Last year, two of us at Girls’ Globe lived through a major change in our lives: we became mothers. In September, Emma gave birth to a baby boy, followed by Julia’s baby girl who entered this world in November.
There is no doubt that both of us are among the luckiest of mothers and our children among the luckiest of children. Having been pregnant and given birth in New York and Malmö, Sweden, we both had access to high quality, reliable health care throughout our pregnancies and during our labor. We had trained midwives, doctors and nurses to support and assist us; we had access to information and advice; we were able to prepare for our labor and for becoming mothers during our pregnancies, and our partners were able to partake on this journey, and supported us on each step along the way. We were never alone – we got to go through all the emotions that come with pregnancy, from the highest of highs to the scariest and darkest feelings and moments. We got to focus on being pregnant, on embracing the new life growing inside our bodies, and we got to enter labor knowing that no matter what lied ahead of us, we had trained and skilled birth attendants on our sides, ensuring that our babies got to arrive into this world safe and sound.
Now that we’ve been mothers for some months, our babies thrive and grow. They are healthy and safe, learning new skills every day, teaching us love we’ve never known before. Motherhood is never easy and simple, and neither of us has gotten this far with no challenges or difficulties – but we get through them, because we are not alone. We get through them with the help of our partners and families, friends and relatives – but also because we live in societies that have support structures that enable us and our children to thrive.
Not all mothers are as lucky as we are. Still, in today’s world, 800 women continue to lose their lives needlessly every day due to mostly preventable complications resulting from pregnancy and childbirth. Women around the world lack access to very basic sexual and reproductive healthcare services that would enable them to plan and space their pregnancies, and millions of women lack prenatal care and continue to give birth in dangerous circumstances, often without no support or help from skilled birth attendants. Women bring new life into this world literally in the dark – with no light, no clean water, no life saving medicine. Sometimes alone, often scared, risking their own lives to deliver their babies.
Not all children are as lucky as ours are. According to WHO, in 2013 around 74% of all under-five deaths – 4.6 million under five deaths – occurred within the first year of life. While the global infant mortality rate has shown notable decline, it remains unacceptably high in many countries and regions and progress has been uneven. Most of these deaths are caused by preterm complications, birth asphyxia, malaria, and diarrhea – conditions that could be prevented or treated, if mothers and babies had access to proper health care during pregnancy, in childbirth and during the postpartum period.
These problems aren’t only issues in poor countries, though maternal and infant mortality rates are of course higher in developing than developed countries. In the United States, thousands of low income women lack access to proper health care services and continue to receive sub-par care during their pregnancy and delivery. Over-medicalization of birth, and treating pregnancy and childbirth like illnesses is becoming a notable issue in many western countries, with soaring c-section and episiotomy rates and increase use of often unnecessary interventions during labor that can lead to long term consequences to both mothers and their babies. While in other parts of the world, mothers and babies continue to suffer grave consequences of not having enough medical services and medication available to them, in other parts women find themselves having to fight for their right to natural and unmedicated births and even face situations where their wishes about their own bodies are totally disregarded during pregnancy and labor.
We are lucky. Our babies are lucky. But this should not be a question about luck – or luxury. Access to safe pregnancy and labor, and proper healthcare and support to mothers and babies after labor, is a basic right – a right that is currently denied from millions of women and their children. Not dying in childbirth should not be about luck. Babies not dying before their first, or fifth, birthday should not be about luck. We have the tools and knowhow to keep mothers and babies safe – what is lacking is sufficient political will and resources. It’s time to step up the game, globally; it’s time to deliver on the promises and goals that have been made over and over and over again. It’s time to make sure all mothers and babies get to enjoy pregnancy, childbirth and childhood as we did.
Happy, healthy and safe Mother’s Day to all mothers around the world!