When my daughter was in elementary school she loved playing the computer game “Oregon Trail.” Now we sometimes reflect that all three of the women in our family wouldn’t have survived on the real Oregon Trail. Each of us would have died in childbirth. Out in the vast wilderness with no medical supplies, physicians, or medical clinic our traumatic childbirth experiences would surely have prevented us from ever arriving in Oregon alive.
To our great relief, we are not living in the Wild West of the 1800s, devoid of medical care, doctors and medications. In our everyday lives we don’t worry that our treatable illnesses like asthma, the common flu, diarrhea or a chest cold will kill us because we are accustomed to having the care we need just down the street at our local medical clinic or even at our grocery store.
Unfortunately, for millions around the world who live on less than $2 a day, their chance of surviving any medical complication is much closer to that experienced on the Oregon Trail. Lack of medical access and potential death is not a game, it’s a daily reality.
Lack of medical access is particularly heartbreaking when occasions that should be joyous, like the birth of a baby, become a death sentence for a new mother. Today, 99 percent of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries, with the greatest number occurring in rural areas and among the poorest communities. In those communities, young adolescents face a higher risk of complications and death as a result of pregnancy than other women.
The Seattle nonprofit I founded, the 30/30 Project, is one of several groups working to improve access to healthcare in communities around the world. More than 300,000 women die in childbirth or complications with pregnancy each year. With the right care, this doesn’t have to happen, and the right care begins with a safe and welcoming space to give birth.
With the 30/30 Project, we now have the opportunity to support maternal health in Togo, a West African country voted for three years in a row as the “saddest place on earth” by the United Nations World Happiness Report. We are going to help change this plight for mothers in Togo by building a maternity ward as the first project in our No Mom Left Behind campaign.
The lifetime chance for a woman to die in childbirth in the U.S. is 1 in 1,800; in Togo it’s 1 in 46. This is unacceptable.
Today, that little girl of mine who loved imagining herself on the Oregon Trail now has a son of her own, and is expecting our first granddaughter this spring. I have a photo of her son next to my bed and it reminds me that I am now sandwiched between my own 85-year-old mother and my two lovely daughters, also mothers themselves. Three generations of childbearing and child rearing. This is a full circle moment, to give other women the hope for a safe and healthy delivery that I had access to.
My dream is that on some future Mother’s Day, other grandmothers can admire and love their grandchildren the way I do because they had a healthy childbirth in one of the medical facilities that the 30/30 Project and other nonprofit groups provided. Let’s make sure this Mother’s Day — as we set out to celebrate the lives, love and sacrifices of moms around the world — that no mother is left behind.