INSPIRED TO THINK GLOBALLY – Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Every once in a while I come across a book that makes a real impression on me and I want to share it with all women I know. Two of my favorites that come to mind are Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder, and Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. I consider both books must reads for everyone! The last book that had that effect on me was given to me by one of my sons. He was starting his freshman year of college and his required summer reading was Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. He read it and passed it along to me, knowing that its topic of women’s health would be of interest to me. I was immediately engrossed and couldn’t put it down until I finished.

The title is based on the Chinese Proverb that “Women hold up half the sky.” While at times a very sad book, I found the women in it absolutely amazing and inspirational.  I was struck by the dire straits that most women of the world live in. So much that we American women take for granted~ plumbing and sanitation, basic maternity care, the ability to earn a living~ is not an option for a vast majority of women in other countries. It was heartbreaking to read about Ethiopian women with incontinence caused by poor or lack of quality obstetrical care. Something that is easily fixed here in the United States can cause a woman to be homeless and shunned in Africa. Equally disturbing was the story of a young Cambodian girl sold into the sex slavery trade. It is incomprehensible to me that anyone could exploit a child in that way, and yet it happens all the time. Both women survived their ordeals. One became a surgeon and the other supports her family with a retail business. Reading their stories made me think I could do anything I set my mind to!

I was equally amazed by the women who set out to solve all these problems. One African woman, Edna Adan, who was the victim of genital cutting, grew up to work for the World Health Organization and then started her own maternity hospital in Somaliland with her retirement savings. At the Addis Abada Fistula Hospital, a saintly gynecologist, Catherine Hamlin, solves the incontinence problems of inferior maternity care, allowing close to 90% of these women to return to fully functioning lives. Many other amazing people are hard at work in family planning, the education of young women, and microcredit. The authors show us that “the key to economicprogress lies in unleashing women’s potential. Throughout much of the word, the greatest unexploited economic resource is the female half of the population. Countries such as China have prosperedprecisely because they emancipated women and brought them into the formal economy. Unleashing that process globally is not only the right thing to do; it is also the best strategy for fighting poverty.” (Kristof and WuDunn)

Amazingly, I know someone here in Rhode Island who is making a difference daily in the maternity care provided to women throughout the world. Meg Wirth, a Providence mother of two, set out to find a way to change the grim statistic that in the 21st century developing world, pregnancy remains a leading cause of deathamong women of childbearing age. She founded Maternova, the first global marketplace for ideas and technologies that save mothers and newborns during childbirth. Maternova’s mission is to become the online media hub connecting millions of people who work on maternal/newborn health around the world and accelerate progress. They make it easy for doctors, nurses and midwives to track innovation and to buy technologies and kits to use overseas. And they are successful! Their obstetrical kits are used all over the world and help to safely deliver babies while protecting the health of their mothers.

One of my friends was jokingly lamenting the other day that she had not accomplished much, as she had stayed home to raise her sons, rather than putting her Boston College Masters degree to good use. Her mother reminded her that when you educate a mother, you educate a whole family. What a profound statement! That sentiment is reiterated in Three Cups of Tea. I see that daily in my work. We are all doing what we can, when we can. When we are home with our children, I truly believe there is nothing more important. But someday, when that phase is over, who knows what other amazing things we will accomplish…..


"The Gift of An Ordinary Day" - A Mother's Memoir by Katrina Kenison

Last month, I commented to my youngest sister that I would give anything to go back to the days of teaching a preschool boy to drown Cheerios in the toilet. She was lamenting a stubborn three year old completely uninterested in potty training. I was dealing with an obstinate, ungrateful 18 year old man/child. Two days later she brought over a book that she declared a must read for me, given where I am in my life right now. After sailing through it, I want to suggest that it is a must read for all mothers. Whether we are at home raising tiny little people, or getting ready to launch young adults off to college, the message is relevant.

“The Gift of an Ordinary Day” ~ A Mother’s Memoir by Katrina Kenison, starts with a family’s move from suburban Boston to rural New Hampshire. The author’s mid life crisis was the impetus for the move. Her desire to live in a slower-paced environment and have her family more grounded, starts the family on a house building adventure that doesn’t end until the oldest is off to college. Her family consists of her husband and two sons, one of whom is getting ready to start high school, the other just on the cusp of puberty. During this transition, she reflects on all the moments long passed that caused her so much anxiety, as she worried about whether her boys would turn out alright. She notices her parents’ calm demeanor and relaxed attitude toward her sons and their increasingly independent behavior. She remembers all the moments with her boys when they were little that were priceless and mostly unappreciated at the time. Mostly, she tries to live in the present,
and be truly aware of those ordinary moments with her family, cognizant of the fact that in 4 short years, these moments will be increasingly few and far between.

For me, the struggle that she writes of – the fine mingling of letting go and holding on – hits very close to home. I cannot make it through a single chapter without shedding a tear, all while trying to hide it from my husband. Each chapter offers up multiple quotes that resonate so strongly with my life, I feel like I could have written this book, although not nearly as eloquently. The description of the entire college application process, the pressure this age group is under and the reality that no kid can just be ordinary anymore, is something I am living daily. The uncertainty of how this will all end, and the desire to slow down the whole process, so I can have this delightful boy with me just a little longer, is ever present.

I also found it reassuring that another mother, and famous author at that, feels the way I do about so many things. The anxiety she experiences is something that I struggled with since I became a mother, but it did dissipate with time. My confidence in my ability to parent these boys to adulthood and in their ability to make good choices grew tremendously. Now, I am overwhelmed at times by all the struggles people in my age group are dealing with: divorce, illness, financial crisis, wayward teenagers and aging parents. My best friend’s mother always says “Little people, little problems; big people, big problems.” And she is so right! But this is the stage of life that I am in, and it will pass. And in so many ways, it is easier. I have time to myself. I get a good night’s sleep. I can go for a run when I want to. I can talk and reason with my kids. My husband and I can sneak out for a drink if we want to! I am lucky to have a job that I am as passionate about as I was about staying home and raising my boys. Really, even when it’s hard, it’s good. And this book reminded me of that on every

So for the next six months, I am going to cherish every moment with my oldest, even the difficult ones. I am going to revel in the times the six of us are all together, no matter what we are doing. I will create opportunities for them to have good memories of this phase in their life. And I am going to try hard to let go with grace, and trust that they will all wind up where they are supposed to be, with faith that I have done the best I can with the most rewarding, but hardest job in the world.