the smell of my desperation has become a stench

For all my sisters

Instead of writing commentary on what has happened in the last year of my life, I thought I’d dedicate my birthday to my final thoughts on what I learned in Bangladesh and show you the collection of pictures I’ve been saving for last.

I will make this as least earnest as I possibly can and will admit up front that others can write and talk about this much more articulately than I can. But as I edited all these photos I really began to understand that maternal health, global maternal health and that includes the United States, is so much more complicated than just sending out a whole bunch of trained medical staff into a town or village. Cultures have to shift. Whole paradigms have to move. Men and their attitude toward/opinion of women and girls must transform.

It begins with educating children. It continues by showing men and boys that an educated daughter and sister is a boon to the whole family, to the community, to the whole village. That educated daughter can then make better informed decisions going forward throughout her life. Those decisions directly impact maternal health especially when coupled with access to better health care. It’s a whole package, a tough one to crack, but there is hope.

That’s what I wanted to show with these pictures, the men, women, and children in Bangladesh who are all intricately tied to this issue. I chose a song called “What Is It With You” by The Third Eye Foundation, a song I fell in love with when I lived in Los Angeles. When I hear it I am filled it hope.

Many, many thanks to Christy Turlington and Erin Thornton for giving me the opportunity to see and share these images.

  • deirdre04

    2011/07/19 at 3:05 pm

    Wow! The story those pictures tell is incredibly powerful and moving. Thank you for sharing.

  • tokenblogger

    2011/07/19 at 3:20 pm

    Perfect FONT choice — and Happy Birthday!

  • smei

    2011/07/19 at 3:22 pm

    Great montage…you should check out 10×10 ( they are a bunch of Emmy winning documentary makers who are working with NIKE, intel and others to bring awareness to the benefits of educating girls. An amazing group of people that I think you’d really connect with.

  • Volcanogrrl

    2011/07/19 at 3:23 pm

    I love your posts from this amazing trip. Beautiful and inspiring! Have a happy birthday!

  • writtendad

    2011/07/19 at 3:24 pm

    Incredible collection of photos and faces! I’m still blow away by the fact that you took this trip. Thanks for putting this together. What a great thing you did!

  • leappiah

    2011/07/19 at 3:30 pm

    Okay, now I want to go get my baby from daycare and squeeze him REALLY HARD.

  • cameron_barrett

    2011/07/19 at 3:30 pm


    Did you see the front page of the New York Times yesterday? Seems Sierra Leone no longer requires women to give birth at home.
    Are you and Christy packing your bags yet? I’m sure they could use your help.

    Happy Birthday,

  • Schmutzie

    2011/07/19 at 3:33 pm

    Thank you for telling this story.

  • jet harrington

    2011/07/19 at 3:44 pm

    Your photos are beautiful and sensitive. I appreciate your focus on a systemic response. This reminds me of the work The Girl Effect is doing.

  • Merrie

    2011/07/19 at 3:51 pm

    I’m just finishing the novel “Brick Road” by Monica Ali. If you haven’t read it, I think you’d enjoy it after your travels to Bangladesh. It’s a very powerful story about Bengali women’s rights and place in society–both in Bangladesh and in the West.

    Thanks for taking this trip and for sharing this moving story!

  • edenland

    2011/07/19 at 5:22 pm

    Oh mate the world needs more earnest people. (Bono is one of the most earnest of all.) Happy birthday. Power to you.

  • JMorgan

    2011/07/19 at 7:09 pm

    I have had “What alcoholics call ‘A moment of clarity'” (Thanks, Pulp Fiction.) It IS about making men/boys see what strong women can accomplish! It is about the Y chromosome being more secure, more willing to admit that women are so much more than they realize. They must recognize that nothing on this planet goes on without women. We women get it….we need to teach those males in the world to get it.

  • JMorgan

    2011/07/19 at 7:08 pm

    Oh yeah…got all caught up on my soapbox…Happy birthday, sista….

  • LisaAR

    2011/07/19 at 8:30 pm

    Wow. The eyes have it. Amazing.

  • kristinkaminski

    2011/07/19 at 9:50 pm

    You’re amazing Heather.

