It was in 1980, in a nomadic community in Mauritania, that I first attended a woman during birth. There, I experienced with her the fragile balance of life and death and the sweet joy of a mother embracing her healthy newborn daughter.
Midwife. In the olde English the word meant “with woman.” It’s why I became a midwife—to be with women through skilled care and support before, during, and after pregnancy and childbirth, so that all women and families everywhere experience the joy and celebration of safe motherhood.
Today is the International Day of the Midwife. But today, like every day, nearly 1000 women will die giving life; and many of their babies will not survive beyond the first hours and days after birth. That’s more than 350,000 women and 5 million infants every year whose lives are lost as a result of preventable complications of pregnancy and childbirth.
And while 99 percent of these deaths happen in developing countries, the United States is not exempt. Thousands of American families suffer the tragedy of maternal and newborn mortality every year.
No mother should have to risk her life or that of her unborn baby going through childbirth without expert care. Yet, globally, one in three women gives birth without a skilled birth attendant. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 3.5 million more health workers—including a million midwives—are needed by 2015. Without them, millions of mothers and children have no one to diagnose and treat illnesses, dispense treatment, or provide immunizations and advice on how to stay healthy and prevent disease.
The International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) has embraced this in their campaign “The World Needs Midwives Now More than Ever” and with a commitment to march in honor of women. The theme for this year’s march is “The Road to Durban: Midwives Walking for the Women of the World.”
Today, around the world, women will walk “for the women of the world.” It’s a journey that starts on the “road to Durban,” and culminates on the 18th of June at the ICM Congress in South Africa. At the congress, more than 3,000 midwives will meet to share their knowledge and skills about better-quality care and strategies to intensify the fight against maternal and newborn mortality. There too will be the release of the long-awaited State of the World’s Midwifery Report and the powerful, poignant Stories of Midwives.
We join with tens of thousands of midwives today in walks across the globe to demonstrate our shared commitment to safe motherhood. We walk to show zero tolerance for needless deaths of mothers and newborns. We walk to publicize the urgent need for investments in maternal and newborn health. We walk on this “road to Durban” so that one day pregnancy and birth will not mean the road to death for mothers and their babies.
To borrow from the American College of Nurse-Midwives, let’s show the world that together we are “With women, for a lifetime.”