First moments: A celebration of motherhood
01 May 2018

This May, we celebrate those who give the gift of life: mothers and midwives

This month, we celebrate the beauty and strength of mothers, and the midwives who care for them. Below we have collected images of the journey to motherhood, an experience of joy, peril, courage, and – above all – love.
© UNFPA/Doan Bao Chau
In Geokdepe, Turkmenistan, an expectant mother attends a prenatal check-up. Throughout the world, pregnancy is a time of anticipation, but it is also a time of risk. Antenatal care is essential for keeping mothers safe.
© UNFPA Turkmenistan/Julie Pudlowski
Myrtha, 26, travels over an hour to visit the midwives at a UNFPA-supported maternity centre in Marigot, Haiti. The facility – known locally as a “smile clinic” – offers a quality of care that puts her at ease. "I'm not scared to become a mother. I'm excited," she said.
© UNFPA/Elena Heatherwick
Access to skilled care can also give women a sneak peek of their little one. A woman undergoes a sonogram in Savannakhet, in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.
© UNFPA/Micka Perier
But pregnancy can also be a time of anxiety – particularly for women facing poverty, poor health or insecurity. Noor spent much of her pregnancy in a refugee camp in Greece. “In Syria, you have your mother, your mother-in-law, to look after you and tell you what to expect. They show you how to take care of your baby. Here, there is no one to help me.”
Lynsey Addario, for Time Magazine
Khamkong, seven months pregnant, knows this is a dangerous time. But she cannot rest when there is farm work to be done. “I do feel very nervous because it is my first baby, and in the village where I am from, one woman died,” she said.
© UNFPA/Ruth Carr
Pregnancy increases women’s vulnerability. They can experience higher risk of malnutrition and illness. In Bor, South Sudan, Bol Madine Alier spent the eighth month of her pregnancy being treated for malaria, a condition that can cause serious complications.
© UNFPA South Sudan/Bruno Feder
For at-risk women, the final weeks of waiting may be especially difficult. Neth Theak stays in a UNFPA-supported “waiting house” close to a modern maternity ward. Women facing complications receive free accommodation there.
© Nicolas Axelrod/Ruom for UNFPA Cambodia
Finally, months of patience culminate in the drama of labour. In this Haiti maternity ward, a woman prays through the pain of her contractions.
© UNFPA/Elena Heatherwick
These critical moments are especially dangerous for women without access to a health facility. Sabina Acharya, 18, went into labour in the aftermath of the devastating 2015 earthquake in Nepal. Fortunately, she was visiting a UNFPA-supported mobile health camp at the time.
© UNFPA Nepal
Every day, 830 women die from pregnancy and childbirth complications. For every woman who dies, an estimated 20 to 30 encounter injuries, infections or disabilities. In Ethiopia, midwife Fasika Maru discovers Anguach Abebaw’s fetus is in a dangerous position.
© UNFPA/Mulugeta Ayene
New life
Babies enter the world in wealth and in poverty, in peace and in conflict. No matter the circumstance, nothing matches the beauty and promise of new life. A baby is born at a protection camp in Juba, South Sudan, attended by a midwife.
© UNFPA South Sudan/Arlene Calaguian Alano
If they are lucky, their first moments are met with joy and tenderness. In Kratie, Cambodia, midwives wrap a warm blanket around a newborn.
© Nicolas Axelrod/Ruom for UNFPA
This baby’s entry into the world was more frenzied. Her mother, Ruqayya, needed an emergency C-section when she went into labour at a displacement camp in northern Syria. “I thought I might die before the baby came into the world,” Ruqayya later said.
© UNFPA Syria
These first moments are perilous for newborns, as well. Midwives successfully resuscitate a baby born in South Sudan. With sufficient training and support, midwives could avert an estimated two thirds of all maternal and newborn deaths.
© UNFPA South Sudan/Bruno Feder
When all goes right, the challenges are worth it. Syrian refugee Sanaa meets her new son.
Lynsey Addario for Time
New motherhood is exhilarating – and daunting. Both mother and baby are highly vulnerable in the post-natal period, and midwifery care remains as vital as ever. Bendu, 21, takes her newborn daughter from a midwife at the UNFPA-supported Sinje Health Centre in Liberia.
© UNFPA/Elena Heatherwick
The journey to motherhood rarely goes as expected. Refugee Yvonne Mboi had no idea she was carrying twins until she delivered in a hospital in Angola. “I am very happy to now have two healthy twins,” she said.
© UNFPA/Tiril Skarstein
After this, life will never be the same. Following a long delivery, Victoria encourages her baby, Ahmad, to breastfeed.
© Alixandra Fazzina | NOOR for UNFPA