A Conversation About Mom’s Superpowers with Mariam Claeson, Gates Foundation

In this Mother’s Day Special, The Mom Pod co-host Julia Wiklander asks some very important questions to an expert in the field of maternal, newborn and child health, Mariam Claeson, Director, Maternal Newborn and Child Health at Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The focus of this conversation is all mother’s superpowers and the simple, cost effective interventions that save lives and ensure that mothers and babies survive and thrive.

“The interesting thing about maternal and newborn survival is that we actually have high impact interventions that are relatively low cost and could easily be made available for all mothers and newborns.”
Mariam Claeson

Mariam speaks about the evidence that scientists and clinicians have known for a long time and the need for that evidence to be communicated and disseminated to health professionals, mothers, families and communities around the world. She talks about these simple solutions that all mothers can do and the role that we all have to play to create an enabling environment where mothers can thrive and ensure that their superpowers come to life.

Our hope is that The Mom Pod is one such solution to share information and empower mothers everywhere to release their superpowers!

“We can present the data and show research findings, but what happens when a mother shares her own experience I think is very powerful.”
Mariam Claeson

Listen to the full episode below, or on Soundcloud and iTunes.


To celebrate Mother’s Day, we are working with illustrator Elina Tuomi, who has made some beautiful illustrations of mothers, babies and caregivers for The Mom Pod. Donate and claim one of the Mother’s Day Edition perks today and help us to continue these valuable and inspiring conversations that can save lives, strengthen the rights of women and children and make a lasting difference in somebody’s life. You can find our crowdfunding campaign at: https://igg.me/at/FundTheMomPod

Thank you so much for your support.

Happy Mother’s Day to all Mothers out there – you all hold superpowers that can change the world.

A Mother’s Day Message from Two of the World’s Luckiest Mothers

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.

Emma with baby Lucas – First moment on mama’s skin

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.

Baby Céline looking into Julia’s eyes for the first time

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!


My Mother’s Day Gift

By Elisa Gambino

In the spring of 2013, my husband, Neal Broffman, and I visited Gondar University Hospital in Ethiopia with partners Fistula Foundation and Johnson & Johnson. We interviewed and filmed the work that they are supporting to treat women suffering from obstetric fistula, an injury caused by prolonged, obstructed labor that renders a woman incontinent until she can access reparative surgery. This is an injury that can ruin a woman’s life. The constant smell from her incontinence too often prompts her husband to leave or community to abandon her, relegating her to a life of shame and isolation – for doing nothing more than try to bring a child into this world. Woman who are poor cannot access skilled care because they live in remote areas or they don’t know that they should go to a clinic to deliver.

The first fistula patient I met was Workinesh, who was at the hospital to receive surgery to repair her fistula. Workinesh was with her daughter, who was my daughter Sofia’s age at the time. As I learned her story, I distinctly remember thinking, “Here is a mother with a daughter who is my daughter’s age, and what she’s going through is just so far removed from my life and the things I have to think about.” Workinesh wanted the exact same things for her daughter that I wanted for Sofia.

This trip to Ethiopia was the first time I had met with obstetric fistula patients. The visit moved me so deeply that I shared much of what I saw and learned with my daughter, Sofia. She was equally surprised and saddened by what she learned, but she was also inspired to act, and decided to do something to help. She wrote a letter to Fistula Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses specifically on treating this devastating injury: “Hearing their experiences filming at three hospitals in Ethiopia and Tanzania and learning about the hardships women with this condition face inspired me to raise awareness. I’m a junior at an all-girls middle and high school in Atlanta. Since obstetric fistula affects women and girls, what better place to start talking about it than at my school?”

And then my amazing daughter got to work. She started talking with teachers, friends and fellow students, and spread the word about obstetric fistula and the women whose lives are destroyed by this terrible injury. Donations began to trickle in, but Sofia soon realized that she could raise more money faster by asking people for larger donations. So, on a December weekend just ahead of Christmas, Sofia enlisted Neal’s and my help in baking our favorite family recipe for cranberry cakes. A local florist donated cellophane wrapping and our neighbor donated beautiful bows to make the cakes look festive. Sofia offered the cakes in exchange for a donation of $25 or more – and the donations started flowing! By the end of the year, Sofia had raised over $500!

She managed this project completely, but we made the cakes together, we brainstormed together. And we’ve been working together again this spring to brainstorm and raise funds in order to meet her goal of raising enough funds to support the cost of fistula surgery for three women.

