by Jon Farmer

It's easy to be cynical when glossy greeting cards and slick ads make holidays seem like superficial excuses to spend money. But as much as consumerism strips the spirit of a holiday it's important to remember why we celebrate, especially on Mother's Day. We all literally owe our lives to our mothers but the commercial expectations of a North American Mother's Day can taint authentic gratitude. As we celebrate mothers and motherhood today, let a small dose of perspective be a suitable antidote.

Mothers are incredible. They carry developing fetuses for 40 weeks, then give birth to babies and nurture them. The mother's hormonal shifts and physical changes to her body accommodate the pregnancy and culminate in a birth that requires a baby to exit its mother's body – one way or another. Our mothers literally bleed to bring us into the world.

Language is important here. Saying that a mother 'gives' birth should remind us that a child has received something through the process: life. Every other gift we ever receive is a bonus on top of that first one. But as a culture we take birth for granted. Readily accessible and capable healthcare, caricatured portrayals of birth in popular culture, and polite avoidance of health-related topics in every day conversations make birth seem normal and simple.Enough of that. Today we express gratitude because the price of motherhood is high and too many women around the world die just becoming mothers.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) approximately 800 women die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and birth. All but 1 percent of those maternal deaths occur in developing countries and simple healthcare and the availability of common drugs could prevent most of them. For example, the WHO reports that severe bleeding causes 28% of maternal deaths worldwide. In Canada, oxytocin is administered directly after giving birth to prevent excessive bleeding. A single dose costs less than a dollar but is unavailable in many poor and rural communities.

Every death is a tragedy but when a mother dies there are other consequences. The International Centre for Research on Women reports that when a mother dies her newborn is less likely to live beyond the first 60 days of life. Without the mother, and after paying for her funeral, both her family and community will be less economically productive and the drop in her family's income will make any surviving children less likely to attend school.

Reducing maternal mortality was one of the United Nations' eight Millennium Development Goals. As a result of that and other initiatives, maternal mortality rates have dropped by almost half during the last two decades. Over 500,000 mothers died as a result of giving birth in 1990 and by 2013, the number had fallen to fewer than 300,000. Despite this progress, maternal mortality remains a critical issue for both global health and equality.

In Owen Sound, a fundraising walk on Saturday May 9th raised money and awareness for Save the Mothers – one international group working directly on this issue. Save the Mothers funds Master in Public Health Leadership programs in sub-Saharan African countries to help locals develop the knowledge and skills necessary to effect policy change.

Commercial hyperbole aside, mothers are amazing. They are brave, self-sacrificing, and incredibly resilient. They have to be. Birth is hard. On Mother's Day we often think of our mothers as we knew or know them and the idiosyncrasies of our relationships. Maybe because we can't remember it, we ignore our birth and the first risk that our mothers took for us. On this Mother's Day, as we remember the ways our mothers have shaped our lives let's start at the beginning and make sure we thank them for that first gift of our birth.