Meet Rukshana, a courageous breast cancer survivor — the third nominee in Saving Mothers’ “Mother of the Year” contest. Read about Rukshana, a cancer survivor and proud mother.
Tell us about her Rukshana is a wonderful mom that has found a way to balance work, family, and motherhood. She is doing a wonderful job raising my niece!
What is your favorite memory of your mother? Every Gchat conversation we have, most of which help keep me sane during the work week :)
What is your favorite piece of advice? Be patient, don’t compare yourself to others.
Why do you think it’s important to save mothers from pregnancy-related complications? Mothers are more than just caretakers. They are teachers, counselors, confidantes and role-models. When you save a mother, you don’t just save her life, but you save the life of her children, and her family.
Why does this mother deserve to be Saving Mothers’ “Mother of the Year”? Rukshana is a survivor of breast cancer. She was diagnosed in her early 30s and is now is a healthy and proud mother of a beautiful little girl.
Last week, I traveled to Santiago, a small Guatemalan town that sits beneath a ring of volcanoes and beside the shore of Lake Atitlan. The women of Santiago de Atitlan dress as they have for centuries, in hand-embroidered huipil shirts and long skirts wrapped around their small frames. Here, the Mayan language of Tz’utujil has been preserved, alongside the more official Spanish. In this community rich with culture and custom, Saving Mothers has launched a school for comadronas, traditional Mayan birth attendants who have long worked in the region but receive little formal training. For a few days, I was fortunate enough to shadow Jessica Oliveira, Saving Mothers’ Project Manager in Guatemala, as she taught the Comadrona School of POWHER (Providing Outreach for Women’s Health Education and Resources).
Classes take place in an airy, sun-lit room located above La Voz de Atitlan, the local radio station. Here the comadronas gather twice a week to learn the nuances of prenatal visits, complications of labor, and pertinences of postpartum care. Having played a small part States-side in putting together resources for the curriculum, I’d been invited across the world and into this classroom. But I quickly learned that the space is also one in which the women find their voices, where they can talk about the changing role of comadronas in the 21st century and their own experiences of birth. None of this would be possible without the brazen Jessica Oliveira, who creates discussion by interweaving worlds, spinning together her experiences in a Big Apple academic center and around Lake Atitlan. She throws herself into this convergence wholeheartedly, demonstrates concepts with her body, lends her ears to the women who convene for class each week.
And so, it is also here in the classroom that many young women, some of whom fall into a matrilineal lineage of comadronas within their own families, wrangle with how tradition can work alongside modern medicine. Meanwhile, the older members in the group graciously consider additions to their practice and seek to understand the source of these new suggestions. Young and old, it will be the task of these women to unify the beliefs of science and society in their practice.
This is tall order for anyone, and seems especially so for these ladies who are small in stature, hardly five feet in height. But it would be a mistake to underestimate this group. In fact, their spunk and spirit for learning overwhelmed me from the start. Despite the extensive educational opportunities I have been afforded as a first year medical student, I was immediately humbled by the real world experience and skills these comadronas possess. They think through medical cases in the classroom, but their work takes place in the wider community.
For this reason, I had especially anticipated the chance to accompany a few comadronas on their prenatal home visits. So, towards the end of the week, we stood together in the bed of a pickup truck that swung along the roads outside of Santiago, taking us to the rural aldea, or village, of Tzanchaj. Here too, I was not only invited into each modest household, mostly drywall and dirt floors, but also welcomed to examine the exquisitely intimate space that is a woman’s body. For weeks, my head had been enclosed within a high-rise built of medical books; but now, my tasks were to conduct an interview in Spanish, measure the fundal height, and feel a baby growing inside the bulging uterus. And while I found myself hesitant with my hands, as if I had only just recognized myself outside academia and was made nervous by the potential to cause harm, the comadronas beside me channeled the knowledge they had gained from belonging to a cultural tradition and especially the school. They went about their work with confidence and care.
From these powerful women, I learned more than can be marked with the tape measures we carried to determine fundal height or calculated with the pregnancy wheels we were constantly turning. It is difficult to quantify, but I have attempted to weigh the experience in words—and I believe the term aldea global provides the closest approximation of my appreciation.
Meet Robin, Sarah’s mom — the second nominee in Saving Mothers’ “Mother of the Year” contest. Read Sarah’s touching story of why her mom is such a wonderful figure in her life.
Tell us about her: My mother, Robin, is an incredible role model, confidant, and advisor. As I have grown up, our mother-daughter relationship has evolved, and I consider her one of my closest friends. She set a wonderful example, being both a committed mother and a dedicated professional, working in education as both a teacher and a principal. She is caring and loving, and I could not imagine my life without her!
What is your favorite memory of your mother? It would be too hard to pin down one memory, as she has been so important to my life every day. But I would have to say it is the smallest things that really define why she is such a wonderful force in my life, the moments where we are just chatting and sharing about our regular, daily lives, and we both learn so much from each other.
