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Mother’s Day with a Focus on Global Maternal Health

This Mother’s Day, we celebrate Cynthia Toms, professor of global studies and kinesiology, whose personal experience helped solidify her deep desire to improve global development by keeping people healthy and giving them hope.

Toms Photo of Uganda

Twelve years ago, Cynthia was living in Uganda when she became pregnant with her first son. “About six months into the pregnancy, I woke up with a swollen body, stabbing pains in my abdomen and a searing headache,” she says. “At the local clinic, I was diagnosed with preeclampsia, the number-one killer of mothers and children worldwide responsible for eight percent of all maternal and neonatal deaths.”

Her husband was travelling for work, and she had no opportunity to obtain the life-saving medications or blood transfusions she needed. “So I reached out for help and started thinking about every resource and network available to me,” she says. “I called my sister in Maryland, who is a doctor. I called my parents and asked them to get me a plane ticket so I could get to a city and get stabilized.”

Fortunately, her networks and resources came through, and she got treatment. “My son was born weighing just four pounds,” she says. “We needed those life-saving resources. We both had a long recovery — but we recovered.”

Toms Smedley Family

The medical resources she received, her ability to make choices about what she did with those resources, and the connections she made all helped to save their lives. “I recovered fully and was blessed to give birth to two more children,” she says. “That experience changed me.”

She was working in health and education when she received the terrifying news about her health. The women helping her, packing her things and getting her to the airport, were people she’d been living with for years. “They were women I loved, who cared for me, who belonged to my community and Bible study,” she says. “For many of them, such a diagnosis may have been a death sentence because they lacked the same tethers to resources that I did. I sat with that for a long time. This defining moment transformed my motivation from good intentions to a resolute commitment to helping others, particularly women, in the field of maternal health.

Cynthia Toms speaking
Cynthia Toms at Lead Where You Stand.

“For me, maternal health will always be inextricably linked to my life. When we find that cause, that place that intersects with our life, and give generously, we are more likely to find better happiness and health for ourselves and to help others obtain human flourishing. Global health can lead to human flourishing for us all. We are all better together.”

(This is an excerpt of her talk at Westmont’s 2019 Lead Where You Stand Conference You can read the full story at