Rosenblum: Two births worlds apart remind us how lucky we are

  • Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 1, 2012 - 8:44 PM
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Kendall Stewardson held son Asher, who was born Jan. 26, weighing 13 pounds, 13 ounces. He measured 23½ inches.

Photo: Todd Erzen, Des Moines Register

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BIG news from our neighbors to the south.

Kendall Stewardson, of Des Moines, Iowa, gave birth one week ago to son Asher, who weighed in at a Mercy Hospital record of 13 pounds, 13 ounces.

Stewardson, whose first son was born at 12 pounds, labored with Asher for six hours and delivered him without an epidural or the need for a Caesarean.

I'm sure that had Stewardson delivered a girl, the national coverage that greeted her family would have been equally robust. I'm sure, too, that their parental joy would have been equally boundless.

I say this as I think about Storai, also in the news last week.

Storai, 22, of Afghanistan, was killed because she had a baby. A baby girl. I realize that tying a light-hearted birth story to a tragedy makes me the person you quickly cross off your party-invite list. But as ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos gushed to Stewardson on "Good Morning America" -- "Only six minutes of pushing? Well, easy for me to say!" -- I hope we'll take one minute to acknowledge how very lucky we are that big healthy babies are the tales we get to tell.

Storai, whose full name was not given in news coverage from Kabul, was found dead by police on Jan. 25 and was buried on Jan. 26, the day Asher was born.

Police reported that her husband, identified as Sher Mohammad and possibly tied to the local militia, and his mother, Wali Hazrata, strangled Storai three months after she gave birth to her third daughter. The New York Times reported that Hazrata put a rope in the window of Storai's room to suggest that she had killed herself. Signs of torture led to a different conclusion.

The conclusion Michele Bratcher Goodwin draws is that Storai's story remains chillingly common in 2012.

"There is such a gap between a girl born here and a girl born in that part of the world," said Goodwin, an author, ethicist and professor at the University of Minnesota Law School who travels the globe speaking, in part, about reproductive health.

"In the U.S., we love girls as we love boys. Sometimes, parents are disappointed when they don't have girls. That's been the case for a long time."

Part of the delight in daughters is due to the abundance of opportunities available to them -- doctor, lawyer, teacher, ballerina and everything in between.

"In Afghanistan, families see girls as an economic burden," Goodwin said. "They're difficult to marry off, which is why they marry them off early."

Storai was married off at 18, according to news reports, quickly giving birth to daughters now ages 3 and 2. Far from reeling in horror at her son's displeasure with his young bride, Storai's mother-in-law responded in a culturally entrenched way: Storai became her "chattel."

"It's sad, shocking, bizarre," Goodwin said. "But many mothers-in-law are buying themselves a slave. It's, 'My turn now to have someone to take care of me.' "

Eventually, mother and son lost patience with Storai. Two little girls they could abide. But three? Hazrata has been arrested, but Mohammad apparently has fled.

Progress is being made, albeit slowly. In 2009, Afghanistan passed the Elimination of Violence Against Women law, which promotes equality and rights of Afghan women. But laws alone won't end the madness. Traditions are deeply entrenched. Tribal leaders hold more sway than do lawmakers. Corruption is rampant.

Goodwin predicts that, in Afghanistan alone, tens of thousands of women will immolate themselves this year. Others will be stoned "or doused with acid because a suitor didn't believe she gave him suitable respect."

"These are sad traditions that the law has not been able to change, despite the fact that the United States has contributed significantly to Afghanistan, in terms of financial resources and social services," Goodwin said.

Stories such as Storai's are far harder to stomach than the arrival of a big, sweet baby like Asher, who measured 23 1/2 inches long.

But continued media coverage, coupled with educational and economic opportunities for girls worldwide, takes us a step closer to celebrating the births of all of our sons, and all of our daughters.

gail.rosenblum@startribune.com • 612-673-7350

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