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American preacher, author, writer, publisher, businessman, Leroy Brownlow once said “Mother is the heartbeat in the home; and without her, there seems to be no heartthrob.”
In almost all cultures globally, mothers are the glue that holds families together, role models, teachers, providers and nurturers — the list is endless.
It all started in 1908 in the United States when Anna Jarvis, a peace activist held a memorial for her late mother at St Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia.
Today Mother’s Day remains a celebration honouring the mother of the family, as well as motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society.
In Zimbabwe, the day is celebrated on the second Sunday of May.
This year, Mother’s Day comes at a difficult time as the world is fighting Covid- 19.
This is quite a tough time for women as apart from watching out for their own health, they have to protect that of their children, family and ensure they stay at home, and follow all good hygiene practices.
Above all during lockdown, some mothers are struggling to ensure their children have food on the table. Others have become teachers to ensure their kids also concentrate on schoolwork during the lockdown period.
According to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), being a mother, never an easy task, has become even more complicated during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Those who have jobs on the frontlines battling Covid-19 — health care workers, first responders, essential employees — must balance their concerns for their communities with caring for their own families,” IRC says.
IRC adds that other mothers who have lost their jobs during an unprecedented global lockdown worry about feeding and educating their children.
“Then there are those who, uprooted from their homes by conflict and crisis, must cope with Covid-19 amid conditions that make social distancing and other precautions against the virus impossible.”
In this time of Covid-19, millions of women globally are pregnant and expecting to become new mothers. During the lockdown period, many women have also fallen pregnant and will in the next eight months become mothers.
A statement released by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) on May 7 ahead of Mother’s Day said an estimated 116 million babies will be born under the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the statement, these babies are projected to be born up to 40 weeks after Coovid-19 — currently straining health systems and medical supply chains all over the world — was recognised as a pandemic on March 11.
Unicef further reveals that new mothers and newborns will be greeted by harsh realities, including global containment measures such as lockdowns and curfews; health centres overwhelmed with response efforts; supply and equipment shortages; and a lack of sufficient skilled birth attendants as health workers, including midwives, are redeployed to treat Covid-19 patients.
“Millions of mothers all over the world embarked on a journey of parenthood in the world as it was. They now must prepare to bring a life into the world as it has become — a world where expecting mothers are afraid to go to health centres for fear of getting infected, or missing out on emergency care due to strained health services and lockdowns,” says Unicef Executive Director Henrietta Fore.
“It is hard to imagine how much the coronavirus pandemic has recast motherhood.”
Ahead of Mother’s Day, recognised in May in over 128 countries, Unicef also raised alarm that Covid-19 containment measures can disrupt life-saving health services such as childbirth care, putting millions of pregnant mothers and their babies at great risk.
Countries with the expected highest numbers of births in the nine months since the pandemic declaration are: India (20,1 million), China (13,5 million), Nigeria (6,4 million), Pakistan (5 million) and Indonesia (4 million). Most of these countries had high neonatal mortality rates even before the pandemic and may see these levels increase with Covid-19 conditions.
Unicef further states that in the US, the sixth highest country in terms of expected number of births, over 3,3 million babies are projected to be born between March 11 and December 16.
In New York, adds Unicef, authorities are looking into alternative birthing centres as many pregnant women are worried about giving birth in hospitals.
The UN agency further warns that although evidence suggests that pregnant mothers are not more affected by Covid-19 than others, countries need to ensure they still have access to antenatal, delivery and postnatal services.
Equally, ill newborns babies require emergency services as they are at high risk of death. New families require support to start breastfeeding, and to get medicines, vaccines and nutrition to keep their babies healthy.
Unicef, on behalf of mothers worldwide also issued an urgent appeal to governments and health care providers to save lives in the coming months by helping pregnant women to receive antenatal checkups, skilled delivery care, postnatal care services, and care related to Covid-19 as needed.
It also urged governments to ensure that health workers are provided with the necessary personal protective equipment and get priority testing and vaccination once a Covid-19 vaccine becomes available so that they can deliver high quality care to all pregnant women and newborn babies during the pandemic.
It also called for governments to guarantee that all infection prevention and control measures are in place in health facilities during childbirth and immediately after.
Governments, Unicef added, should allow health care workers to reach pregnant women and new mothers through home visits, encouraging women living in remote areas to use maternal waiting homes, and by using mobile health strategies for teleconsultations.
Furthermore, it called for training, protecting and equipping health workers with clean birth kits to attend home births where health facilities are closed and also the allocation of resources to lifesaving services and supplies for maternal and child health.
While it is not yet known whether the virus is transmitted from a mother to her baby during pregnancy and delivery, Unicef has also recommended that all pregnant women should follow precautions to protect themselves from exposure to the virus, closely monitor themselves for symptoms of Covid-19 and seek advice from the nearest designated facility if they have concerns or experience symptoms.
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, an estimated 2,8 million pregnant women and newborns died every year, or 1 every 11 seconds, mostly of preventable causes.
UNICEF further called for immediate investment in health workers with the right training, who are equipped with the right medicines to ensure every mother and newborn is cared for by a safe pair of hands to prevent and treat complications during pregnancy, delivery and birth.
“This is a particularly poignant Mother’s Day, as many families have been forced apart during the coronavirus pandemic,” Fore said.
“But it is also a time for unity, a time to bring everyone together in solidarity. We can help save lives by making sure that every pregnant mother receives the support she needs to give birth safely in the months to come.”
On Mother’s Day, let us also not forget women facing fertility challenges, as they walk their journey. In some way, every woman is a mother, whether they have given birth or not. Mothers remain our pillars of society.
As American author Jamie McGuire puts it, “A mother’s love is everything. It is what brings a child into this world. It is what moulds their entire being. When a mother sees her child in danger, she is literally capable of anything. Mothers have lifted cars off of their children and destroyed entire dynasties. A mother’s love is the strongest energy known to man.”