VB Gives Back

#VBGivesBack: Christy Turlington Burns

September 1, 2015

"Together, we can make pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother!"

Why did you start Every Mother Counts?

I endured and survived a childbirth-related complication after delivering my daughter Grace in 2003. I was fortunate to be in the care of a skilled team that included a doula, midwife, nurses and ultimately an obstetrician who worked together to manage the situation. Unfortunately, millions of other mothers, both here in the US and around the world, don’t have access to the care that I received that day. Soon after my delivery, I learned that hundreds of thousands of pregnancy and childbirth-related deaths occur each and every year and most of them are preventable. Once I knew about these shocking statistics I had to do something about them. I asked myself what I could do to raise awareness, which lead me to make a documentary film,NO WOMAN, NO CRY.

Every Mother Counts was born as a result of the film. I wanted to create a resource so others could learn more and contribute in some way to finding solutions. Today, Every Mother Counts is a non-profit organization dedicated to making pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother. We educate the public by raising awareness and funds that we invest in programs that link mothers to life saving care, currently in Haiti, Uganda, India, Tanzania, the United States and Nepal. Learn more about our work here

What are the primary goals for the organization?

We’re building a community of educated and empowered consumers who are willing to take action to improve the health and wellbeing of mothers and their families. We have three main goals for the next five years. Grow our community to 2 million committed individuals who’ve joined EMC to improve the health and well being of mothers. Inspire those 2 million individuals to take at least one action per year to raise awareness and or funds to improve access to essential maternal healthcare. Impact 2 million lives through our portfolio of grants, which support programs that address three maternal health barriers (lack of transportation, education and supplies).

What are some shocking facts you can tell us about maternal health in America?

The one that usually sticks with people the most is that the U.S. is one of eight industrialized countries with an increasing maternal mortality rate, alongside Afghanistan, Belize, El Salvador, Guinea-Bissau, Greece, Seychelles and South Sedan. Another is that we’re still losing three women in the U.S. every day to pregnancy and childbirth-related complications. Most of these deaths are preventable. We know how to save these lives but not enough people are aware of the scope of the problem and prepared when the unexpected happens. This fall, Every Mother Counts will be releasing a short documentary series, “Giving Birth in America,” which examines some of the reasons the U.S. is so far behind other countries in maternal health outcomes. Click here to view the trailer and learn more

How often do you travel to visit your grantees in the 8 countries EMC is focused?

I try to get to the field as often as possible. Some countries are easier to get to more frequently. I was in Haiti three times last year and plan to go back twice more this year. I was also in Tanzania earlier this year. I try to balance my travel around my family’s needs and my husband’s work commitments. We believe it’s important for one of us to always be home during the school year. Now that our organization has grown a bit, there are others who can travel too so we alternate throughout the year.

Do you have a particular story that has stayed with you throughout the years?

Janet was one of the moms profiled in No Woman, No Cry whose story always stands out in my mind. When we met her in Tanzania back in 2009 she was on her third pregnancy and well past her due date yet she’d walked to the Ol Danyo Sambo health dispensary, five miles from her home on top of a dusty foothill. She’d eaten nothing all day. The midwives examined her and waited for labor to progress. When the baby didn’t come, they sent her back home in order to make space for another laboring woman. I put myself in Janet’s shoes and understood why many mothers like her don’t seek medical help. She’d taken a risk walking to the clinic, leaving her small children behind. I remembered the discomfort of my own pregnancies when I spent my last few weeks resting and nesting. Janet had no money for transportation and barely enough to feed her children. We drove her home and when we left her that evening I prayed for her and a safe delivery. A day later, Janet returned on foot to the clinic in active labor, but still not making any progress.The midwives told Janet to go to the closest hospital, an hour away.Without transportation (there were no ambulances to take her there), Janet’s outlook seemed dire.We helped secure a ride for her in the back of a van and after a long bumpy ride she arrived at the hospital and delivered safely.We followed Janet and her son, Furaha the next day to witness their safe homecoming. Family and neighbors greeted them with undulations of joy and celebration.It was hard not to imagine what life would be like for her family if things had turned out differently.

Your marathon contributions are huge… how many miles do you think you have personally run to contribute to the cause?

I haven’t tracked all the miles, but I have trained for four marathons and a few half marathons. Training is usually 20 weeks of running prior to that. I think its safe to say upwards of 3,000 miles.

Where’s your next Marathon?

This past April, I set a new personal record at the London Marathon, completing it in 3hrs 46 mins, which qualified me for the 2016 Boston Marathon. At the moment I have only committed to two half marathons later this fall. Naturally, Boston is on my radar as it’s a tough race to qualify for. So you will have to wait and see…

What has been your proudest moment or greatest milestone?

In a very short time there have been too many to mention. Each new grantee we support or film we complete to share what is possible through our community’s support is tremendously rewarding. When I see the size of our community grow each day, through the extended reach of our partners, I just can’t believe that this all started because of a personal experience. The experience of going through labor and birth and becoming a mother is tremendously unifying.

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