  • Lily Hydrangea

    2011/07/19 at 10:39 pm

    A beautiful way to celebrate your birthday by sharing these beautiful people with us-you can literally see their spirit in their bright eyes.

    thanks Heather for doing such important work- & happy birthday!

  • bschaefermann

    2011/07/20 at 12:47 am

    Important and relevant action today – On Wednesday, July 20 (10a.m.), the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) will markup a draft U.S. Department of State authorization bill. Members will debate and vote on a number of international family planning policy issues, including the Global Gag Rule and the U.S. contribution to UNFPA:


    Global Gag Rule

  • hgoemans

    2011/07/20 at 1:36 am

    If you are serious about learning what it would really take to change these things, read the article by Gerry Mackie in the American Sociological Review, on Footbinding and Infibulation. You’ll find it relevant and amazing.

    Here’s a link to it:

  • LillyO

    2011/07/20 at 7:09 am


    I love the candidness of the shots. And the vibrant colors…thank you for sharing.

  • Sunda

    2011/07/20 at 8:32 am

    I love the montage. 🙂

    A thought that I hope you might consider:

    I think it’s important to be very careful about assigning blame along gender lines. As far back as Frederick Douglass and before, some men have been very important and vocal allies in fights for fairness. Likewise, women can be just as guilty and are often even more vicious in policing gendered boundaries and privileges. Think about your own experiences with other women; think about your experiences in junior high school. Think about their comments about your appearance, your behavior, your childbirth choices, your parenting decisions. Women are just as guilty, and it’s just as true in other cultures as it is here.

    It’s not men alone who need to be invited to join struggles for reasonable behavior; it’s all people who have not yet stopped to think critically about the realities of the world we inhabit, and how they wish to engage that. It’s all people who protect their own positions of privilege by policing the status quo, and those people are just as likely to be women as to be men.

  • momof8

    2011/07/20 at 8:36 am

    Hi, Heather! Just wanted to wish you a fantastic birthday! 😀

  • MrsCerecedo

    2011/07/20 at 9:04 am

    Thank You for sharing your amazing trip. Wishing you a very Happy Birthday. Marlo is your little “mini me” after seeing that picture of you when you were her age. What a resemblance. Have an AMAZING DAY.

  • Heather B.

    2011/07/20 at 10:23 am

    I have so much to say about this not just on the issue of fetal/maternal health or the nonsense that shall not be discussed but on the fact that we, as a superpower, need to and should be doing more. It’s far more complex than a brief comment but this montage and your work in Bangladesh as well as the upcoming ONE moms trip to Kenya has forced me to think about how we approach the world and what needs to be done.

    So, thank you, Heather for making me think.

    Oh, and Happy Birthday!

  • tallnoe

    2011/07/20 at 11:39 am

    Beautiful pictures. Thank you for sharing them with us. And for inspiring so many to do what they can.

    And, as a side note, we as Western women need to get more comfortable with COLOR! Lovely colors of clothing!

  • MamaLana

    2011/07/20 at 12:23 pm

    I totally agree with what Sunda said:
    < <. . . . . I think it's important to be very careful about assigning blame along gender lines.>>

    Thank you for making us think.
    Happy Birthday, Dooce! Love you!

  • annehn

    2011/07/20 at 1:27 pm

    Work to be done in the US too – the medical advisory panel has suggested that all health plans cover birth control under the new health care law.
    Seems so obvious to me that women should have the ability to control their own destiny and reproductive health. Thanks for bringing attention to the issue. Great post on the economist about this issue in the US:

  • smithie1996

    2011/07/20 at 4:33 pm

    Those photos are absolutely stunning.

  • Vasundhara

    2011/07/20 at 10:57 pm

    Though we can say it starts with educating the girl child it also has to do with the financial aspects. Educating her means more money out of the pocket. Educating her means less money in terms of what she could get if she picked up some odd job.
    And though we can keep screaming against child labour the fact is child labour still exists because of financial reasons. That is why so many organisations offer education to children in such a way that the children have free time (to do whatever their family wants them to do)

    Another social and cultural aspect one must consider is that women traditionally (in Bangladesh and in India) have to be married off. Which means dowry. Which is another added expense to the family.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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