Running For Maternal Health in Reykjavik

Run Team Every Mother Counts runners, Disco Meisch and Hannah Elisa Valdes, share their experience running with Every Mother Counts in Iceland after completing the Islandsbanki Reykjavik Marathon.

Every Mother Counts runs races around the world to raise funds and awareness to improve maternal health for all.

Last week, Disco Meisch, a mother, runner and activist based in New York City, flew from Chole Mjini, Tanzania to run the Islandsbanki Reykjavik Marathon with Every Mother Counts. Disco writes:

“I came directly from this tiny island of 1,400 people where there is one dispensary with no electricity, blood, oxygen or equipment, and a broken down motorcycle with a sidecar for an ambulance. It’s illegal to practice traditional medicine there, and local midwives are forbidden to communicate with the one medical doctor on the island, who does not make house visits. If a pregnant woman needs medical care, she’s supposed to transport herself to the district hospital on Mafia, a larger nearby island, via a ferry that stops running at 5PM.

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Disco Meisch with Benjamin Schwab of Wool and the Gang, after completing the Islandsbanki Reykjavik Marathon with Every Mother Counts

When I got to Iceland, the difference was striking. I had only travelled a few hours and here I was in this beautiful, peaceful, magical place. It was my fourth marathon, the course was gorgeous and the bystanders cheered us on banging pots and pans with wooden spoons. At rest stations, tables were piled with pieces of bread, prosciutto and cheese, and local chocolates were served by volunteers in suits and white gloves. There was an overall sense of ease, humor and good cheer. I thought about how small our world is, how I had just traveled a few hours, yet everything was so different. There is such an imbalance — and in so many ways, it’s simply a matter of luck and where you are born. The situation is urgent. We need to do whatever we can to help.”

Hannah Elisa Valdes, a 27 year-old second year resident in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Stony Brook University Hospital on Long Island, ran her first marathon in support of global maternal health with Every Mother Counts in New York last Fall.

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She joined us again at the Islandsbanki Reykjavik Half on August 20th:

“I was in my first year of medical school when my sister mentioned she was going to run a half marathon. Wait a minute, I thought, I can do this too!

It’s been a great way for us to bond. Running with Every Mother Counts, I’ve been able to combine my hobby with my passion for women’s reproductive health.

Running helps keep me healthy and connected to other women all over the world. I find it so motivating to hear their stories. It’s physically hard to be a woman — during pregnancy, labor and childbirth especially! I’ve found the more autonomous a woman is, the more she understands about her body and her options, and the more empowered she becomes.

I recently visited midwives in Uganda and it was eye-opening to see how hands off they were, focusing on each woman’s strengths, helping them feel supported and in charge during childbirth. They only brought doctors in for complications that required interventions like C-sections. For normal, vaginal deliveries, women were attended solely by midwives. Here in the U.S., the focus is more on intervention. Where I work, we get a lot of high-risk pregnancies from all over Long Island. It’s easy to appreciate what we can do to help make childbirth safer when a woman has access to adequate healthcare.

In Iceland, we took a trip to the interior to speak with different women about maternal health. There was a unanimous sense of the normalcy of childbirth, an acceptance of the female body, of being supported by the healthcare system and society in general. Pregnancy wasn’t stigmatized the way it can be here.

Even though women have been giving birth since the dawn of time, most were not expected to make it through alive. Now we have the tools to address life-threatening problems, an essential step in building a strong society.”

Read more here about why Every Mother Count ran in Iceland, a country with some of the best maternal health outcomes.

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