Christy Turlington Burns: Why I care about maternal health (and you should, too)

Model Christy Turlington Burns experienced a harrowing pregnancy complication that inspired her to help other moms.
by Christy Turlington Burns / / Source: TODAY Contributor

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This article was originally published in 2011.

It's easy to envy a former supermodel, especially when it's Christy Turlington Burns. She's still gorgeous (at 49), gracefully balances life as a mother of two and wife of a movie director (Edward Burns), has studied so much yoga she wrote a book about it, is a savvy business woman and has a master's degree in public health. But she's also an advocate for maternal health, and directed and produced a 2010 documentary, "No Woman, No Cry." When the documentary debuted, she also launched Every Mother Counts, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother.

It didn't take long for me to feel the connection to other moms when I became one. My sisters started their families when they were in their mid-20s, but I chose quite a different path and started my career at 16. I went back to school in my mid-20s, started a few businesses, wrote a book about yoga, and then decided I was ready to start my family.

Christy Turlington Burns
Christy Turlington Burns is a mom of two, and knows that not every mother is as lucky as she is.Christy Turlington Burns

While I wasn’t exactly in a rush to become a parent, I always assumed it would be in my future. But it wasn’t until I actually became a mother that motherhood took on a whole new meaning.

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I remember anxiously waiting for my pregnancy test results with a camera in my face, thanks to my director husband. I knew already what it would indicate, but we needed proof (and a reaction shot). I spent the months that followed researching our various birth options and indulging in my every physical whim and emotion.

It was winter, and the days were short so I would get into bed as soon as it got dark to watch movies, read or sleep. It was a wonderful period of time, a time I only dream about now that I have two kids… I knew that life as I had known it would never be quite the same, and so I savored each day and the nuances of my pregnancy.

I was so into my own experience and what was happening internally that it did not occur to me that so many women have such different experiences while pregnant. When I set out to make, “No Woman, No Cry,” a documentary about the state of maternal health around the world, I was constantly reminded of that period in my life when I felt so well looked after, cared for and prepared.

The majority of women I encountered around the world while filming (and since) have none of the support or comforts that I enjoyed, and most of them aren’t even aware that it’s their human right to have access to care. For many of the world's women, it is not only perceived to be an obligation to conceive and bear children, it is often believed that this is a woman's only purpose or value in life.

When you think of the role of motherhood as a choice versus an obligation, the experience and outcome of a pregnancy will vary greatly. Even when a woman does plan her pregnancy (about 50 percent of us), there are times when the uncertainty gets to you. The responsibility can, at times, be overwhelming. Imagine not having the luxury to plan or not receiving support of any kind. If there was ever a time not to be alone, I’d say being pregnant would top the charts.

I had an unexpected and unpredictable complication — postpartum hemorrhage — after delivering my first child seven and a half years ago. After that harrowing experience, I started thinking about the realities for women around the world as they enter motherhood.

I learned that 15 percent of every pregnancy results in a complication and that many — as with mine — cannot be detected in advance. I learned that postpartum hemorrhage was the leading cause of maternal deaths worldwide.

Family
Once she began having children, Christy Turlington Burns knew she had to help other mothers.Christy Turlington Burns

I learned that hundreds of thousands of girls and women die each and every year in pregnancy or childbirth and almost all of these deaths are preventable. This was the moment I knew I had to find a way to contribute to this cause.

So, what will you do now that you know? Visit everymothercounts.org for ways that you can do your part.

Christy Turlington Burns is the founder of Every Mother Counts, and producer/director of “No Woman, No Cry. Follow Christy on Twitter @cturlington and Facebook.

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