Dying to give birth

May 1, 2004

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SANA’A, YEMEN – The world needs to declare war on maternal mortality, and, believe it or not, you can fire a symbolically-meaningful salvo into it.

Before I suggest how, consider that in our advanced era, childbirth is killing mothers by the boatload. About 1,600 daily. That’s about one a minute.

I was recently reminded how quickly it can happen.

“When are you going to your wife?” I asked Ramzy, a bright and caringenough Yemen Times colleague.

“After the delivery,” he said. He was three hours away from his pregnant wife. She was a week overdue, with complications. Concerned, my obstetrician wife, Jean, offered to help with an induction or C-section, if needed. Ramzy assured us that Wedad had a doctor. Besides, he said, “It’s better if she delivers naturally, isn’t it?”

No, in this case, it’s better to not risk her and the baby’s life. And it’s better if you’re with your wife, regardless of your culture’s ways. Thankfully, Yemeni medics eventually induced Wedad, and all is fine with her and their baby boy. But this is how women in the developing world die: at the quiet hands of ignorance.

In response and based on her experiences in Yemen and several African countries, Jean has recently written a book, Where Have All The Mothers Gone? Some of its stories shed light on cultural pressures. Some touch on forgiveness. Others reveal divine hope because sometimes it’s all that some mothers have. In short, it’s a worthwhile and powerful collection of true vignettes.

Imagine a pregnant woman strapped onto a wobbly motorcycle, travelling a bumpy, dirt road for 30 kilometres — the only way to a clinic. Picture giving birth while guns of war rattle outside your hut.

Or imagine the little legs of your half-born boy dangling, lifeless, between your own, in a breech delivery that could have easily been avoided with proper medical care.

You’ll notice Where Have All The Mothers Gone? is a take from Where Have All The Soldiers Gone? the anti-war song popularized by the ’70s folk group Peter, Paul and Mary.

Yes, where have all the mothers gone? Last century, why did childbirth kill more women than soldiers killed in either world war? And why haven’t we heard that between 1980 and 2000, more women worldwide — about 12 million — died from childbirth than from AIDs?

Nobody really intends to hurt or kill their wives or sisters or daughters. Like Ramzy, they simply don’t realize how big a difference little things can make. Unfortunately, westerners also tend to believe “it’s just the way things are.”

As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof notes, illiterate village women carry little weight in their families, let alone in the world agenda. Writing recently from Chad about maternal mortality, he asserts the west needs to lead the war on what he aptly calls the “global terror” of childbirth.

Which is where you come in. You may have read reporter Suzanne Morrison’s Spectator story April 8 on a new charitable organization that Jean has birthed, Save the Mothers International.

It has several Hamilton links. One is that it’s chaired by Brian Guest, executive director of St. Joseph’s Health Care System.

In the midst of a national media-awareness campaign for Mother’s Day, Save the Mothers is now getting attention. And we believe when donors learn more about it, funding will eventually follow. But at the moment, all that’s in its war chest is Jean’s book: a few loaves and fishes, really, in need of being multiplied in the right hands.

That’s why for now we’re asking the public, common foot-soldiers in a sense, to join this global battle by buying a book and educating themselves.

A full 100 per cent of the $10-plusdelivery price goes to Save the Mothers.

Of course the value of this kind of book goes beyond price. You could be part of something great, not the least of which is saving somebody’s mother.

How much does that matter? Think of your own mother. In fact, getting this book may be a meaningful way to thank her.

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May 1, 2004 • Posted in ,
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