Just a few weeks ago, I was able to return to Ethiopia, where I was able to speak with Workinesh by telephone.  She is doing well, her daughter is in school and she sounded strong and full of energy – exactly how I remembered her. I told Workinesh that I had shared her story with my daughter, and I told her how proud I was that Sofia was working to help heal other women who were suffering. She was pleased.

My daughter inspires me every day by her thoughtfulness and by the way she approaches everything she does with a full, kind heart. Any mother of a teenage daughter will probably agree that moms and daughters do not often share common goals at this point in life, so I cherish every moment we’ve spent together working side by side to help mothers who live half a world away. In a way, this project is the best Mother’s Day gift I could have asked for.

Sofia is planning to continue her efforts until she meets her goal of raising enough money for three surgeries. And her advice to any of you, who might be thinking about following in her footsteps? “Do it! You’re helping people, why wouldn’t you do that?”

Why not, indeed.

Elisa Gambino is a mother, an award-winning journalist and filmmaker who is based in Atlanta.

The World’s Mothers Deserve Better

Originally published on Huffington Post Impact. 

My journey to motherhood has barely started, and I am already immersed in the excitement, horror, panic and joy that this adventure is filled with. Expecting my first baby in October, I am technically still a mother-to-be – but, in my head and in my heart, I have been a mother from the moment my husband and I first decided to become parents, and I have enjoyed every moment of this adventure.

My mother & me

While I am overcome by happiness, knowing what I know about the state of motherhood globally casts a shadow on my joy. What should be the happiest, greatest and most natural experience in the world too often turns into something scary, sad, and dangerous for millions of women and their children every single day. In the world we live in – the world my husband and I are about to bring a child into – 800 women die every day because of preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. These deaths can result from something as simple as lack of 10 cent antibiotics to stop an infection, or lack of trained birth attendants, such as midwives, to help women during their pregnancy and labor. In our world, one million babies die the day they are born, and three million newborns die within the first month of life – mostly from preventable causes. Every day my child grows stronger in my belly, 800 women and 18,000 children die from mostly preventable causes. While I am taken over by incredible happiness at the sound of my baby’s heartbeat during a sonogram, mothers continue to give their own lives while giving birth to new life. During the course of my pregnancy, almost 225,000 women and over 5 million children will die, needlessly. In our world, girls are kidnapped for no other reason than for going to school and getting an education. There is no excuse – we are failing the world’s mothers, girls and children.

Simple and low cost solutions could save millions of mothers and their children. We need to start by ensuring that all women around the world get to become pregnant the way I did – on their own time, according to their own terms, with the person they have chosen to start a family with. This means that all women need to have access to affordable and safe forms of contraception, information and services that allow them to take control of their fertility and family planning. It also means that no woman should ever be forced to carry out a pregnancy against her will. Every mother deserves the chance to plan their pregnancies, and every child deserves to be wanted.

We need to strive for a world where every woman gets to go through their pregnancy and childbirth with a skilled birth attendant by their side. Properly trained OBGYNs and midwifes are a crucial tool for ensuring women can experience a safe and healthy pregnancy and childbirth. Forty million women give birth every year at home without the help of a skilled birth attendant – and millions of babies and mothers lose their lives during an event that should be the most beautiful of their lives. There needs to be more recognition of the importance of midwives and nurses, and the crucial and life-saving work that they do for mothers and babies.

I wish that my child would be born into a world where every Mother got to experience pregnancy the way I do, with proper healthcare services, information and support at their reach. That instead of having to take the risk of losing their own life, mothers could focus on creating life. I wish we lived in a world where every mother had the chance to choose motherhood, and enjoy the beautiful experience and journey the way I have.

On this Mother’s Day, let’s remember those mothers who gave their own lives while giving life. Let’s remember Mothers who never got to hear their children call them “Mom”, never got to hold their babies or see them grow up. Let’s remember the girls in Nigeria who have been stolen from their families, and their mothers and fathers who want nothing but to get their daughters back safe and sound. On this Mother’s Day, let’s decide to strive for a world where every woman can take control of their own body and fertility, experience a safe pregnancy and childbirth, and bring into this world a child who wanted, loved and cared for, and treated equally despite their gender – not only by the Mothers, but by the societies to which they are born into.

