The best place to be a Mother

So, the best place to be a mother is Norway. If you’re in Australia and Iceland, don’t panic, you’re equal second. Britain, you’re number 10, Canada comes in 20th and America, how times have changed, America, you’re number 31. According to a study released this week, from the 12th Annual Save the Children’s Mothers index, which measures the well-being of mothers and babies.

It seems it pays to be Nordic. Not just because you will no doubt be blessed with long, honey coloured legs and glossy blonde hair, surrounded by Bjorn Borg look-a-likes called Sven, but also because your countries fall in the top ten on the list. After hearing my friend from the Netherlands tell me about her midwife who came to her house after the birth and did her washing and ironing, I’m really not all that surprised.

My current home, Qatar, is on a different list and comes in at number 38, which surprises me as the majority of birth stories here are happy ones. I think they must have spoken to the nurse who gave my friend an epidural and told her it would be “much easier to get this in, if you weren’t so fat”. She wasn’t high on the happiness index of Motherhood at that stage of her 15 hour labour.

I’ve had four babies in four different countries, all were vastly different circumstances, but all had the same outcome. A healthy and occasionally huge baby. The experiences varied from being surrounded by friends and family in Australia, having the woman who cleaned the floor also checking my blood pressure in Malaysia, Mediterranean views in Malta and a small fire breaking out in our overflowing public hospital in Canada.

During every pregnancy and after each birth I have shared stories with fellow Mothers. As parents we speak fondly of the amazing midwife, maybe grumble about the arrogant doctor, the anesthetist that arrived to late, the inedible food. We debate the difference between Private and Public Health or perhaps, depending on where you live, the complete lack of choice.

I’ve discussed whether I’ve had to provide my own nappies/diapers and clothes at the hospital. I’ve become frustrated with contradictory breast feeding advice.  There’s been the comparison between the male and female OBGYN (the women have much smaller hands). I feel like I’ve pretty well covered everything, but I haven’t. Not by a long shot.

I have never had to discuss the two day journey that was made walking to the hospital. The fistula I developed after the heartbreaking four day labour and stillborn birth. I’ve never had to think about getting through labour on my own, no doctor, midwife or even someone remotely qualified to help. I’ve never given birth in a camp or walked across a war zone and had a bullet that was three inches away from my womb removed, like a woman in Afghanistan did late last year.

Having a baby can be a terrifying thing the first time around. We worry about so many things that could go wrong, it’s easy to forget that statistically, if we are educated and living in what is commonly known as a “developed country” the odds are in our favour to deliver a healthy, happy baby.

So what’s the difference between coming first, which is Norway, or being last on the list, which is Afghanistan.

Skilled health professionals are present at virtually every birth in Norway, while only 14 percent of births are attended in Afghanistan. Eighty two percent of women in Norway use modern contraception, with Afghan women it drops to less than 16 percent. Women in Norway live to an average age of 83, for women in Afghanistan it’s 45. If I was in Afghanistan, I’d be gone in a few years. How much longer would you have left?

A girlfriend of mine, who is currently working in Afghanistan, told last week of meeting an Afghan MP who explained that some baby girls go nameless for two years after their birth, because of the disappointment.

When I think about the births of all of my children, as much as there was sometimes fear and trepidation, I was so incredibly lucky, there was never despair.

The Save the Children Organization releases its report each year before Mothers Day (the women in the UK have already had their Mothers Day but I think they should push for two). The hope is that we will honor our mothers and maybe think about how lucky we are to be born where we were. If you’d like to donate there are many wonderful and inexpensive ways to do so. Here’s a link…


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  • Michelle

    What an amazing post. You are right – we are very lucky. I too have had, on any measure, very privileged circumstances under which to give birth. I hope lots of people read this and I will now pop over to the link.
    Love Michelle

  • Annie

    We are soooo lucky here in Australia, apart from the fact we don’t have blonde hair, long legs & honey coloured skin as a given! I cannot imagine the horrific conditions so many women around the world have to endure to have a baby. I often think about women in places like Sierra Leone and other places in Africa where live in dreadful conditions in tent cities. Hmm and so many Australian women complain because they didn’t get a room to themselves or they didn’t get the prime birthing suite. Sometimes perspective is needed. Thank you for reminding us of this. xx

  • shamozal

    Thanks Michelle, I clicked on “ways to give” and then found the “gift catalogue” it had some fantastic things in it. For $10 there was the newborn package, which I think catered for around 30 babies.

