Saving Mothers

Saving Mothers is a nonprofit committed to improving maternal health worldwide.
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Huffington Post’s Global Motherhood section ran a particularly affecting article this week entitled “Saving Mothers in Afghanistan: Progress, Challenges and the Road Ahead.” The article focused on the grim state of maternal health in Afghanistan, where a woman dies every two hours from pregnancy-related health complications. Postpartum hemorrhage, eclampsia, obstructed labor: These are the main causes of maternal death in Afghanistan, and they are all extremely treatable.


At Saving Mothers, our mission has been to try and reduce these kinds of needless deaths by providing training and resources to nurses and midwives and advocating for the use of effective and inexpensive drug treatments that can help prevent serious health complications. Knowing that treatment is widely and inexpensively available and yet remains inaccessible to so many women in Afghanistan is heartbreaking, but reading articles like this remind us why organizations like Saving Mothers are so important and why we need to continue to work to spread information about maternal healthcare. We really encourage you to read the article and to check out some additional resources on maternal health in Afghanistan. Learning more about the serious plight facing expectant mothers in that country is the first step we can all take to helping these women thrive. 

With all of the sobering news coming out of Gaza and Israel over the past few weeks, things are looking pretty bleak. But this past week, this article and this one  caught my eye and made me feel a little more optimistic about the state of the world. While no one knows when the fighting will end, it’s important to be reminded that people are capable of looking beyond the strife and hatred. In tough times, it’s so important to focus on what people share — like the desire to watch their children grow up healthy and strong — rather than on their differences.

Yuval Roth, founder of Road to Recovery, uses volunteer drivers to transport Palestinian patients to Israeli hospitals (photo credit: CNN).

Recently we were so impressed by John Bernhelm of San Francisco, when he dove into the Pacific Ocean to help raise money for Saving Mothers with the Cold Water Challenge — a charity challenge shared over social media. We asked John a bit about his experience, and why he chose to support Saving Mothers and maternal health.

Q: How did you hear about the Cold Water Challenge? Were you called out by a friend before participating?
A: A few of my friends and family from back East posted Cold Water Challenges on Facebook early this summer. I didn’t think much of it then, because I figured it seems like a better idea when it’s a steamy 95°F outside, and I was dubious of the value of positive social network peer pressure. That changed when my uncle posted a video of his son drenching him with a cooler full of ice water and then challenged me to do the same. The basic idea is that if someone doesn’t feel up to the challenge, they should donate to the charitable organization of the challenger’s choice. I liked the other option - suffer a bit of cold and good-natured public humility while getting the ball back in your court to name a different organization and challenge others. I felt the “standard” rules of giving the challenged a small 24 hour response window and giving less to your chosen organization upon performing the challenge kind of lame, so I changed things up a bit. Also, California is suffering a severe drought, so why not use the cold waters of the Pacific instead of wasting valuable potable H2O?

Q: Why did you choose to support Saving Mothers?
A: I came across Saving Mothers back in 2010 when I was looking for an out-of-the-box Mother’s Day gift. A good friend had posted about the organization on facebook - there’s that social media at work again - and I knew my mom would rather have a donation to a great cause in her name than another Amazon gift certificate. Since the day I ended up doing the Cold Water Challenge happened to be my mother’s birthday, I thought I’d make another gift in thanks of the love and care she has provided all of my life and for the healthcare support we have been fortunate to receive living in a developed country. Also, I planned to call her out in the challenge, so maybe choosing Saving Mothers was the spoonful of sugar to help the icy water go down.

Q: Why do you think maternal health an important global issue?
A: Maternal health speaks to the very base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for the entire society. A mother’s health is necessary for her and her family to survive, thrive, and aspire to self-actualization. I believe that the physical and social stresses caused by maternal complications stand in the way of fighting poverty, hunger, and violence the world over. A healthy beginning and a strong family gives a child it’s best chance to grow, learn, and make a difference, regardless of where she or he may live. What’s more is that so many maternal health issues can be solved with proper training and access to the right resources! So I see Saving Mothers work at bringing those things to places that need them most a super important step, not only in saving mothers and children, but in saving the world!

