Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

This year, make it 'No Mothers Day'

By Christy Turlington Burns, Special to CNN
updated 6:18 AM EDT, Mon May 14, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Christy Turlington Burns: Mother's Day first pushed bringing sons home from war
  • She says we should use day to focus on health care for women in pregnancy and childbirth
  • Each year 360,000 women die from pregnancy and childbirth; her group provides ways to help
  • Writer: This year, observe a "No Mothers Day;" mothers should "disappear" to point out problem

Editor's note: Christy Turlington Burns is a global maternal health advocate, founder of Every Mother Counts, and the director/producer of the 2010 documentary "No Woman, No Cry."

(CNN) -- For those of you who do not have your calendars marked and gifts or cards purchased, a reminder: Sunday is Mother's Day, a "holiday" that many Americans have the luxury and good fortune to be able to observe.

This year, the National Retail Federation estimates that Americans will spend around $18.6 billion on gifts for this one day -- even though most of us go through the motions of celebrating without having any idea about the day's original intent.

Mother's Day can be traced back to Julia Ward Howe, and its aims were quite different from anything you'll find today on a greeting card. In her Mother's Day Proclamation of 1870, Howe called on her "sisters" to work to establish peace so that her son could return home from war: "In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held ... to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace."

This year, I would like to ask that we -- mothers and everyone else -- reignite the spirit of common purpose that Julia Ward Howe sought to inflame in Americans, and direct it toward a silent wartime that is taking hundreds of thousands of women's lives each year -- childbirth.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter and Facebook.com/cnnopinion

iReporter's tribute to her mom
High tech gift ideas for Mother's Day
82-year-old hiking Everest on Mom's Day

The World Health Organization estimates that some 360,000 girls and women die worldwide each year from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications. Nearly all of these deaths are preventable. It's not that they are preventable if we find a cure, and it's not that they are preventable if we extend expensive lifelong treatment regiments.

They are preventable if we extend very basic, known and trusted services: if we help women get to health care facilities in their time of need; if we ensure that a skilled professional is available to oversee their labor and delivery; if we provide access to family planning so that children are spaced. These goals are all within our reach, but only if we decide that women's lives are worth saving.

What does the issue actually look like worldwide?

Opinion: Global health within our grasp if we don't give up

While rates of maternal mortality are often highest in developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, in several of those countries we are beginning to see declines. Startlingly, maternal mortality rates have been rising in America.

According to the World Health Organization, the rate of women who died from pregnancy-related complications in the U.S. increased by nearly 50% from 1980 to 2008 -- a statistic that suggests this issue is one of equitable resources and education, not a lack of technology or infrastructure.

Two years ago, I made a documentary film, "No Woman, No Cry," and founded an advocacy and mobilization campaign called Every Mother Counts. I did both to raise awareness and support for maternal and child health care. We are trying to draw attention to an underreported global problem that can be solved if only we come together to make it a priority.

Opinion: Mother's Day is not so rosy in Africa

Our organization measures success by the actions taken to reduce maternal mortality and improve maternal health. The goal is 5 million actions by 2015 -- perhaps signing a pledge, running a 5K or even a marathon or donating an old cell phone so it can be used to facilitate communication and medical care in rural areas. Our website, everymothercounts.org, suggests specific actions to take, many of them straightforward steps that help spread the word or raise resources for simple solutions. Individually they may seem small but together, they can save lives.

With that said, here is what we propose for Mother's Day: a "No Mothers Day." Our "proclamation" encourages mothers to join in solidarity to "disappear" for the day, out of solidarity with those who needlessly die in pregnancy and childbirth. We believe that in acting together, we can show just how much a mother is missed when she is gone

We're spreading the word with a film to get families across the country talking about this issue, so that next year, there will be more mothers and families who can celebrate Mother's Day together.

Please join me at http://www.facebook.com/everymothercounts, for No Mothers Day. Because together, our silence will speak the loudest for all mothers.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Christy Turlington Burns.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:10 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
updated 8:11 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
updated 3:57 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
updated 4:51 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
updated 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT