Shining a Light on Maternal Mortality

Moving Maternal Mortality into the Public Sphere

About once every two minutes all around the globe, a mother dies due to pregnancy-related complications. This is a staggering statistic, especially considering that 90% of maternal deaths occur in developing countries and most are preventable with proven interventions. Over the last two decades, some countries have succeeded in achieving their Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of reducing their maternal mortality rates by 75%. However, many countries have stagnated in their efforts, and some—even in the developed world—have seen an increase in maternal mortality rates1.

Researchers have identified various ways to combat maternal mortality, such as providing health workers with appropriate training and technology, reducing early marriage practices, increasing access to contraceptives, enabling women to control child spacing, reducing poverty, increasing education, granting citizens access to universal health care and strengthening parental leave policies and domestic violence laws345678.

There are several reasons why maternal health has not improved as rapidly as it might, but one critical aspect that we discuss at A Mother’s Monument is how society addresses maternal health and mortality in the public sphere. Until we, as a people, in whatever nation we live, learn to speak openly about maternal death, we will never gain the capacity—nor the collective resolve—to unite in action for the benefit of mothers. How do we push this discussion from the private and into the public sphere, then? One of the best ways is by demonstrating a mutual relationship between maternal death and another type of death we already appreciate and speak freely about in the public sphere: soldiers that have died defending our nations.

More Women Have Died in Childbirth than Soldiers Have Died in War

No matter what era or area of the globe we examine, this relationship holds true. Matthew Stearmer first discovered the relationship while researching sex ratios during the time of the American frontier (1850-1920). He noticed that, despite losing approximately 600,000 male lives to the Civil War, the census record immediately following the War showed that the sex ratio was—surprisingly—only slightly abnormal. By the time of the next census, the sex ratio had already evened out again. When examining wartime deaths throughout the world, the pattern remains the same. The chart below is a comparison of how many US soldiers have died compared to US mothers from just 2001-2014.

Defense Industry Personnel Deaths vs. Maternal Deaths in the United States 9

The ways in which we honor, celebrate, support and resolve these two types of sacrifice, however, is drastically different. All around the world, every culture celebrates the soldiers who have given their lives in defense of their countries.

Monuments and memorials help communities make sense of their loss by granting them a public space in which to grieve, ponder and ultimately comprehend the significance of the sacrifice. We often inscribe the names of the fallen upon the memorials, reminding visitors that each soldier was a unique, irreplaceable individual, and helping them recognize the extent of the collective lives lost. Statues often depict the soldiers in the prime of their life, and each memorial connects the visitor to the magnitude of the loss as well as the face of the soldier—even if they have never known a fallen soldier personally.