaign to ask women worldwide to take a pledge for mothers all over the world. The online pledge is a response to these dire statistics, and the stories they represent, and a promise to make sure needless maternal deaths are prevented.

It’s not just issues of mothers’ health that offer cause for doubt about how much our world values mothers. Countless women around the world, in the U.S .included, still find that their work as mothers and in the workplace is not only under-valued, but under-paid as well. The U.S. campaign group MomsRising found that moms earn 27 percent less than male colleagues (compared to 10% less for non mothers); and single mothers earn between 34 percent and 44 percent less.

Women in developing countries work 12 to 13 hours more per week more than men, and much of that work can be attributed to the childcare and domestic work involved in ‘mothering.’ What’s more, the different aspects of ‘mother’s work’ are so hard to juggle that many moms end up shortchanging their families, their careers or their health. Young women around the world tell us that one of their biggest anxieties about the future is whether they will be able to combine motherhood with a successful professional life.

Becoming a mother also brings other new hurdles and realities that are too often absent in the media’s rosy depiction of celebrity motherhood: a changed body, new emotions and a realization that one’s identity will never be quite the same. Women also discover that many of society’s greatest remaining taboos are reserved for the journey towards and beyond motherhood – from miscarriage to infertility and postpartum depression.

Our exhibition shows the starkness of these realities – from Chantal Andersen’s moving photographs of birth experiences in Bangladesh to Alexia Nye Jackson’s documentary about working mothers in the U.S. and Humaira Abid’s sculptures depicting the hidden disappointment of miscarriage. But it also illuminates areas of hope and optimism.

A health worker in the Democratic Republic of Congo shares her vision for advancing maternal health in her country, a documentarian from Hungary looks at how men are increasing their share of parenting and domestic responsibility and a film-maker from the U.S. elicits women’s realistic – and positive – reflections on their postpartum bodies. Two contributors share the critical role that mothers in Haiti played in rebuilding their country after the devastating 2010 earthquake.

These visions of hope and change are accompanied by art that spotlights the true beauty and diversity of modern mothers around the world – through breathtaking images that are often a million miles from the “look how fast I got my body back” pictures of celebrity moms in swim-suits, mere months after giving birth. We see the contours of pregnant and postpartum bellies, the daily lives of mothers inside and outside the home and myriad glimpses of the love, hope and admiration that pass between mothers and children. We see the strength of mothers who are leaders their families and communities – from Maasai mothers in Kenya to grandmothers in Bangladesh and midwives in Ecuador.

By sharing portraits and stories of motherhood that are too often unseen, we give women a space to define the true realities of 21st century motherhood and to share what needs to be done before mothers are truly valued in our country and in our world.

Perhaps when we can all see – with clear eyes – mothers and their lives as they really are, the world will come closer to valuing mothers. Valuing not just their role in families or their even their beauty, but their health, their economic potential and their leadership. On that day, we dream that every mother and every baby will be celebrated with as much acclaim and veneration as Beyoncé and her daughter.

TAKE ACTION: Sign the pledge today!

Clare Winterton is the Executive Director of the International Museum of Women. This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Related Stories:

Helping Women Helps the Planet

Education Key To Reducing Maternal Deaths in Chile

A Letter To Mothers In The Developing World

Photo by Chantal Anderson, courtesy of the International Museum of Women


Brenda Towers
Brenda Towers5 years ago


Vicky Pitchford
Vicky P5 years ago

doesn't show anything, Beyonce is rich, she gets better treatment unfortunately, all mothers or mothers to be should get the same as her, no matter how how much money they have

Winn Adams
Winn A5 years ago

Petition Signed!

Blake W.
Blake W5 years ago

Statistics like 'moms earn 27% less vs. 10% less for non-moms' might be a little misleading. After all maybe the point is that the mom takes a lot more time off, doesn't stay late as often, etc., compared to the non-mom, and thus doesn't stand out for promotions or raises as well. For example: things get busy for a week at the office. The non-moms all stay an hour late each day to help get things fixed up; the mom has to leave on time to get her kid from child care. It is completely understandable, but from a purely performance-based perspective, the others are doing more.
And if that is the reason, I can't say that it is unjustified to give the raises and promotions to the people who work harder. Of course, it could be other reasons instead.

Christine C.
Chandra C5 years ago


Berny P.
berny p5 years ago

motherhood is not a "cult"

Veronica C.
Veronica C5 years ago

It's interesting that this article uses Beyonce as an example, since so many people still think she used a surrogate. Everyday moms and moms-to-be really can't be compared to any celebrity though. Not many can rent a whole maternity ward for themselves.

Luvenia V.
Luvenia V5 years ago

Paula G., OKAY, I give up, WHAT article are YOU posting about? THIS article has nothing to do with the cruelty of men OR women but it is about the lack of health care that women, PREGNANT women get. Wait I guess that MIGHT explain your reference to cruelty since only a CRUEL and thoughtless person would cut cost at the expense of a woman and her child.

Take note that should the Republicans, the Tea Party AND the Religious Fanatics get their way the number of women dying during their pregnancy, during child birth or shortly after the birth will increase at an alarming rate. The VERY people screaming about the protection of FAMILY will put laws into place that will kill members of those families. That old line…”We are number ONE” is one huge lie. The price of a human life is not even equal to the wing of one war plane or one missile launcher on a batter ship. YEP, no one can top US in war and death but in everything else we sadly lag behind.

Mari Garcia
Mari Garcia5 years ago

This makes me think about how so many expectant moms have no idea how good they have in, here in this part of the world. It's such a shame so many women die when there are so many preverntions.

Jennifer C.
Past Member 5 years ago

Good story. Thanks.