What the hell, Christy Turlington? No Mother’s Day?
No breakfast in bed? No construction paper cards with loopy flowers and hearts drawn by my five-year-old-son? No sleeping in?
All right, Christy Turlington. You have my attention. And this had better be good, because I’ll tell you what: If I call my mom and tell her I won’t be celebrating Mother’s Day this Sunday—hers or mine—you know what she’s going to say? She’ll say, “Who is Christy Turkington?”
And then my mom will say, “Well, I guess I’ll just give this persimmon-red Artisan KitchenAid mixer to your sister.” And then I’ll cry. I’ll probably also smash all my George Michael CDs in grief and then shred my Calvin Klein dresses (of which I have none) in protest.
Turns out, the attention-getting trick of No Mother’s Day is for a very good reason.
Christy Turlington’s No Mother’s Day awareness campaign is part of the larger Every Mother Counts organization, an “advocacy and mobilization campaign to increase support for maternal mortality reduction globally.”
Turlington is asking other mothers to join her in telling their own family and friends that they won’t be taking phone calls or accepting gifts this Mother’s Day. And when family and friends smile patiently and say, “What the hell this time?”, Turlington wants women to spread the word that plenty of pregnant women around the world won’t survive childbirth to celebrate Mother’s Day.
Or any other day.
From The World Health Organization:
- Every day, approximately 1,000 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.
- 99% of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries.
- Maternal mortality is higher in rural areas and among poorer and less educated communities.
- Adolescents face a higher risk of complications and death as a result of pregnancy than older women.
- Skilled care before, during, and after childbirth can save the lives of women and newborn babies.
Those are some pretty hefty numbers. From the Every Mother Counts website, the number that packs the biggest wallop is 360,000. That’s how many women around the globe die every year in childbirth.
360,000 is a huge number. Staggering. Who can blame a person for not being able to wrap her head around it? Another in a string of huge numbers—infant deaths, deaths from famine, deaths in war, deaths in natural disaster—the combined weight of horror and grief becomes overwhelming. Individual humans in pain become lost in the number.
Betsy Freeman is a nurse midwife in Nigeria. In her May 4, 2012 “Tales From The Field“, Freeman recounts the story of a young woman who had recently delivered a stillborn baby:
I look at the woman in front of me. She is young and beautiful and clearly dying. Her breathing is labored even with oxygen. Sweat pools around her neck and I can see her heart pounding in her chest. Her stare is like that of a wild animal, looking past us and darting around the room. I put a hand on her glistening brown arm. I know it is a futile attempt to calm her.
She arrived earlier the night before, delivered a stillbirth, then bled postpartum. Her hemoglobin dropped to .9. After three pints of blood she started to decompensate. She began bleeding from her mouth and nose. Even though we don’t have the labs to prove it, we agree it’s likely DIC (Disseminate Intravascular Coagulation.)
I can’t believe there’s not one last thing we can do. The night staff finishes report and our huddle breaks up. I linger at her bedside.
“Betsy,” Denis says, “she’s already gone.”
But I can’t ignore her.
That’s one of Freeman’s stories. And now that’s one woman out of 360,000.
Another story telling of young pregnant mothers suffering from fistula—a hole created between the rectum and vagina due to birth trauma—is equally heart-breaking. “Some (of the girls) are 12 and 13 (years old), the perfect age for summer camp,” says Freeman. “Most of them have urinary catheters and carry around their bag of urine in a colorful plastic bowl. Some of them limp, some grimace in discomfort, but I can only imagine how much worse it’s been for them.”
I shouldn’t need points of empathy for this story to hit me in the gut. But my life in comparative paradise becomes a too-easy distraction most days. With a world of suffering stringing out six-digit numbers that represent human lives in peril, it’s too easy to become desensitized.
Teenagers. Summer camp.
The number 360,000 may be indifferent in its enormity. But 12 and 13—those are numbers I recognize.
I probably won’t completely forgo Mother’s Day this year in solidarity with Turlington. My five-year-old son is beside himself with wanting to give me the gift he made before Sunday. I’m pretty sure Ms. Model Mom doesn’t want me to crush a little boy’s sweet heart. (Although,I’m going to have a tough time arguing my KitchenAid mixer.)
But I will continue to educate myself. I will try to make those personal connections that nudge me to action. I’ll remember my family’s own stories—my grandfather’s first wife, Anna, who died due to health complications while pregnant with their first child. I’ll reflect on the good care I received during my own pregnancy and delivery, and thank my lucky stars that I had such lucky stars.
And when No Mother’s Day is over, I’ll try to force myself to not forget. Even if Christy Turlington isn’t there to remind me.