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 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
updated 10:11 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
updated 1:38 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
updated 5:46 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
updated 6:26 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
updated 4:24 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
updated 4:35 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
updated 7:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
updated 11:25 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT