No Woman, No Cry

As Mother’s Day approaches, it’s critical to think about the ways in which birth experiences are still so varied, and often so dangerous, for women around the world. Christy Turlington Burns has just created a great primer on the issue, which has been screened at various locations through out the U.S., but will premier on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network on Saturday May 7th 2011, at 9:30 pm (ET/PT). Here’s the trailer:

I had the pleasure of seeing it on Monday night at the Paley Center for Media, along with a Q&A with Christy, the amazing Pat Mitchell, and a panel of experts in the field. The film was graceful and simple in its execution–an hour of stories from women in Tanzania, the U.S., Bangladesh, and Guatemala. It delved into women’s unique experiences of birth, but also pulled out important threads about the wider picture of public health for pregnant women worldwide (Turlington Burns is, herself, a student at Columbia’s School of Public Health and clearly has a deep commitment to the larger conversation going on regarding maternal mortality). A woman dies every 90 seconds from complications from pregnancy. Ninety percent of these deaths are preventable.

Behind these harrowing statistics, the film demonstrates, are complex economic and cultural realities. In Bangladesh, for example, 91% of births happen outside of the hospital. In part, this is because the hospitals are often inhospitable places for birthing moms–patriarchal, unsanitary, and unwelcoming. But in part, this is because there is a cultural stigma against needing medical help for a birth, much less having any trouble getting pregnant in the first place. In one village, there are 19 terms for a young woman who can’t get pregnant.

The U.S., often held up as a bastion of hope and new beginnings, is actually a terrifying place for many pregnant women, particularly the 1 in 5 women of reproductive age who don’t have health insurance. Further, our racial and class disparities play out big time when it comes to maternal health: Latina women are twice as likely to die in childbirth, and African American women  four times as likely, than white women in this country.

Watch the film. Educate yourself. Take action. It’s the best way to honor the mother’s of our own country and those all over the world.

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