State of the World’s Mothers 2014 #SOWM

English: mothers day photo, Pakistani mother a...

I was 13 when I first witnessed the miracle of birth at a women’s and children’s hospital in Pakistan. Ever since I have had a part of my heart reserved for mothers and babies.

The picture of two seeming opposites, strength and fragility, in both mom and baby broke through my insufferable teenage arrogance and I was captivated.

I went on to witness many births – first as a student nurse, then as a maternal-child health nurse, until finally I began having my own babies. I remember vividly the line on the pregnancy test showing up, dark and clear. I remember the first flutter of movement and the excitement I felt early on a spring morning in Chicago. I was barely awake, but the flutter sounded louder than an alarm clock and I woke my husband to share the excitement, to rejoice in the miracle. As a mom there are some things you don’t forget – and those were just two of them.

My babies were born all over the world. Beginning in a birthing room in Chicago; moving on to a hospital in Islamabad, Pakistan; still further to Daytona Beach, Florida; ending in Cairo, Egypt in a hospital on the banks of the Nile where my last two took their first breaths of life, and saw the world for the first time. I was so fortunate. I was so privileged.

And so every year I pay attention to the report released by Save the Children: The State of the World’s Mothers. This report has come out yearly since 2000 and is always released just before western Mother’s Day. It is considered a reliable tool across the world to show where mother’s and children do best and which areas they face hardships, often to the extreme. The report always ends with recommendations, calling on the world to make mothers and children a priority, to make moms and kids healthier worldwide.  

“In this report, Save the Children examines the causes of maternal and child deaths in crisis settings, and suggests urgent actions needed to support mothers who are raising the world’s future generations under some of the most difficult and horrific circumstances imaginable.” from the 2014 report.

This year the focus of the report is on mothers in areas of humanitarian crisis. Here are just a couple of the things that stood out to me from the report:

  • More than 60 million women and children are in need of humanitarian assistance this year.
  • Over half of maternal and child deaths worldwide occur in crisis-affected places yet still the majority of these deaths are preventable.
  • Worldwide women and children are 14 times more likely to die in disaster settings than men.
  • For every person killed by armed violence, anywhere from 3-15 die indirectly from malnutrition, diseases and medical complications.
  • Over three-quarters of the projected 80 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in 2014 are women and children.
  • Areas of most concern include Democratic Republic of th Congo where civil war has caused terrible violence against women and children as well as high rates of disease and death from diarrhea, malaria, pneumonia and general new-born difficulties brought about from too few health workers and pregnancies and births in these difficult situations; Syria where data on how bad things are can’t even be gathered as the countries enters its fourth year of horrific conflict; Philippines where Typhoon Hainan ravaged the country in November affecting infrastructure and health care access.
  • The first day of life is the riskiest day of life for the newborn everywhere, but complicating this with all that comes with a fragile situations — lack of medical help, poor sanitation, violence, disease, insufficient water supply, living in close quarters with hundreds of others — makes it even riskier.

So where is the hope? 

First off it’s in the mothers themselves, because no matter where you go moms want to keep their babies and children healthy – they will do anything to make life better for their kids. Moms want a better and more secure future for their children. That is a strength. Second – there’s hope in breastfeeding. This, as a natural source of vitamin-filled nutrition, keeps the baby full of nutrients that fight infection and malnutrition. It also works as a way to prevent postpartum hemorrhaging, helping the uterus to return to its normal state pre-pregnancy.

Hear this: When formula is distributed where it shouldn’t be it hurts everyone!

In emergency situations it is near impossible to prepare formula properly. It’s irresponsible to send formula and randomly distribute it thinking you are doing people a service. If it is distributed, it must be done carefully with extra attention given to how to prepare. To quote the report directly:

“In all situations, children who are fed infant formula are more likely to become ill and die than those who are breastfed. In an emergency context such as the Syrian conflict, where the risk of dying is already high for children, breastfeeding saves lives, providing critical protection from infections and death.”

Third – what Save the Children’s report does not highlight is the amazing work going on throughout the world by unacknowledged women’s and children’s hospitals. I know people in Pakistan, Haiti, India that work with no need for recognition, daily doing their part to assist with healthy births, to teach breast-feeding techniques, to vaccinate children. A project in a rural area of Pakistan teaches literacy and hygiene to women and children. Community health workers in many parts of the world take on the role of educating their communities. All is not hopeless.

I’m convinced and the data itself shows that when you invest in women and children you make the entire community healthier and more economically stable. For every dollar spent on key interventions for reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health, about US$ 20 in benefits could be generated.*

Readers of Communicating Across Boundaries live all over the world. And so I’ll close this by saying wherever you are in the world, work to spread the word that mothers and children matter and are worth investing in. They matter to their families, to their communities, and to society as a whole. 

