In honor of today’s release of Save the Children’s annual State of World Mother’s report, I am sharing the emotional aspects of my birth story to help advocate for the one million newborns that die needlessly and helplessly within the first 24 hours of life. By sharing my birth story, I am joining moms from across the United States to help bring awareness and advocacy steps in making the first 24 hours of life count. The bottom of this post will have more information on the results of the report and how you can help spread the word.
I will be completely honest. I was never sure that I wanted to become a mother. At 32, I felt my life was already fulfilling enough, being happily married, working hard in my career and enjoying traveling to crazy places, running marathons and having all the freedom I could possibly want. Perhaps I was selfish but I was happy.
All this changed the day I was half way around the world, doing my very first dive in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, when I got the call. That terrible call that I will never forget. The call to tell me that my two-and-a-half-year-old nephew had unexpectedly died. I was in shock. It couldn’t be true. How could a healthy, beautiful happy child that I had seen only two weeks ago be gone just like a flick of a light. How could something so ungodly awful and tragic happen? I felt raw. Numb. And deeply distraught. Although I wasn’t a mother and I couldn’t possibly understand, I loved that little boy with the bright blue eyes and the dashing smile. It was that tragedy that made me realize how short and precious life truly is and how I couldn’t imagine not possibly being a mother myself.
Three months after the loss of my nephew I was pregnant. It happened right away, surprising myself, especially since I was 32, almost ten years older than a generation before my mother had her first child. I had heard so many stories about women my age being unable to conceive and having to go through rounds and rounds of expensive, emotionally challenging treatments in order to have that one thing that money can’t always buy: A child. I was thrilled. I was going to be a mother. But was I ready?
My pregnancy started out rough as I was nauseous around the clock. My emotions felt like I was trapped in adolescent hell again, swinging up and down like a terrifying roller coaster ride. I couldn’t sleep and couldn’t run, the one form of stress release that has always brought me solace. I barely enjoyed a ten-day driving trip through Spain, feeling miserable, having to always use a non-existent toilet, and unable to splurge in all the wonderful Rioja and late night snacks. I was losing myself yet growing another. I patted my slowly growing stomach and wondered who was inside. I felt certain my baby was a boy. But it was the only certainty about the pregnancy that I had.
The months rolled by, rapidly passing, and my belly grew. I marveled at the amazing changes occurring like the first kick, the first set of hiccups and the first time I saw my baby push out his or her bottom out of my skin. It felt surreal, like nothing I’d ever experienced. My husband shared in the joy yet somehow I felt utterly lucky to be the one actually carrying a baby inside me. Although it was challenging for me physically and emotionally, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It was the most exciting time of my life.
As I entered my last trimester, my pregnancy turned difficult. An infection at 32 weeks brought me to the ER in the middle of the night, bringing me into pre-term labor. The fear, pain and anxiety I had during those three days in the hospital were like nothing I’d ever felt. I knew I couldn’t have my baby as he was not ready to come out. I prayed that the contractions would stop, and they did. Yet little did I know, things were only going to get more difficult.
I left the hospital with doctor’s orders for bed rest. Bed rest to me was like a prison sentence. Bed rest literally meant that I had to stay in bed 24/7 laying flat on my back with only short breaks to eat, use the bathroom and shower. Once a week, I had to return to the hospital for two hours of tests to make sure the baby was doing ok. But that was it. I was totally isolated from the world around me for nine hours a day until my husband came home from work at night. It was one of the loneliest times of my life, especially since I had recently moved to Minnesota and did not have many friends yet.
Those four long weeks of bed rest for a soul as active as mine, proved to be four of the hardest weeks of my pregnancy. I was alone, in my house all day long lying on my bed and letting my mind race with worry and concern. Looking back, over eight years later I realize that this was all the start of a downward spiral that what would eventually become severe postpartum depression which would take months to cure.
The weeks dragged on and on and my emotions were a series of fast-racing rollercoasters. Highs and lows, happy and sad, elated and petrified. As my due date approached, everything intensified. Although I was excited to finally meet my baby, I was beyond scared to actually have him. I had never had an operation before and labor petrified me. What if something went terribly wrong? What if I lost my baby or myself?
At my 39 week check up, I underwent my routine series of tests and my doctor became alarmed at how my baby was responding. She sent me over to the hospital to undergo more testing and two hours later to my surprise told me to go home, pack my bags and come back. I was going to be induced and I was going to have my baby.
I left feeling elated yet soon after panic set in. I was scared. At that moment the fear of dying had never been so strong. I have no idea why I was so petrified. Millions of babies are born safely every year I believed. But in the back of my head laid those startling facts and statistics about newborn and maternal deaths, and although I was having my baby in a hospital in America, I still was afraid.
My labor didn’t begin until the next morning and thankfully I had an amazing nurse who was by my side the entire time, along with my supportive, loving husband. I labored for seven hours and delivered a healthy, beautiful baby boy only seven minutes before my mother arrived at the hospital coming all the way from Arizona.
The moment I saw my baby boy Max I couldn’t believe he was mine. He was so small, so sweet and so delicate. The miracle of his birth and the entire experience felt completely surreal. I was so relieved it was over and we were both safe and healthy. I will never forget the moment they placed him on my chest where he nestled warmly into my skin. I realized this is what it feels like to be a mother. To love so fiercely and so strongly, that you would do anything, anything for that child within your arms. Even give your own life if you had to. It is a joy that is so intense and so pure, that there is nothing on this earth more wonderful than to be a mother.
