Last year a girl I went to school with died in childbirth. I was in shock when I heard the news. She went into labour in a hospital in Melbourne, there were extreme complications and she died – leaving her baby to be raised by her devastated partner. Everyone I ran into that knew her was dumbfounded. Who dies in childbirth in Australia?
The interesting thing is that just six kilometres away in Papua New Guinea, being pregnant instantly places you at a risk 242 times greater of losing your life in childbirth than if you were having your baby here Australia.
My shock about my school friend was so big because it is so rare. Yet for women who live in the country just north of ours, dying in childbirth is not so rare. And most are not dying for any complicated reasons, like my friend did. Haemorrhage is the leading cause of death in childbirth, and one that is entirely avoidable.
A professor of obstetrics, (and my hero) Dr Stephen Robson was travelling on a plane in 2010, flicking through TIME magazine when he came across a photographic essay about women dying in childbirth in Sierra Leone. Reading about the plight of one of the 1,000 women who die throughout the world every single day horrified him.
Steve obsessed about a way he could make a contribution to lowering the stats. It came down to raising money to fund basic maternal health programs in countries which need them most. He remembered all of the women he had helped to deliver their babies and the countless flowers they received. He had seen so many of these flowers thrown out – thousands of dollars worth, in the bin, every day.
He wondered whether he could encourage people to make a donation towards saving the lives of mothers in the developing world instead of sending flowers to celebrate births in Australia. He gathered a small band of like-minded people together – including me – we brainstormed, and Send Hope Not Flowers was born.
We launched a few months ago and have already raised enough to fund our first maternal health project – delivering 200 Baby Bundle Gifts for women in the Milne Bay Province which is a remote area of Papua New Guinea.
Recent studies in that area found one of the common reasons why women chose to have a delivery in their village rather than at their local Health Centre, was because they had no baby clothes or nappies for their newborn and they felt shy at exposing their poverty when they showed up at the centre. They also lacked the $4.50 delivery fee and had no money to feed themselves while they were away from home.
When a women is able to have a supervised delivery at a health centre, they reduce the risk of death in childbirth significantly. What a simple intervention. What a way to give a woman her dignity back. What a way to save her life.
I write about global poverty and have done so for a number of years now. And of all the progress we as a world are making to reduce the number of people suffering unnecessarily because they are living in abject poverty, one of the areas that needs particular focus is maternal mortality. Of the 1,000 women dying every day, 99 per cent of these live in developing nations. And one of those nations, Papua New Guinea is on our doorstep.
So this Mother’s Day, instead of racking your brain thinking of something to get her (we recently read about buying your mum liposuction for Mother’s Day. I mean, really), how about you Send Hope Not Flowers (or Send Hope Not Lipo) and make a donation in her honour to go towards saving a life of another. We have a beautiful Mother’s Day card ready to be mailed out this week (easier than trawling the shops!) and it explains what we do and why.
It is a profound gift. And one which can make a difference.
After all, flowers die. Women giving birth shouldn’t.
Julie Ulbricht is an ambassador for the Global Poverty Project and Opportunity International Australia. She is also a freelance writer.