Shaped By My Mother: Madeline Ngo

By Madeline Ngo
October 9, 2020

A difficult part of storytelling is always where and how to identify the beginning. For me, a 21 year old trying to navigate her way through undergrad at Rice University during these uncertain times, my story starts with my mother. 

Forced to flee her war-ridden home, my mother immigrated here from Saigon, Vietnam. She was alone, without her family or a word of English. My mom put herself through college and eventually through medical school to become the pediatrician she is now. If her profession didn’t already tell you enough about her priorities in life, I can personally attest that she pours herself into the next generation, including myself and my two brothers, just like her mother did and her mother’s mother before that.

I’ve always been inspired by my special mom, but when I was lucky enough to spend a semester studying maternal and child health in Vietnam, South Africa, and Argentina, I realized many of the stories I heard echoed the same sentiments. Apart from being initially shocked at how starkly different I was from the women I interviewed in each of these countries (including Vietnam where technically 100% of my genes originated), I realized that across the world, people and societies are shaped by mothers. However, too often, these mothers are not receiving adequate support. 

Around the World

Since the nearest clinics were hours away, ‘Ann’ from a H’mong village in the northern highlands of Vietnam showed me the herbal remedies she uses to treat the “hot winds,” or fevers, of her 2 year old.

Since there were no affordable childcare options, ‘Mia’ from Khayelitsha township outside of Cape Town, South Africa told me about how she carried her baby on her back through work all day.

Since the public hospitals were overcrowded and underfunded, my own host mother in Buenos Aires, Argentina shared with me her experience giving birth at home.

While each of these examples is just a small modicum of the strength these women wield in the face of nuanced circumstances, I came away with a soaring faith in the shared resilience of women everywhere and a reinforced passion for pushing maternal health forward. 


After a humbling trip around the world and getting to know communities through their mothers, I’ve come back to my own home and continue to learn about maternal health here through Improving Maternal Health Houston.

I believe in improving maternal health in Harris County because at the end of the day, we can all remember a maternal figure without whose support we wouldn’t be where we are today.