I went on two years later to relive it all over again with the birth of my daughter Sophia. I will never ever forget these two days of my life. The days that I became a mother were the happiest, most joyous days of my life.
“Motherhood: All love begins and ends there”. – Robert Browning
The following YouTube video featuring mothers and actresses Jennifer Garner, Rachel Zoe, Alyson, Hannigan and Jennifer Connelly talking about babies’ first moments.
The first day of life is the most dangerous day of a child’s life in countries rich and poor around the world, including the United States.
Beloved actresses Jennifer Garner, Jennifer Connelly and Allyson Hannigan join with celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe and moms from around the world to share their first moments.
Would love if you shared your baby’s #FirstMoments with us!
The State of World’s Mothers (SOWM) report is Save the Children’s signature annual publication, which compiles global statistics on the health of mothers and children, and uses them to produce rankings of nations within three groupings corresponding to varying levels of economic development.
Press release on the State of World Mother’s report:
1 Million Babies Die the Day They’re Born, Save the Children Says
More U.S. babies die on birth day than in rest of industrialized world
WESTPORT, Conn. (May 7, 2013) — A baby’s birth day is the most dangerous day of life—in the United States and almost every country in the world—according Save the Children’s State of the World’s Mothers report, released today.
More than 1 million babies die the day they are born yearly, according to the first global analysis of newborn day-of-death data.
In addition to new findings on newborn survival, the report also features Save the Children’s Mothers’ Index, released annually in the run-up to Mother’s Day. This year it ranks Finland as the best place in the world to be a mother, and Democratic Republic of the Congo as the toughest.
The United States ranks as the 30th best place to be a mother, just above Japan and South Korea—but below all of Western Europe, Australia, Slovenia, Singapore, New Zealand, Estonia, Canada, Czech Republic, Israel, Belarus, Lithuania and Poland. The Mothers’ Index rankings are determined by five indicators on education, income, women’s political representation and the chances a mother and her baby will survive.
Surviving the First Day
The 2013 State of the World’s Mothers report focuses in on newborn health and the theme “Surviving the First Day.” A new Birth Day Risk Index ranks 186 countries by the chances a baby will die on the first day of life.
The United States is a riskier place to be born than 68 other countries, according to the new analysis conducted by Save the Children and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
In the industrialized world, the United States has 60 percent of all first-day deaths, but only 38 percent of live births. Approximately 11,300 U.S. babies died on the first day of life in 2011, the report says. Some U.S. counties have first-day death rates common in the developing world, where 98 percent of all first-day deaths occur.
“It’s hard to imagine the depth of one mother’s pain in losing her baby the very day she gives birth, let alone a million times over,” said Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children. “Yet, this report is full of hope. It shows there is a growing movement to save newborn lives and growing evidence that we can do it—saving up to 75 percent of them with no intensive care whatsoever.”
As Child Mortality Drops, Newborns Left Behind
Since 1990, overall child mortality has dropped dramatically around the world, from 12 million annual deaths to less than 7 million. But the report shows that lack of global attention on newborns has translated into a much slower decline in newborn mortality. In sub-Saharan Africa, as many newborns die now as two decades ago.
Globally, a rising share of child deaths—43 percent—now occur in the newborn period, or first month of life. The new report finds that more than a third of newborn deaths, or 15 percent of all child deaths, occur on the same day—the first.
The three leading causes of newborn death are prematurity, birth complications and severe infections. Among wealthier countries, higher U.S. rates of prematurity contribute to higher newborn mortality. Whether in the United States or the developing world, the poorest mothers are more likely to lose a newborn baby, the report finds.
The largest numbers of first-day deaths occur in India (more than 300,000 a year) and Nigeria (almost 90,000). The report identifies Somalia as the country with the highest first-day death rate (18 per 1,000 live births), while Luxemburg, Singapore and Sweden have among the lowest (less than 0.5 per 1,000).
New Hope for Newborns
A new Save the Children analysis shows that four underutilized products costing between 13 cents and $6 each could save 1 million newborns a year—many on the first day of life. They are: resuscitation devices to help babies breathe; the antiseptic chlorhexidine to prevent umbilical cord infections; injectable antibiotics to treat infections; and antenatal steroid injections to help preterm babies’ lungs develop.
Other factors the report says will save more newborns are: early and exclusive breastfeeding, “kangaroo mother care” to keep preterm babies warm against their mothers’ skin, and skilled attendance at birth (40 million women a year now go without). Addressing the global health worker crisis is key, as is investing in girls and women. Their improved nutrition and empowerment to attend school, delay marriage and plan and space births all lead to healthier mothers and babies.
Celebrities Speak up for Moms Everywhere
Save the Children also debuted a video of celebrity and everyday moms celebrating the magical first moments with their babies and wishing the same for all moms.
“I’m grateful for the midwives who delivered my three children,” Save the Children Artist Ambassador Jennifer Connelly says in the video. “I hope that pregnant women everywhere are given the opportunity to give birth safely.”
Save the Children Artist Ambassador Jennifer Garner says, “Even with all of the care I had, even with monitoring the babies all the way through, I still had fears. So it’s hard not to think about women who don’t have all of that care, and how scared they must be.”
The State of the World’s Mothers report highlights several very poor countries making great strides to save newborns—including Nepal, Bangladesh, Malawi and Ethiopia—and calls on all nations to act for mothers and babies.
See the full rankings, learn more and take action at www.savethechildren.org/mothers