What is your favorite piece of advice? My mother has always told me to trust my gut and to trust good instincts. It has encouraged my faith in myself, my decisions, and my ability to fully stand behind my choices.
Why do you think it’s important to save mothers from pregnancy-related complications? Pregnancy and birth should be the start of motherhood. It is the very beginning of the journey—so much good comes afterwards. Every mother deserves the chance to experience those milestones with her child. Maternal healthcare should not be a privilege; it is a right owed to all mothers worldwide.
Why does your mother deserve to be Saving Mothers’ “Mother of the Year”? While I’m sure every child thinks he or she has lucked out the most when it comes to his or her mom, I simply think I couldn’t have had a more loving, thoughtful, intelligent, and fiercely devoted mother if I tried. My mom has been there for me 100%, and I feel lucky to call her a mother and a friend.
Rwanda has been featured prominently in the news this week because of the 20th anniversary of the terrible genocide that devastated the country. Many of the stories are deeply saddening, but there have also been some bright spots, reports of how Rwanda has attempted to rebuild itself and improve the lives of its citizens over the past 20 years.
I read an article authored by Mark Shriver, the Senior Vice President for Strategic Initiatives with Save the Children, that talked about how President Kagame’s administration has worked to improve the lives of Rwandan women and children, prioritizing Millennium Development Goal 4 of reducing the under-five mortality rate by two-thirds since 1990. Today, Rwanda is on schedule to meet this goal and has made amazing progress in certain key health interventions, like greatly reducing childhood death from malaria.
As Shriver pointed out, “Rwanda is one of the few countries in the developing world that has reduced the newborn mortality rate by 30 percent over the last decade.” Though mortality rates still remain high—37 per 1,000 live births—the trend is in the right direction. Speaking with President Kagame about the upcoming U.S.- Africa Leaders Summit, Shriver asked about economic development and electrification. Interrupting, President Kagame responded, “What good is that if our babies and mothers are dying? They must be the priority.”
While it has been heartbreaking to hear so many stories of brutality and suffering caused by the Rwandan genocide, it is encouraging to see examples of how the country is moving forward to heal itself, focusing on a healthy future for mothers and children for future generations.
(photo credit: womendeliver.org)
Christine is the mother of Camille Ricketts (me), Saving Mothers’ Web and Media Director. I am nominating her for the Mother of the Year Award, not only because she’s been an incredible mother, friend, and supporter — but because she’s changed her life in remarkable, inspiring ways — ways we hope that the women supported by Saving Mothers worldwide will also be able to change their lives for the better.
Without the opportunity to get the education she wanted early in life, my mom worked tirelessly to support our family every way she could. She put her dreams on hold to work difficult, demanding jobs. And when my father was diagnosed with cancer — when I was only 8 years old — and had to stop working, she supported both of us and convinced me every day that everything was going to be okay. She created stability where there could have easily been none, and comfort when it was needed most. My father recovered and started working again, but I will never forget her strength and courage during that time in my life.
Even though she did not have the chance to go to college, she supported me to be the best version of myself and dream not just big, but huge. And when I was fortunate enough to be accepted into Stanford University, there was no question of whether I’d be able to go. She’d find a way to make it possible, no matter what. I don’t think I’ve had adequate appreciation for how big of a promise she was making that day I opened my acceptance letter, but it must have been mind-boggling. Of course she delivered on that promise, never once complaining or expressing regret.
Now it’s my mom’s turn. I am filled with pride, admiration, and general awe when I think about how she has changed her life in just the last several years. She returned to school, taught herself how to be a great writer, earned her certificate in drug and alcohol abuse counseling, and found a great job helping young people with their addictions. It’s a beautiful, full circle in so many ways, and it fills my heart to see her continuing to provide bottomless support to young women and others to help them achieve their potential too.
For all these reasons and more, I’d like to nominate my superhuman mother, Christine, for Saving Mothers’ Mother of the Year Award. In my mind and heart, she represents everything we stand for at Saving Mothers: steadfast support, creative problem solving, the promise of a better future, and endless belief in the human spirit’s ability to change.
Thank you, mom. I love you.
This Mother’s Day, Saving Mothers is launching a competition for the Saving Mothers’ “Mother of the Year” award. We will be posting nominations for this award during the month leading up to Mother’s Day, May 11th. Our first nominee post will begin this Thursday, April 11th.
How does it work?
1) Click here to nominate a special mother in your life (takes 5 minutes).
2) We will notify you and the nominee the day before we post your nomination on Saving Mothers’ social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter and Saving Mothers’ blog) along with a nominee-specific fundraising link.
3) You will have from the day of the post* until 12 am EST May 11th to garner as many points as possible. (Each Facebook like = 1 point, Each $1 raised = 2 points).
4) The winner of the Saving Mothers’ “Mother of the Year Award” will go to the nominee with the most number of points and Saving Mothers will feature her on Mother’s Day.
*Nominee submission are posted on a first-come-first-served basis. The earlier you submit your nomination, the more time you will have to earn points.
Questions? Please contact us at email@example.com.
