A Mom’s Best Or Worst Day

This blog was originally published in The Huffington Post

Every day, thousands of women celebrate one of life’s most amazing experiences — becoming a mother. But every 30 seconds a mother’s first moments with her baby are cut short, on the very day she gives birth.

Until now, we didn’t know how common this heartbreaking experience is in the United States and around the world. But Save the Children’s new report shows that one million babies die the day they are born.

State of the World’s Mothers 2013: Surviving the First Day also shows that today we have the evidence and cost-effective tool to save up to three quarters of newborn babies, without intensive care.

Let me tell you the stories of two mothers who are worlds apart, but share the worst thing that ever happened to them. Both Angela and Kismati still feel the loss of their baby every day, but I’m inspired by the hope found amidst their stories, and within these brave women themselves.

What I learned from them reinforces what our report shows: we can spare millions of mothers the pain they have suffered.

Angela is one of some 11,000 American women a year who lose their child on life’s most dangerous day — baby’s first. She lives in Salem, Oregon and had high-quality prenatal and delivery care. More about her shortly.

Kismati is one of some 300,000 Indian women a year who lose their baby the day of birth. I met her in her tiny one-room home in a slum village south of New Delhi.

There was still a deep sadness in Kismati’s eyes as we sat on her family’s sole bed, speaking quietly. It was on that bed’s hard wooden planks that her fourth child, a little girl, had died 18 months ago, taking only a few tiny breaths before she couldn’t anymore.

The traditional birth attendant who neighbors had called to help Kismati didn’t know what to do. And so her little angel died.

Four times out of five, a baby suffering from birth asphyxia can be resuscitated. All that’s needed is a health worker with basic training and a device costing $6. Yet, 25 percent of newborn deaths are caused by birth asphyxia because even that care is out of reach for many women.

Globally, 45 million women give birth without skilled help every year.

Kismati said she cried every day, but that a neighbor trained by Save the Children as a community health volunteer became a source of comfort. When Kismati got pregnant again, she listened to Meha and sought out prenatal care at a mobile health clinic. And she made a plan to get to the nearest hospital to deliver.

It was intimidating for Kismati, who never went to school and never left her immediate neighborhood. But she trusted her neighbor, saved money for an auto-rickshaw taxi, and gave birth safely in a hospital.

As we talked, she called for her daughter to bring 15-month-old Suraj. When she took him in her arms, it was clear how infinite a mother’s love is. She rocked him playfully and thanked Meha for bringing joy back in her life.

The author with Kismati and her son Suraj.

Angela’s story is different. She had great care and a team trained in resuscitation at birth. But baby Charlotte was among the minority of babies who cannot be resuscitated.

When Angela was discharged a day later, she said the hospital provided no information on how to cope with the loss of her baby. "I felt so alone. I needed support, and it just wasn’t there," she said.

When she became pregnant again, the anxiety was overwhelming. How could she know this wouldn’t happen again?

Experiencing a healthy birth was transformative, and today Angela considers herself a parent to two babies — one her living toddler and one her "little bird" in heaven. Angela now helps other grieving mothers find the coping tools she wished she’d had.

She also promotes the importance of prenatal care, which is critical to reducing preventable newborn deaths. The United States has more first-day deaths than all other industrialized countries combined, mostly because our prematurity rate is higher.

At the same time, Angela’s midwife has honored Charlotte by starting a birth center in Haiti, so that women in a remote village who had no access to prenatal care or skilled birth attendants now do.

Angela and Jonathan Rodman with their baby Charlotte. 

"It means so much that Charlotte can be part of a movement to help other moms and babies. Her life was so short, but her impact will be lasting," Angela said.

The hole in Angela and Kismati’s hearts will never fully heal. Please join me in honoring their babies by making baby’s birth day the best day for moms everywhere. This is within our reach. Learn more and take action at http://www.savethechildren.org/mothers.

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