Mother’s Day is special to me for many reasons. I am blessed to be surrounded by a number of incredible mothers — including my own mom, the woman who is the calm in our sometimes crazy and hectic family. These women, and the many other women that I do life with, have in many ways made me the woman I am.
There’s another reason I love this day, too. In my life, I wear a lot of hats. Not literally, although I do love a good statement accessory, but figuratively. I am the president of an organization that I care deeply about. I am an activist and a freedom fighter. And I am a wife. But Mother’s Day allows me to celebrate my favorite job — a job that began the day my oldest son was born.
I remember that moment so clearly. The birth of a baby is one of the most beautiful moments of a parent’s life. Just ask Prince Harry, who, beaming after the arrival of his son this week, announced, “It’s been the most amazing experience I could have possibly imagined!”
The arrival of my son was no different. No matter how many books you read or stories you hear, nothing can prepare you for it. There’s the waiting, the struggle, the pain, and finally, there’s a tiny gift.
Your gift. One with your husband’s eyes and your smile. A tiny person with so much life to live, so much potential. A tiny person that you love so deeply.
But in many places around the world, childbirth isn’t beautiful — it’s a death sentence. And while I spend today being grateful for the mothers in my life and remembering my own journey as a mother, I can’t help but think of another woman. Her name is Taga.
Taga lives in rural Ethiopia, but the problems she faced are similar to those faced by women living in poverty around the world. You see, every single day, 830 women worldwide die from preventable complications of pregnancy and childbirth. An astounding 99 percent of those deaths occur in developing countries. In America, the risk during childbirth is still present, but it is minimized by modern medicine. But many expectant moms do not have that luxury.
In Ethiopia, pregnant women often experience something called an obstetric fistula. It is a devastating condition that is caused by prolonged and obstructed labor. And it is exactly what happened to Taga.
Taga was married when she was just 10 years old. Early marriages are not uncommon in poor communities, and the impact on a young girl’s life can be disastrous. In Ethiopia, one out of every five girls is married by age 15. In rural areas, that percentage goes up to 50 percent.
As a child bride, Taga already suffered from trauma, but when she became pregnant at the age of 14, things got even worse. Ethiopia has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. One out of every 27 women will die during pregnancy or childbirth. And while for most of us, pregnancy is met with a healthy mixture of nerves and excitement, it filled Taga’s heart with fear.
Her labor lasted an excruciating seven days.
In rural villages like Taga’s, most women give birth at home without a medical professional — and when something goes wrong, there is nothing to be done. Because Taga was so young, her body was too small to deliver the baby, so the child remained in the birth canal. She suffered for days, and when the end finally came, her baby had died.
Taga was scarred emotionally and physically. Not only did she lose her baby, her body was now suffering from a painful and embarrassing fistula that caused her to become incontinent. And because “women’s issues” such as fistula are often regarded with shame in developing countries, Taga was cut off from her community.
This is a story that is far too common. Because maternity clinics and proper obstetric care are scarce in many countries, the day that should be one of the happiest in a woman’s life — the day she becomes a mother — often turns into a day of tragedy. She may develop lifelong health complications, lose her unborn child, or even lose her own life.
The heart-wrenching thing is that with the proper medical equipment and professionals, most of these deaths could be prevented. But poverty is a threat to motherhood. It’s a threat to life itself.
World Help is committed to fighting global poverty so women around the world can survive childbirth and raise a healthy family … so children can have healthy food to eat as they grow … and to create sustainable solutions that empower people in need. And it’s why I’ve committed my life to doing the same.
We are doing what we can to make sure that Mother’s Day is a happy one, no matter where someone lives or what her economic status.
Noel Yeatts is an active advocate for social justice and humanitarian needs around the world. With over 20 years of experience in humanitarian work, Noel is an author, speaker, and the President of World Help, an international, Christian humanitarian organization serving the physical and spiritual needs of impoverished communities around the world. Noel regularly takes the stage for speaking engagements and advocacy events around the country and has been widely recognized for her groundbreaking book, “Awake: Doing a World of Good One Person at a Time.”