Q: What do you take away from this experience?
A: A little cold water and light-hearted social-network-shaming never hurt anybody. I had fun with the cold water challenge, and though the whole idea is pretty silly, if a bunch of people learned about Saving Mothers, some made generous donations to a great cause, and at least one passed on the challenge to others, then it was totally worth dragging my roommate to the beach one chilly morning and getting a nice Pacific Ocean wakeup call.
Thanks so much for your support, John! 
Feeling inspired? Check out John’s video, and start a Cold Water Challenge of your own!

Today was the big day for the students at the Comadrona School of POWHER, the commencement they’ve been working toward for over three months. Graduation was held at Santiago’s town center, where students gathered with their families cheering them on. 

Greeting each other warmly as new friends and colleagues, they filed into the building and took their seats at the front of the room. The ceremony kicked off with Saving Mothers’ Guatemala Program Director Jessica Oliveira addressing the audience, explaining how incredibly far each of the 22 students has come since they started at the School, and how much they have meant to her and the organization. Saving Mothers is so fortunate to be working with community members who will make sustainable change in Santiago for years to come.

Oliveira was followed by Dr. Juan Chumil, the Medical Director of the Centro de Salud in Santiago, and Dr. Diego Hernandez, District Director for the Ministry of Health — both men expressing how much the entire community supports and appreciates the graduates’ hard work, and how much of a difference they will make for the women who live in Santiago. 


Program Director Jessica Oliveira greeting her students and their families before the ceremony began.


The students took their seats in their Saving Mothers uniforms at the front of the room as their families and friends looked on behind them. Volunteers from one of Saving Mothers’ partners in Santiago, the Centro de Salud, provided amazing decorations to celebrate the occasion.


Several of the graduates were supported by their children, reminding everyone of the importance of safe, healthy and happy births. 

Then the moment all the graduates had been waiting for arrived. One by one, they walked across the stage to receive their certificates of graduation — marking the end of long, challenging weeks of classroom and clinical training, and the beginning of their careers as local health providers. It was incredible to see each one of them turn to the audience, certificate in hand, having not only gained knowledge, but also confidence in their experience and skills. 


Each graduate gave their instructor a big hug as they accepted their certificate to a resounding round of applause from the audience and Saving Mother staff members seated on stage.



The very first class of graduates from the Comadrona School of POWHER. We couldn’t be more proud of them, or excited to see what they will make possible for the community of Santiago in the future.

As a surprise, students presented Oliveira and Saving Mothers President Nichole Young-Lin and Medical Director Taraneh Shirazian with certificates of their own to thank them for their commitment to the program, the curriculum, and making the school possible. All of the Saving Mothers staff in attendance was floored by their gratitude. 


After the ceremony it was party time, with delicious food catered by a local restaurant, children skipping around the room, music, and laughter. The graduates enjoyed well-deserved congratulations.


It was truly an exceptional day, full of emotion, pride and excitement for what is possible in this community as the program grows and evolves. 

With our very first class from the School of POWHER already making a remarkable impact in the local area, we are currently working on making a second class possible. But we can’t do it alone. 

You can be a part of the school of POWHER. Click here to support the program today, and your contribution will go directly toward educating a future comadrona who can make lasting change for many.

As the first class of the Comadrona School of POWHER nears graduation, instructor Jessica Oliveira has put together a fun final week for her students to review everything they have learned and prepare for the work that lies ahead.


Today, the 22 women who have invested the time in learning how to ensure safe and healthy births in their communities gathered as usual, chatting excitedly, solidifying new friendships they found through the program. In groups, they simulated how they would respond to medical emergencies ranging from breech births to postnatal bleeding. They played a game of darts, popping balloons containing questions about how to recognize the symptoms of STDs and other infections. They took class photos to be proudly posted on the Saving Mothers website. 


Two bright skylights illuminate the classroom at the local radio station Voce de Atitlán, where the 22 students gather two to three times a week. 

The students broke into groups to tackle a medical emergency and determine what they would do if they arrived at a home birth where a woman was experiencing anything from a breech birth to postnatal bleeding. Learning in groups is common at the School of POWHER.

Groups then acted out in short skits how they would respond to emergencies under the watchful eye of instructor Oliveira, who would provide feedback along the way. Reacting well in critical situations is one of the most important skill sets for working comadronas.