*If you use twitter tweet the report using this tag #SOWM

On my travels I’ve met with mothers recovering from the devastation of ongoing conflict, mothers trying to make a refugee camp feel like home, and mothers who fled from violence with their children on their backs. Despite the horrors of the past, every mother I meet is focused on the future and how to make it brighter for her children. – Jasmine Whitbread CEO of Save the Children International

To download a full copy of the report go here.

*A study by Victoria University in Melbourne in six Asian countries

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In Honor of Boarding School Moms

For many moms, sending a child to boarding school is probably a bit like giving them up for adoption. You are entrusting another to care for that child who you birthed, who you love, who holds your heart. For let’s be honest, the minute we give birth there is a crack in our fine-oiled armor – A crack that is all soft, sweet-smelling baby. The crack widens when boarding school is a part of the picture.

And often there is criticism from others when boarding school becomes a part of the lives of children.  Sometimes the criticism is founded, other times it perhaps needs to be rethought and the words “God didn’t intend it this way” or “Your kids will never really heal” needs to be said cautiously, if at all.

For there are those of us who went to boarding school and knew even as young children that it was okay. We knew beyond doubt that our parents loved us. Knew that we were given to them as a gift on loan. Our parents understood that they were never the primary authors of our story – for that authorship belongs to God alone. But they wrote on our lives and allowed others to as well – our boarding parents.

Some of those boarding parents wrote well – words of wisdom, laughter, joy, and discipline. Others weren’t sure what to write – and that’s okay. They are and were human. Others wrote poorly – and that was difficult.

Today I honor my mom and two of those boarding moms – Deb & Eunice.

Eunice spoke into my life when I was a little girl. I was seven years old when I met her. Eunice was pretty and had the voice of an angel. She could be heard singing in the halls of our dormitory. I would pretend I was homesick just so I could have Auntie Eunice to myself. Auntie Eunice wrote music and joy into my elementary world. She mothered so many of us so well, yet always gave us up without a grudge when our real moms came to reclaim us.

But we were still always her kids.

Deb spoke into my life when I was a teenager. When boys and belief became more complicated and I was learning to work out my faith with fear and trembling. Deb’s small studio apartment had room for our cooking, our laughter, and even our tears – sometimes falling so fast it was hard to keep up. Deb loved us when we were unloveable and kept in touch with us when we faced the daunting task of returning to our passport countries. Deb was less housemother and more friend.

Deb and Eunice taught me to love well, without holding too tight. They taught me about sacrifice and perseverance. They taught me about laughter and the long journey. As I grew they became my friends – friends I could pray with, cry with, and laugh with until the wee morning hours.

And my mom allowed them to do that. She gave me to God and prayed for those who could walk beside me when she wasn’t there.

And He granted her request.

So to Deb, Eunice and Mom – Happy Mother’s Day and thank you! You loved well and taught so many of us to do the same.

Happy Mother’s Day. Thank you for loving well

Repost Because It’s so True! ~ A Penny for “Don’t Worry”

If I had a penny for every time one of my children said “Don’t Worry!” I’d be a gazillionaire! I don’t even know if there is such a thing but I would be one.

Me: “Make sure you get the paper in to your history teacher!”

He: “Don’t Worry! I’ll get it in!” …. 9 hours later

Me: “Did you get the history paper in on time?”‘

He: “Oh no – Mom, I’m so, so sorry!”

Next scenario:

Me: “Make sure you’ve let your work know that you won’t be available this next weekend”

She: “Don’t Worry! You know I won’t forget”….. Weekend comes.

She: “Oh crap, I forgot to let my work know I wouldn’t be there”

Me (under my breath): “Don’t Worry!” (Said the way no mother should ever speak: with sarcasm)

The scenarios differ but the words are always and forever the same. Need the garbage taken out? Don’t worry! Need the cat fed, plants watered, dishwasher emptied? Don’t worry! Need a GPA that will allow you to graduate from high school? Don’t worry! Need to save yourself from going crazy? Don’t worry!

It’s amazing the power those two words hold for teenagers. In their minds this is the answer for everything, better still, isn’t it what moms want to hear? Somehow the words sink into their brains and convince them that their moms really don’t need to worry, that they have everything under control. They, with their tiny bank accounts, hair from hell, and inability to get to school on time are in control?  Awesome.

But worst of all, when they use those dreadful words, and later come and look at me with big, sad eyes and true conviction that I am right, I melt and forgive them on the spot. I temporarily forget that the words exist and hug them thinking how boring my world would be without these ingrates.

When I look closely at the penny there are four significant words at the very top. It is these words that challenge me and make me think maybe my kids are right about this  “Don’t worry!” mantra.  In reality, the only words strong enough to combat my worry are the words “In God We (I) trust”. It’s those words that will sustain me until the next “Don’t worry.”

And now I need to go and phone one of them. Somehow I know the conversation will go like this:

Me: “This is your first day of work. Make sure you’re not late!”