Becoming a mother is simultaneously the most universal, and the most individual journey women experience. Every single one of us deserves to enjoy becoming a mother without having to fear for our lives, or for the life of our children. Research has shown that for millions of mothers and their babies, the first day of a newborn’s life is the most dangerous for the mother and the baby – it’s time to change that, and make that day the happiest, most miraculous day of every Mother’s and child’s life.

Happy, healthy and safe Mother’s Day to all the Mothers around the world – especially to my own Mother, who I owe not only my life, but all that I am. You are my inspiration – and if I will be a fraction of the mother to my child that you were to me, I will consider myself the greatest mother in the world.

For more information on the status of motherhood globally, visit Save the Children for their 2014 State of the World’s Mothers Report and follow @SavetheChildren and #SOWM on Twitter.

Follow Girls Globe (@GirlsGlobe) and #ICMLive for coverage related to the upcoming International Confederation of Midwives, taking place in Prague, 1-5 June 2014.

Mothers Make This World Go Around

Today, the world is celebrating Mother’s Day. Earlier this week, Save the Children published its “State of the World’s Mothers” report, ranking DR Congo as the worst place in the world for mothers – and my home country, Finland, as the best.

I am not surprised. Having grown up in Finland, I have high appreciation towards the Finnish social and health care services, many of which are geared towards mothers. Finnish mothers have access to affordable sexual, reproductive and prenatal health care services, which make pregnancy and child birth safe and happy experiences to most mothers in Finland. The fact that these services are currently out of reach for millions of women around the world represents a global tragedy not only for mothers, but for families and for entire societies.

Emma&MamaMy mother has been an amazing influence in my life. Not once have I, or my sisters, felt that we didn’t have her full support behind us. She never stopped supporting us, believing in us, encouraging us – and most importantly, we have always known how much she loves us. Much has been said about mothers’ love, and for a good reason: it is a force to be reckoned with, one that has the power to safely guide children through the biggest challenges and obstacles. That is what my mother has done for me and my sisters – given us guidance and support, so that we never have to worry about getting lost. I know I can always turn to her for help, advice and support, no matter how far I am, and no matter how old I get.

Mothers all over the world do this, every single day. They wake up in the morning ready to take on multiple roles as wives, as workers, as cleaners, as cooks, as entrepreneurs, as farmers – and as mothers. While juggling these various roles, they nurture and care for their children, and protect their children from harm. The love of a mother does not depend on a country, and there is no doubt that vast majority of actions taken by mothers around the world are driven by one thing – mothers’ love for their children. That love alone can, and has, performed miracles, and continues to do so every day all over the world.

Simply put, Mothers make this world go around.

Mothers are defying odds bringing up their children in the most challenging conditions, pushing through difficulties, danger and sometimes even death. While being a good mother does not depend on where you live, those support structures that countries like Finland have in place are absolutely necessary for mothers all over the world, so that they can enjoy healthy pregnancies and safe deliveries, and raise healthy, happy, educated and nourished children despite the country they live in. When I was born, my mother continued to bleed heavily after the delivery and reached a fairly critical condition. Had I been born in a different country, with inadequate or inaccessible health care services, my mother probably would not have survived. She would have been an incredible mother despite where I was born – but she might be alive today because I was born in a country with proper maternal and prenatal health care. Every mother in the world deserves this.

Every mother in the world deserves a safe pregnancy, a safe delivery, and a chance to see their children grow up healthy and happy. No woman should ever have to fear for losing their own life while giving birth to a new one.

Mothers around the world are performing miracles for their children every day. We, as societies, as families, and as individuals, owe it to mothers to honor them every single day for that, and to step up and provide mothers with the support and services they need and deserve. That is neither “charity” nor “welfare” – through supporting mothers, we support families and we support societies. It is simply common sense – and more than that, it is our responsibility and duty. Mothers all over the world deserve that, and so much more.

Happy Mother’s Day to my own, amazing and inspiring mother – If I one day become half of the mother that she has been to me, I_MG_0860_2 will consider myself the greatest mother on earth.  Happy Mother’s Day to all the Mothers around the world as well – none of us would be where we are today without you. You truly do make this world go around.

If you want to find ways to support Mother’s around the world, here are a few organizations, initiatives and groups focusing on mothers that are currently participating in the Raise for Women challenge:

Don’t forget to check out the resources on the Women Deliver website’s Knowledge Center on maternal, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and remember to let us know if you will be attending the conference – we would love to hear from you!

For more information, here are some resources on maternal health: