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Instead of buying flowers for a new mum, consider buying hope. 

Like most new mothers, Canberra journalist Emma Macdonald found her hospital room filling up with flowers both times she gave birth.

​Like most new mothers, she either tossed the dying ones, or gave the living ones to the nurses when it was time to go home. Who can carry bunches of flowers out the hospital door when they are balancing their priceless newborn in an unwieldy baby capsule?​

So shortly after her ​second child arrived safely in the world, Emma joined a quest to replace floral arrangements in hospital rooms with donations to life-saving health programs that will help mothers survive childbirth in countries where birth can often mean death.

Emma Macdonald. Image supplied.

Did you know that one woman dies from complications of childbirth every two minutes somewhere in the world?

Ninety-eight percent of these deaths occur in developing countries and the vast majority are preventable with the most simple interventions.

Emma came to the cause of maternal health after speaking with her obstetrician Professor Steve Robson about her own safe and joyous childbirth experiences.

Professor Robson explained the vastly different outcomes for mothers giving birth in countries across Africa and the Pacific – where as many as one in 20 can be expected to die. Meanwhile, Professor Robson would watch hospital maternity wards fill with flowers each day and wondered whether there was a better way to celebrate a birth.

In a spur of the moment decision, Professor Robson and Emma decided they’d put their respective skills to the task of setting up a charity which would channel the money normally spent on flowers, to help save other mothers. Send Hope Not Flowers was born.

Image supplied.

In three years and with the help of small and dedicated Canberra team, Send Hope has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund a variety of safe birth programs across Papua New Guinea, remote parts of Indonesia, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

These include training midwives and local village birth attendants, providing emergency obstetric equipment, upgrading maternity hospitals and funding upgraded medical manuals. All programs are small but targeted – aimed at providing long-term, sustainable and empowering assistance for women.

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One of the first programs Send Hope supported was a trial by legendary Australian doctor Barry Kirby, who gave up his career as a carpenter at the age of 40 to go to medical school in order to help the people of PNG.

Some mothers in PNG. Image supplied.

When he graduated at 52, Dr Kirby relocated to some of the remote islands of PNG, Milne Bay Province, where he supports women facing some of the highest maternal mortality statistics in the world. There, the death rate can reach as high as one in seventeen.

Dr Kirby worked out that one of the reasons the mothers of Milne Bay were dying at such a high rate was that they were reluctant to leave their villages to attend a local health centre to deliver their babies. They could not afford the $5 equivalent fee and were shy at exposing their poverty.

Dr Kirby devised an incentive gift – including a baby bath, some nappies, a sarong, sanitary supplies, clothes for baby, a sheet and money for food and the health centre fee. Send Hope Not Flowers began funding them at around $28 a bundle. Mothers could receive the gift when they presented for birth at a health centre. And the idea proved a hit. Using generous donations from Australia, Send Hope has channeled money for more than 4000 baby bundles to Dr Kirby.

Emma and the Send Hope team left to right – Alex Fahey, Tara Taubenschlag, Dr Barry Kirby, Emma Macdonald and Professor Steve Robson. Image supplied.

In June, a peer-reviewed medical journal found the idea had increased the supervised delivery rate by 80 per cent and reduced the death rate by 78 per cent.

To say there were champagne corks popping at Send Hope headquarters hardly captures the excitement.
The team at Send Hope is hoping to replicate such incredible results elsewhere in the region and want to raise awareness about maternal mortality across Australia.

They don’t believe they are specifically anti-flower, just pro-mum.

If you would like to read more about their work please jump online at www.sendhope.org.

They offer a range of cards for every occasion – come Mother’s Day you know what to buy! – and are increasingly receiving generous support from community and corporate groups around the country.
So next time someone you know has a baby – or in fact for any reason at all – send hope not flowers.

Because flowers die and women giving birth should not.