He: “Don’t worry!”

One more penny for my growing savings account.

“Oops! I Just Need a Little Space….”

Fridays with Robynn – “Oops! I just need a little space…..”

Once when my Adelaide was 5, she brought her ‘daughter’ –her younger sister –to me and said,

  “Can you please look after my little girl for me?” I was quick to volunteer my services, “Sure, are you going out shopping?”

“No,” she replied, “I just need a little space!”

Of course five-year old ‘mothers’ learn that from somewhere!


School started here in our town this week. And where most moms were sad that the long lazy days of summer are over, that their time with their young darlings would now be dictated by school schedules, that their babies were being taken away from them….I was not! I was excited, relieved even. I’m just not one of those moms.

Don’t misunderstand me. I love my children. They are full of energy and passion. Each one of them is a charged up personality. They are all three articulate, competitive and opinionated. Each of them are growing into their own strong sense of self.  I love them deeply, keenly.

But I also love my space. I love routine. I love predictable rhythms. I love the freedom to write in complete sentences, to think full thoughts. I love quiet.

I cannot do that with my children around me.

For years I felt guilty about these things. Why wasn’t I more maternal? Why wasn’t I more warm and fuzzy?

Several years ago I read a profoundly personal book, Spirituality and the Mother Zone:  Staying Centered, Finding God by Trudelle Thomas. Thomas looks at issues surrounding motherhood that others aren’t honest enough to uncover. She talks opening about the loss of control, the occasional rages, the guilt, the resentment, the horrible feeling of not knowing what to do. She explores the secret topics of motherhood. I’ve always been an honest person, but I had never given voice to the niggling thoughts and relentless emotions (including, on occasion, the deep anger). Thomas gave me freedom to be me and the mother that I was created to be.

I guess I’m the best mother God intended for my children. I’m the one He chose for Connor, Adelaide and Bronwynn.  As I parent from who I am, with honesty and with joy, my children get me! With all my foibles and faults, with my frenzies and failings….my children get me.

I’m not likely to ever be up for Mother Of The Year, but I’m the mother here: year in, year out. And my children know I love them.

And they know I love having them back in school.

Last week after Sunday school, Connor’s teacher came up to me. She said she had told the kids that mothers are sad too that summer is over and the kids are all going back to school. Connor piped up, “Not my mom…she’s excited!”


And another article:

The Milestone of Twenty-Five

There are many milestones for moms. Milestones of birth and first tooth, milestones of first day of school and graduation, milestones of heartbreaks and accomplishments. And one of those milestones is when a child turns twenty-five. I don’t know what it is, but twenty-five is a big deal.

Twenty-five is an adult. Twenty-five is a quarter of a century. Twenty-five is a reminder of my mortality, a reminder that I am growing older and will someday grow old. 

And today my second child and first-born son turns twenty-five. Born on a hot evening in the middle of Ramadan in Islamabad, Pakistan, he came into the world with a full head of blonde hair and the most gorgeous blue eyes I had ever seen. The sleepless night that followed had me staring at those wide open eyes for over 4 hours. It was a moment that I will never forget. In those 4 hours all the love that I could pour out in this world poured out. I was smitten.

The memories I have of a tow-headed toddler are both hilarious and poignant. Running across a carpeted apartment floor with an egg, thinking it was hard-boiled only to lose it on the ground and realize it wasn’t, resulting laughter erupting from the soul. Seeing the Egyptian policemen change uniforms in spring and saying in complete sincerity “Mommy, when I grow up I want to be one of them!”. Cries for me to pick him up when I was pregnant with our fourth and so tired. “Can I tell you a secret Joel? I can’t pick you up because we’re having another baby. You’ll have another little brother or sister!” His eyes went wide with amazement and he walked the entire way up the hill.

The more recent memories come in the form of a picture taken in Trader Joe’s parking lot in Cambridge. He gathered up his older sister and I in his arms and someone snapped a picture. Taped to our refrigerator, it is a reminder of bear hugs and warmth. Memories of this past Christmas in Cairo, late nights in coffee houses, climbing up the highest minarets in the city and laughing on a French express train to Alexandria.

It’s these memories and more I have as I think about this day and milestone. His debating skills, honed on his father; his love of travel and history; his cooking ability; his ability to make friends; his raucous laughter that makes everyone around him laugh, even if we don’t think something is funny – all of this is the person who is Joel.

Joel lives miles away and has been independent for some time. He manages his world without his mom. It’s hard to admit but he does it well.

And today he will turn twenty-five without us. Though presents have been sent, it’s not like being there and raising a toast in his honor. It’s a milestone. A milestone for him, a milestone for me, a milestone for his dad.

Happy Birthday Joel – You came into our lives and our world did a dance. 

Cairo Cool! Joel is second from the right. 

