What Will It Take to Give Every Mother a Mother’s Day?

Without timely access to the right medical care, I might never have had a Mother’s Day.

Christine with her sons Alex and Colin—then ages 4 and 2, now 22 and 19.

When I was 37 weeks pregnant, my doctor became concerned that my baby wasn’t thriving, and decided to induce labor. Then my blood pressure spiked and my liver function went south.

I had developed toxemia, a potentially fatal condition.What happened next is fuzzy, but I remember being told I would receive a “mag drip”—magnesium sulfate delivered via an IV to prevent seizure. The medicine worked, my blood pressure slowly came down and Alex was delivered healthy and, as far as his Dad and I are concerned, perfect.

Every day, 830 women around the world suffer a different fate, dying from complications of pregnancy or childbirth that could have been prevented.

What determines which of us lives?

The right medical intervention at the right time kept me safe and made me a mom. The data about my complicated pregnancy was on hand, and the hospital had a ready supply of the medicine to prevent seizure. But for hundreds of thousands of other women, no one monitored their pregnancy for risks, and the medicine they needed wasn’t identified in time, wasn’t in stock or simply wasn’t used.

We believe it’s possible to end the scandal of maternal deaths—and that a critical part of the solution is data.

Waze tells drivers the best route to avoid traffic, and Netflix uses what movies we’ve watched already to help us discover new titles. Data can drive better decision-making, but tools to help health workers predict and prevent pregnancy and delivery risks are often stuck in the pre-digital era—if they’re available at all.

The Rockefeller Foundation is working with partners around the world to leverage more and better data for health. We think the same data advances and predictive analytics that have transformed so many other areas of our lives can also help community health workers, doctors and public health officials work together to get the right care to the right mothers at the right time.

There are encouraging signs—including in the U.S., which has the highest maternal death rate of any developed country.

Earlier this year, Congress unanimously passed major new funding to enhance data collection and research on maternal deaths and expand evidence-based maternal health programs at hospitals and in communities. California’s medical community has even stepped up efforts to understand the reasons and circumstances for maternal deaths in their state. But the crisis is far from under control—especially for black women, who are up to four times more likely to die in pregnancy than white women.

The biggest hurdle to saving mother’s lives isn’t a lack of solutions. It’s marshalling the data, the policies and the will to save them.

This Mother’s Day, join me and The Rockefeller Foundation in vowing to end maternal deaths. Share the short video at WithoutMom.org and post on social media what you couldn’t have achieved #WithoutMom—and help us fight to never have to imagine a world without her.


Christine Heenan is vice president for global policy and advocacy at The Rockefeller Foundation.