As a mom, I've always found Mother's Day a bit odd. There's something about the hallmark approach of tying up all that mothering means in a flowery card or one anointed calendar day that just seems so removed from the actual experience of sharing our lives with our children.
Not only does becoming a mother connect us in a whole new and wondrous way to a new life, it also invites us to join in a new way the web of women around the world who hold their babes and hope for the future.
A friend in Denmark who is a new mother sent me a link for the following report and reading it seemed like a good way to look more closely at the experience of our sisters around the world.
The report ranks countries around the world – we learn that the best countries to be a mom in are Sweden, Iceland and Norway. The US comes in at 26 and there's very encouraging news from a number of developing countries – Egypt, Indonesia, Bengladesh and Nepal lead the way in making significant progress for their mothers and children. Many of the most distressed countries are in Africa – where poverty, lack of access to health care and AIDs take their toll.
Afghanistan is a disaster for children with 1 in 4 dying prior to age 5. In Iraq, the occupation (and the sanctions we imposed in the '90s) have led to a devastating downward spiral:
Iraq’s child mortality rate has increased by a staggering 150 percent since 1990, more than any other country. Even before the latest war, Iraqi mothers and children were facing a grave humanitarian crisis caused by years of repression, conflict and external sanctions.
Since 2003, electricity shortages, insufficient clean water, deteriorating health services and soaring inflation have worsened already difficult living conditions. Some 122,000 Iraqi children (1 in 8) died in 2005 before reaching their fifth birthday.
More than half of these deaths were among newborn babies in the first month of life. Pneumonia and diarrhea are the other two major killers of children in Iraq, together accounting for over 30 percent of child deaths.
Only 35 percent of Iraqi children are fully immunized, and more than one-fifth (21 percent) are severely or moderately stunted. Conservative estimates place increases in infant mortality following the 2003 invasion of Iraq at 37 percent.
Not only does the report highlight the precarious conditions shared by so many around the world, it points out that solutions are available – with five low cost tools, 6 million of the 10 million children who today die, would survive. These five – skilled medical care attending births, breastfeeding, immunization for measles, oral rehydration for children with diarrhea and antibiotics for pneumonia – are low tech, relatively easy to provide and effective.
Dr. William Foege, Senior Fellow, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation opens the report with a stunning essay that speaks of the grief faced by each of the parents of these 10 million – and then goes on:
If our ability to share grief is limited, our ability to revent grief is without limits. Why don’t we? Perhaps we feel insulated by geography and time. …
That is the challenge: to change the social norm so that we all recognize it is simply wrong for only the few to have access to all of the tools for survival because of where they live.
Furthermore, being born in an area with the tools and a system to deliver those tools cannot be separated from the obligation to use those gifts. Once we are convinced that we could have been born in a high-risk country, we have to conclude we are all in this together and we cheapen our own civilization if we hoard the skills, knowledge and resources.
So child survival becomes a measure of civilization not just for the country with high child mortality, but also for countries that could have changed that situation. As Primo Levi once said, “If we know how to prevent torment and don’t do it, we become the tormentors.
(photo – I do not have a source for this photo – if someone does, please let me know in comments so we can credit the photographer who has given us a stunning pieta from Iraq)