I Remember

Me & My Mom – Easter, 2019

Today is Mother’s Day in the United States. For the first time ever as a mom I am neither with any of my children or with my own mom. I have hungrily devoured messages, emails, and phone calls that are filled with love and words of affirmation of this amazing and difficult task called ‘being a mom’. In honor of my own mom, who I am fortunate enough to still have on this planet, I post this piece that I wrote a number of years ago. 

To My Mom

I remember sleeping on the rooftop of our house in Ratodero. We would wake at dawn when we heard the call to prayer from the nearby mosque and despite your maternal pleadings, we couldn’t go back to sleep.

I remember being tucked into bed at night, you would read me a story, kiss me, and then sit by my bedside and sing. It’s what I missed the most in boarding school.

I remember that first trip on the train party. In my memory I had just turned seven years old and we were in Hyderabad. I cried tears from my soul the entire way to the station. As the train pulled out, I stopped crying and you began. I never saw your tears and it wasn’t until later that I heard about them.

I remember you never let anyone call me chubby, even when I was.

I remember our fights. Stone-faced cold I could be to my mother. And I think I may have been the child that could bring on your fiery temper better than the others. I remember your forgiveness. Sometimes I think we both thought the fights would continue forever, but we were wrong.

I remember the picture you hung on our wall, a snow scene of New England, reminder of your home so far away from the desert of Sindh. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized that there must have been times when you missed your home so much that it hurt.

I remember seeing you every morning. No matter how early I got up, you were up earlier, praying and reading your Bible, strength of your soul.

I remember your presence in the first couple of weeks of me becoming a mom. Your common sense wisdom was a gift.

And I remember the first time I realize that you were aging. I fought it. Because if you were aging it meant there would come one day when you would no longer be available to talk to and ask questions of; to pray for me, my marriage, my children.

But you are still here and still speak into my life. So today I remember that I want to Thank You publicly and privately, from my heart.

Happy Mother’s Day. On this day it’s good to remember.

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1000 Moms Project

“What’s Mom Doing in My Mirror?!”

I sleepily walked into the bathroom, tired from an Easter weekend filled with chocolate and relatives. “What’s Mom doing in my mirror?” I wondered aloud as I stared with heavy, sleep-filled eyes at the image staring back at me. I half smiled and Mom gave a little smile back. Ahhh! Nice!

I backed up and Mom moved away from the mirror…I moved forward and she did the same. And with that motion I realized with a shock that the young 26-year-old I once was was replaced with a version that was recognizable only as my Mom.

And I love my Mom. She is lovely. She has aged with grace and beauty. She is also 32 years older than me, so to see myself 32 years older than I had imagined was a big surprise.

I was relaying this to a friend and she began to nod her head and laugh. “Yes!” She said. “I know exactly what you mean!” She was recently in a store and had to show her license to validate her identity. The teenager behind the counter looked at the license, looked at her, and gasped aloud “What happened to you?!” He wasn’t old enough to have the tact to hide his shock.

Aging comes with its humorous moments and that is a gift. A gift because much dignity is lost as I go from being that young cute thing to being described as that “Older or middle-aged woman”.  A gift because laughter is so incredibly healing in this journey called aging as mirrors reflect back mothers or strangers, and even doctors can’t stall the inevitable.

So I waved goodbye to my Mom and told her I’d see her in the reflection of the car window. Not surprisingly, she waved back!

Have you seen your mom or dad in your reflection recently? Do tell! We need each other in this process!

“Humbly Letting Go”

There are a thousand ways to humbly let go” Ann Voskamp ~ One Thousand Gifts

It begins the moment you see your newborn with the soft downy fuzz substitute for hair, the baby soft skin, the red marks showing the struggle of the birth process on their faces, and that new-born cry that only the mom and dad can soothe. You are vulnerable. You have begun on the path of vulnerability that is parenting. From now on people will have a weapon against you that was previously unavailable: that weapon of your children.

Insults to me? These may hurt, but insults to my children? Those wound. Criticism to me? I’ll think about it and weigh the merits. Criticism of my children? That’s crossed a line – unless I’m the one criticizing. Yes, children are an extreme weapon.

And yet the path of parenting is one that demands that I “humbly let go”. I am called to humbly let go of the control I so badly want and think I need. The control of their lives from what they will eat, to where they will go to college, to who they will marry. I am to humbly let go of the desire to make everything ok for them, set their paths straight.  I am to humbly let go of the hurts that make me want to stalk their friends and scream at them “Be Kind!”  I am to humbly forgive and let go of the times when these fruits of my womb hurt me.

There are a thousand ways to humbly let go – but it’s still so hard. How do you let go with humility and peace? This role of parenting is not a role that can accommodate big egos and selfishness. It’s a role that demands that I “humbly let go”.

How is parenting going for you? Where have you struggled to let go? This mom needs you today! 

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