  • Kylie L

    Fabulous post. I know that when I gave birth in Scotland I was appalled that I had to share a maternity ward with 32 other mums and babies; that there was no private bathroom or phone; that they didn’t bring me wine with dinner the way they did in Australia. But hey, my baby and I, both of whom needed surgery after delivery, were well cared for and left whole and healthy. That’s all that matters really, isn’t it?

  • KJ

    Oh, Kirsty, such a wonderful article. It made me pause eating my breakfast cereal. If I was in Afghanistan I’d have, on average, 7 years to live. SEVEN YEARS!

    I had 2 wonderful birth experiences, both caesarean. With my first I had all manner of complications and had I lived in a country toward the bottom of that list I would have died. I think that’s something that us in the ‘lucky countries’ forget, women still die in childbirth every single day.

  • shamozal

    snap! I was horrified with the communal living arrangements in a couple of my locations and was one of those people who began sentences with “In Australia…..” In hindsight it could have been so much worse and I left the hospital with all my bits and pieces in the right place and a very perfect babies.

  • Expat Mum

    Great post! It doesn’t surprise me that the USA is so low on the list. For people who can’t afford good health insurance, the care can be minimal at least. We often hear of young girls going right through a pregnancy seeing no doctor until they pitch up at the hospital for the delivery.

  • Bianca Wordley

    Thanks Kirst I will check out the giving page. I was really lucky with all three girls. The hospital was great, I had a room to myself, wine, really yummy food, not too many health complications. Of course there were tears, breastfeeding issues, a sewn-up tummy etc – but very lucky.

  • Rhi

    Thank you so much for sharing that. I too really need to get some perspective, and appreciate the options I have. I had my first two babies in Australia, public system, no complications at all, perfect babies, home the same day with the second one. As we start to think about a third, and we will be in Belgium this time, I have been known to complain that the Belgian hospital system has Mothers stay in hospital for 5 days for a natural birth, or 7 for a c-section. “I just want to have a midwife birth and go home straight away”…”no-one is gonna make me stay in hospital with my new baby, we’re not sick”… whinge whinge whinge sook sook sook…. I will get a grip now, and be thankful that I am only dropping from #2 to #8 on the list, and that the hospitals have space for us.

  • carolyne ogden

    Such a sobering reality. I know so many of us complain of the crabby nurse or a birth plan not followed to the ‘t’, but we are all here to complain, and so are our babies. I would already be dead, and so would be my oldest son, if we were in Afghanistan. So glad you are calling attention to the problems these women have with VVFs. I first read about them in a blog kept by a nurse on one of the Mercy Ships. The link to her entries about them is here if you’re interested:

    It’s’ an issue that we women in developed countries are fortunate not to be familiar with. Thanks for this article.

  • shamozal

    Oh Carolyne, just read their blog. What a couple. Thanks for sending me over there.

  • P&D Mills

    This is fantastic. I have absolutely nothing to complain about in comparison to the majority of women in the rest of the world. In my little world, my original birth plan went out the window, which subsequently set the standard for my next 3 deliveries (I’ve had 4 c-sections)….but I’m so thankful to live in this country – otherwise my husband could have easily been a widower with no children. (I’m going to link to this post from my fb page).

  • Bern

    Awesome article. Need to remind myself how lucky we are here. xx Happy Mothers day to an outstanding Mother. My husband is playing cricket. ALL DAY. There will be one hell of an IOU. x

  • Wanderlust

    What an excellent post. And go Australia for coming in #2! We really are so lucky (even those of us down at #31). I’ve seen documentaries about women in 3rd world countries and what they have to go through when they have complications with their labor. We take so much for granted. I would not be here, nor would my daughter, did we not live in a country where I was able to give birth where emergency medical were on hand.

  • ginabaynham

    Having had two perfect labours and two healthy babies I was strongly encouraged to have a home birth for baby number three. I declined and had him in hospital where he was born navy, limp and lifeless. They got him back but I was told we would both likely have died at home. I was so glad of the medical help that I got from a public system that often gets slammed in the press. An article like yours really gives a perspective on how lucky we are in the developed world.