This week marked the start of the Women in the World Summit in NYC. It’s a pretty amazing program of events designed to engage women (and men!) in discussion about key issues in politics, economics, global health and much more. I was particularly excited to see that they chose to focus time and attention on the issue of maternal health. Our medical director, Dr. Taraneh Shiraizan, was in attendance to join the discussion.
Part of the program is focused on “Breakthroughs in the Fight Against Maternal Mortality” and involves panel discussions among experts on advances in maternal health, both in the U.S. and abroad. Maternal health is such an important issue, and it’s terrific to see how discussions around maternal mortality and preventative care have been incorporated into this summit. If you’re curious to learn a bit more about the summit, definitely check out the site – there’s a lot of great video content, including this clip of news anchor Soledad O’Brien and JoAnne Fischer of the Maternity Care Coalition discussing maternal mortality and healthcare and some really interesting articles. Hope you enjoy and have a great weekend!
Photo: Saving Mothers’ Medical Director, Dr. Shirazian (left) with Saving Mothers’ Community Programs Coordinator, Samantha Smith, RN (middle) and our local nurse partner (right) checking in on a patient post operation
What an incredible response! Thanks to you, we surpassed our goal of raising $20,000 to provide life-changing surgical care to women in the Dominican Republic!
Check out @savingmothers on Twitter to see the impact you have made! Saving Mothers’ team of health providers spent this past week operating and giving these women the care that they deserve!
Stay tuned for an update about a successful week of surgeries made possible because of your support for our Indiegogo Campaign.
A special thanks to the following donors for their support:
Thank you! We couldn’t have done it without you!
Saving Mothers is very excited to welcome Lisa Gilligan MPH as our new Executive Director. Lisa received an MPH from Columbia University in 2008 and currently serves as a consultant to the Prenatal Health & Wellness Initiative at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, as well as a curriculum consultant for the MPH program at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Prior to receiving her MPH, Lisa spent 10 years in the financial services industry where she developed expertise in financial analysis, forecasting and strategic planning. Lisa’s interest in public health arose while navigating healthcare institutions in the process of raising her four children, as well as through her experience as a pro bono financial consultant at local hospitals. Given the combination of her expertise in both public health and finance, Gilligan is poised to take Saving Mothers to the next level and help the organization expand its mission to promote women’s health around the world.
In Lisa’s own words:
Why drew you to Saving Mothers? I am deeply inspired by the passion of our founders and their selfless commitment to aid women in underserved communities. I believe in their mission, I believe in their program, and I believe that I can play a pivotal role in moving their organization forward.
What do you hope to accomplish as Saving Mothers’ Executive Director? My goal is to expand our mission to more countries by raising public awareness of our organization, increasing the effectiveness of our fundraising activities and pursuing synergies with like-minded organizations.
What is your vision for Saving Mothers? I would love to see Saving Mothers expand its mission to more countries, particularly those where women are at the greatest risk of death due to pregnancy and childbirth.
What are your hobbies/interests? Yoga, running, reading, watching Hitchcock movies and playing chess. I am also an NPR addict and love the Moth Radio Hour.
We’re officially a month into our 16-week Comadrona School of POWHER (Providing Outreach for Women’s Health Education and Resources), and we’re thrilled about how well the course is going! The 22 traditional birth attendants known as comadronas who enrolled in the training are quickly learning new techniques for safe deliveries through interactive games.
One of the games is “Quien soy yo? [Who am I]” where the women are each assigned an internal organ and have to describe its function. And, through team-based assignments, the comadronas learne how to manage common complaints and issues related to pregnancy. After dividing into teams, each group is assigned a complaint and instructed to create a 5-minute skit showing how a comadrona should advise a patient to address the issue. The women have also heard a lecture about prenatal care, its importance and the components of a prenatal visit.
In addition to fun, engaging didactics, the curriculum includes a hands-on skills lab. Here, the comadronas are taught how to take blood pressure, measure fundal height, use a fetal doppler, calculate the estimated expected date of delivery with a pregnancy wheel, and perform Leopolds’ maneuvers to assess fetal position.
"They really enjoyed placing their hands on a pregnant belly. When the comadronas felt the fetal movement, you could literally see them glowing," says Jes Oliveira, Saving Mothers’ Guatemala Coordinator who spearheaded and runs the Comadrona School of POWHER.
This week, two of the students will start their clinical training and perform 11 prenatal visits in the rural coffee fields of Tzanchaj. The students will be supervised by certified nurse midwives who have helped train the comadronas.
We are very excited about the rest of the curriculum! By the end, these 22 women will be qualified to ensure safer, healthier births in their local villages.
Want to support our work in Guatamala? Click here and contribute to the Comadrona School of POWHER.
The students made skits about how to address common prenatal complaints such as leg swelling.
A poster that the students made to address leg swelling.
Students also engaged in hands-on clinical skills sessions such as learning to how to take blood pressure measurements.
The comadronas in training also learned how to use pregnancy wheels to determine the estimated date of delivery.