The uncertainty, challenge, pain, and joy of becoming a mother is a milestone that the majority of women around the world will experience in their lifetimes. It's estimated that each minute of every day, an average of 267 babies come into the world.
But for some mothers, birth is a harrowing, life-or-death experience. A woman in Tanzania is roughly 100 times more likely to die during childbirth than a woman in Sweden, for example. And around the world, some 830 women per day die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, according to the World Health Organization.
It's a global health crisis, and a reality that photographer and filmmaker Paolo Patruno witnessed first-hand while on assignment in East Africa.
"I started my project in Malawi, where the words for pregnancy in the local language — pakati and maenad — translate into 'between life and death' and 'sick,'" Patruno wrote.
Severe bleeding, infections, and high blood pressure before and after birth are just some of the complications that are easily treatable in wealthy countries but are leading causes of death in developing ones. And the risk of death during childbirth is highest for teenage girls under the age of 15, many of whom have been forced into early marriage.
"Girls who become pregnant have to leave school. This has long-term implications for them as individuals, and for their families and communities. They have to take on responsibilities as adults. Girls become women too early, missing their childhood and adolescence," Patruno told Refinery29.
Since 2011, the photographer has dedicated his work to documenting these young women's stories both in Africa and in the U.S. through his project Birth Is A Dream. Using portraits and videos, Patruno hopes to raise awareness about the issues of child marriage, teen pregnancy, sexual health, and maternal mortality worldwide.
Ahead, some of Patruno's stunning portraits of teenagers who were forced to drop out of school, marry, and become mothers too early in a remote part of Cameroon. Patruno's series is produced in collaboration with the Cameroonian nonprofit group Human Is Right.
Photo caption: 17-year-old Morin and her baby. She is just one among the thousands of teenage mothers in Cameroon.