  • Naturally Carol

    If I’d lived the term of my life in Afghanistan I would have been dead 8 years ago..but realistically having problems in childbirth with my first I would have been dead at just 20 years old! I am grateful for all that we have here in Oz.

  • Tracey Baglin

    quite aware that i and my first baby would have died without access to decent healthcare, and as i turned 45 last year, i would be dead in Afghanistan … seems a bit churlish to complain about the porridge being cold, or the air con in my private room breaking down, doesn’t it? xt

  • sarahbendeich

    What a great post Kirsty. We are lucky indeed in the developed world. Your comment about Afghani baby girls going unnamed for two years saddened me. What sort of mothers will these girls grown into, with the inevitable psychological damage that would occur through such powerful messages of indifference? It’s very sad.

  • Catherinepenfold

    Thanks for sharing a wonderful post Kirsty. Cx

  • Cate P

    Fab post Kirsty and perfectly timed.
    At the time of our own issues with doctors, or hospitals or lack of a glass of wine, we think it’s truly terrible, but there is always someone a lot worse off. Always.
    And sometimes we need to be reminded.

  • shamozal

    I know what you mean, my cervix and I have had a tumultuous relationship. I too would have been one of those women that went for days. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how lucky we are. Thanks for the lovely comment. Kx

  • shamozal

    Wow. Just wow. Once again, how lucky are we.

  • shamozal

    The comment on the Afghani girls really struck a chord with me also, I haven’t been able to shake it from my mind since my girlfriend told me. I keep thinking about where you have to be as a mother to feel such despair. If you don’t have a name do you still get cuddles, are you held? So so sad.

  • Jane

    Bravo, Kirsty – a brilliant and most thought-provoking post. You’ve really put the issue into a stark perspective. Well done. J x

  • shamozal

    Thanks Cate.

  • Misfit Mommy

    Excellent post, Kirsty! There was a ‘fellow’ at my specialists office who was pregnant, and sadly she went back to her home country of – Norway! – to have her baby, citing the excellent health care and support that would afford her something like 18 months maternity leave! I got 12 weeks (but that was generous – they could have offered the minimum 6 weeks…) No wonder the U.S. is near the bottom – don’t get me started! 🙂

  • Judith Brocklehurst

    Excellent Kirsty! The hardest job in the world! If in Afganistan, I would surely be dead. I’m now past 48, so have lived longer than my own mother. I arrived in the world in the back bedroom with just my dad to assist. Just as well I was child # 3. As for my own babies, THANK GOD for modern medicine and dedicated medical professionals. Here’s to all the hardworking, caring maternity workers in the world.

  • veryboredincatalunya

    Brilliant post, being pregnant again in a foreign country really makes you think about maternity care around the world and how vastly different it all is. I’m lucky that Spain is ranked #12, one above my native UK – (what without gas & air?), although I am thinking of emigrating to Oz now – wine with your meal??

    The average age of an Afghan woman is 45 – that is so awfully shocking.

  • Penny

    WOW! Really puts things into perspective. Great post, thank you.
    I would have been in labour for days and possibly died with my firstborn. I am so thankful!

  • Kirrily @ Sunny Side Up

     Thank you so much for this deeply thought provoking post. And I am sure I’ve said it before, but my heart goes out to you for the loss of your babe. xx

  • Miss Footloose

    Fabulous post, and interesting stats.  Having lived in third world countries for much of my adult life, I am keenly aware of my great fortune of having been born and raised in a “developed country” (Holland) .  My first baby was born in Ghana, West Africa, quite some time ago,  in an excellent private clinic, and no horror stories there.  But of course I was privileged in having a way to pay for it (to the tune of a mere few hundred dollars total for a week’s stay).

    There’s nothing but traveling around the world to learn humility and gratitude.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve thought, here but for the grace of God go I.

  • Annabel, Get In The Hot Spot

    Hi Kirsty, great to meet you via @MissFootloose:disqus
    on twitter:)

    I had my three babies in New Zealand and it’s definitely a great place to give birth and raise sprogs. You get your own dedicated midwife for the entire pregnancy (you choose her) and for 6 weeks after baby is born.

    I had a caesarian first time round followed by two home births on Waiheke Island.

    Now living in Noosa, Australia where the birthing system seems archaic (everyone is shunted off to hospital) but it is a great place to raise kids so that’s why I’m here.

    Your book sounds great:)