Skits are among the class’ favorite activities, giving them hands-on experience in the classroom before they head out in the field.

The students were excited to take class photos in their official Saving Mothers uniforms, which will give them a professional edge in the field. We’ll be posting the entire class of 2014 on the Saving Mothers website and will keep you posted when you can see all these amazing graduates!

Oliveira turned a game of darts into a quiz show for students refreshing their knowledge of common STDs and infections. Recognizing the signs and treatments for these conditions is one way our graduates will help empower women to take control of their reproductive health. 

Even Saving Mothers President Nichole Young-Lin and Medical Director Taraneh Shirazian took a whack at the game of darts.

But, most notably, the students spoke. Three students shared how much the program has meant to them over the last couple months, how much they have learned, and how prepared they feel to offer women in their community the care they deserve before, during and after pregnancy. At Saving Mothers, we say our mission is three-fold: to improve women’s health, education and empowerment. All three were apparent today, and filled us with emotion and drive to keep going and growing.

The room filled with emotion listening to the impact the class has made on students, and what they will carry with them into the future.

What started as a class has become its own community, with the women partnering together to learn, make home visits to patients in rural, undersupplied areas, and share what it’s like to be a woman living and making a difference in Santiago, Guatemala. It’s been incredible to see this group come together, explore their potential, and chart careers that will improve life for thousands of people — some of whom have yet to be born. 

As part of the Saving Mothers team observing the class, the School and the work for the very first time, I am inspired. But beyond that, I am confident in our ability to make real, vital change as one team, one new student at a time.

We are so excited about hosting a second class at the School of POWHER, but we need help to make it possible. The program only works because of the facilities, supplies and time we can invest in each student to help them succeed. 


The Saving Mothers team is gathering in Santiago Atitlan this week for the graduation of the comadronas from the School of POWHER (Providing Outreach in Women’s Health Education and Resources). The commitment of these 22 women is simply amazing, and we want to give you a sense of not only how hard they have been working, but also the tremendous impact they’ve been making in their community.

Today, Saving Mothers President Nichole Young-Lin and Media Director Camille Ricketts joined Concepcion Mendoza, our expert comadrona, and one of the program’s students, Ana, to visit five women in the rural area outside of town. With grace and aplomb, Concepcion trained Ana to take expecting mothers’ vitals, measure their weight and the fundal height of the fetus, listen to the heartbeat, and estimate the gestational age to predict a due date. After over three months of training, Ana handled most of the work herself, assuring patients and working through the steps with a radiant and comforting smile.


Ana taking a patient’s blood pressure.

Observing firsthand, it was clear that the patients were in good hands and relieved to have the information provided by the Concepcion and her trainee. As part of the visit, they received prenatal vitamins and gained peace of mind, knowing that their pregnancy would be closely followed despite their distance from the hospital and other medical resources.


We followed Concepcion (far right) and our representative from local health initiative PRODESCA (far left) to visit women living in some of the most rural areas outside of Santiago.


Along the way, Concepcion would stop to instruct POWHER student Ana in proper technique while working with patients.


Expecting mothers were happy to get a visit from Concepcion and Ana, ensuring the health and wellbeing of not only their newborns but their existing families.


Saving Mothers uniforms and supply bags give Concepcion and her students a professional identity that local communities have come to recognize.


Both Ana and Concepcion took meticulous notes during the home visits. We share their goal to keep close tabs on patients to make sure healthy pregnancies lead to healthy deliveries.

After thorough instruction and a number of home visits, the graduates will become frontline maternal health providers, ensuring healthier, safer births for the population of 45,000 in Santiago and surrounding areas. 

We’re so proud of the women who have invested the time, energy and strength in the Maternal Health School of POWHER program, and we can’t wait to see them graduate. We’ll be keeping you posted all week on their final courses, our observations here in Santiago, and the festivities around graduation. As always, we’re so grateful for your support. Without it, none of this — the home visits, the prenatal vitamins, the maternal look of awe at the first sounds of a tiny heartbeat — wouldn’t be possible. 

Muchas gracias.

You can help us make a second class at the School of POWHER possible. Donate to our campaign to teach even more students to become comadronas HERE.

