Martha and Rufus Wainwright sing for maternal health

A few years ago, I interviewed singer Martha Wainwright about her version of the Bob Marley classic, “No Woman, No Cry,” a song she’d recorded for a documentary of the same name by maternal health advocate Christy Turlington Burns.

Like the film – which depicted how difficult and dangerous childbirth can be – Martha’s rendition of the tune was tough and tender, her voice like a thousand shades of womanly strength and vulnerability.

Music and art have the power to bring ideas and issues to life, to touch our emotions and spur us into action in ways reading a newspaper story or scientific study can’t. When an opportunity presented itself to bring awareness of maternal health issues to a new audience, I asked Martha and her brother Rufus to join singer Marilyn Carino and world-class painters Michael David, Joan Snyder and others at Life On Mars Gallery for a post-Mother’s Day tribute to mothers around the world.

The result was Motherlove, a special exhibition and mini concert for Every Mother Counts, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother.

Christy Turlington Burns founded Every Mother Counts in 2010 after suffering a life threatening hemorrhage during the birth of her daughter. Martha Wainwright gave birth to her first child prematurely and recently delivered her second child in an emergency setting. Christy and Martha share a bond of gratefulness: both women had access to medical interventions that saved their lives and their babies during childbirth.

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Photo caption: Motherlove participants (from left): Karen Schwartz, Joan Snyder, Kristi York Wooten, Christy Turlington Burns, Martha Wainwright (with baby son), and Marilyn Carino, posing in front of Snyder’s painting, Proserpina. Photo by Philippe Tremblay-Berberi. Courtesy of Life On Mars Gallery.

We did mention a few maternal health statistics during the Motherlove program: A recent study published by medical journal The Lancet, in which the United States ranked 60th in maternal deaths out of 180 countries. That means 1/3 of the world’s countries are safer places to give birth than in America. An estimated 293,000 women worldwide died of pregnancy-related causes in 2013, and in the developing world (especially in Sub-Saharan Africa) complications from pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death for girls ages 15-19.

Motherlove’s glorious paintings, handmade quilts, and songs between siblings and friends made the biggest impact. Martha sang her song about becoming a mother (“Everything Wrong”) before asking Rufus to join her for a rendition of “I Am A Diamond,” written by their late mother, Kate McGarrigle. The song’s melodic climax contained an eye-opening lyrical nod to female empowerment: it’s always OK to be the lion and not the lamb.

We’re premiering the video on this blog today as a tribute to all moms. Mother’s Day has passed, but mothers need our support every day. A woman dies every two minutes due to complications from pregnancy and childbirth, but we have the power to change this statistic. 90% of maternal deaths are preventable. Take two minutes today learn more about simple things you can do to help make pregnancy and childbirth safer for mothers.

Take action with Every Mother Counts here.