Last week on my drive home, I listed to a fascinating segment on NPR about the microbiome of the placenta in healthy pregnant women. Until recently, scientists believed that the placenta was basically a sterile organ. But it turns out that this is not the case, and the makeup of the microbial environment of the placenta may actually have implications for the health of the fetus. The study NPR reported on, conducted by Dr. Kjersti Aagaard of the Baylor College of Medicine, found that the microbiome of the placenta was actually most similar to the bacteria found in the mouth, causing scientists to theorize that oral microbes may enter the mother’s bloodstream and find their way to the placenta. 
The research is all in fairly early stages but I thought it was incredible to learn a bit more about the role bacteria in the placenta may play in fetal health and development. I encourage you to check out the article for yourself here:
Happy Friday!

In the wake of Mother’s Day, put out a list of a handful of charitable organizations that have been active in helping mothers around, including Heifer International, Save the Children, The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, the Single Parent Advocate, and Every Mother Counts. Each of these organizations is providing vital services, from preventing pediatric HIV infection in the developing world to providing single parents living in the US with additional resources to help with child-rearing. It’s so important that these organizations receive recognition for the work they do, and I encourage you to take a look at the list and visit the sites for each of these terrific charities. Providing care and support to mothers and children worldwide is a huge task and it’s so great to see the organizations dedicated to the different facets of this mission growing and thriving.

On a related note, a huge thank you to everyone who contributed to Saving Mothers by making a donation in the name of his or her mother. We couldn’t run this organization without your contributions and we are so grateful for your support. Thank you again!

And have a happy Friday everyone!


Happy Mothers Day weekend! I hope everyone is taking a little time to celebrate and make their mother feel loved and appreciated. 

If you’re still looking to get your mom a little something for the holiday, I’d encourage you to consider checking out our website and making a donation in her honor. A donation of just $25 can provide five birthing kits for use in rural areas; really, every little bit helps. We’ll send your mom an email wishing her the happiest of Mothers Days and detailing how the donation you made in her name will be used.

Introducing Debbie, a mother who never stops learning and a nominee in Saving Mothers’ “Mother of the Year” contest. 

Tell us about her: My mom is spunky, smart and nurturing. She grew up in Iowa. Her dad was a farmer and she was the captain of the cheerleaders. She worked very hard in school and studied math for her undergraduate degree. In her twenties, she moved to California to start working in tech. She was one of the first female engineers in Silicon Valley! While me and my siblings were growing up, she worked part-time and volunteered doing website development and database management. After we all left for college, she went back on the job market and found an amazing job in a tech research lab at Stanford. I’m so proud of her because she’s so amazing and never stops learning!

What is your favorite memory of your mother? During college, I volunteered on a community service project in northern Southeast Asia. My mom decided to come meet me for a vacation there after the project ended. My favorite memory from the trip happened in Laos. We hiked through a beautiful jungle all day with a native guide. Some leeches climbed on us but luckily they didn’t latch on. We narrowly avoided stepping on a poisonous snake. We ended the hike at the top of a beautiful waterfall and then swam in the pools below. I felt so lucky to have such a fit, fun and fearless mother!

What is your favorite piece of advice? When I was single and complaining about going on bad dates, my mom told me, “You’re a ten, and sometimes it takes a while to find another ten.” She wanted me to know that even though I felt dejected I should keep valuing myself and keep looking for someone amazing who valued me as well.

Why do you think it’s important to save mothers from pregnancy-related complications? Having a mother (or a mother-equivalent) is the single most important thing that will ever happen to a child. Children’s brain development depends on their environments. Critical neural circuitry is being laid during those first three years. Knowing that there is someone who loves you unconditionally and can understand and fulfill your needs is crucial. Improving maternal health is a crucial piece of making the world a better place for everyone. Go Saving Mothers!

Why does your mother deserve to be Saving Mothers’ “Mother of the Year”? My mother deserves to be Mother of the Year because she always did what was best for her children, even if it wasn’t easy at the time. Despite our constant attempts to rebel, she taught me and my siblings to eat healthy, work hard in school, love nature, exercise regularly, and be kind to others. I hope that I can pass on half of these values to my own children.

Did this story touch you? Show your support by liking this post on our Facebook page and/or donate here for a fundraising page dedicated to Kathleen.