Surely you recognize Christy Turlington Burns’ face from Vogue covers and Calvin Klein campaigns, but what you may not know about this supermodel is her dedication to improving maternal health globally. After learning of the staggering amount of preventable childbirth-related deaths, this yoga devotee and mother of two directed the documentary No Woman, No Cry and founded Every Mother Counts, a non-profit organization that aims to improve maternal health around the globe. As her answers to our questions below will prove, Turlington has real solutions for this urgent women’s health issue and is working tirelessly to bring about change for mothers all over the world. Is there anything more beautiful than that?
Can you talk about your history with yoga and how your practice has influenced your life?
“I’ve been practicing yoga for over 20 years. I think developing a mindful practice like yoga is an excellent way to get closer to one’s purpose. It was through yoga and meditation that I first began to realize my potential. Not only has my yoga practice strengthened my own sense of purpose and well-being, it has prompted me to advocate for the well-being of others, as well. Yoga is a life practice for me and involves so much more than Asanas alone.”
Explain the basic principles behind your organization, Every Mother Counts. What inspired you to start this incredible journey?
“I founded Every Mother Counts (EMC) after I completed my first documentary film, NO WOMAN, NO CRY, which explores the barriers women face in accessing critical life-saving maternity care in Bangladesh, Tanzania, Guatemala and the US. After experiencing a childbirth-related complication after I delivered my daughter in 2003, I learned that hundreds of thousands of women die each year and that most of those deaths are linked to the same complication I survived.
I was shocked to learn that so many women continue to die giving birth, especially because 90% of these deaths are preventable. I decided to make a film to better understand the reasons why so many women around the world are so vulnerable. I launched EMC as a means to get audiences exposed to the issue through the film to further engage. EMC is an advocacy and mobilization campaign to increase education and support for maternal mortality reduction globally. Every Mother Counts seeks to engage new audiences to better understand the challenges and the solutions while encouraging them to take action to improve the lives of girls and women worldwide.”
Your film, No Woman, No Cry, is a revelation in the quest to improve maternal health all over the world. Describe the experience of making the film- where did you travel and are there any anecdotes you would like to share?
“We traveled to Bangladesh to examine cultural barriers and Tanzania to examine physical barriers such as a lack of health care providers and transport to reach them. In Guatemala there are legal barriers and in the US, bureaucratic barriers. There were countless stories to tell and it was a real challenge to pick amongst them. The stories that we did include are representational of so many others and I hope they help to humanize an issue that is often described as too complicated to address. I have returned to each country to premiere the film over the past year and continue follow up with many of the women featured. Since we first visited Bangladesh in 2009, there has been a 40% reduction in their maternal mortality rate, which proves that it is possible.”
How has your experience as a mother shaped your life philosophy?
“My experience becoming a mother has set me on my current life path, which is advocating on behalf of girls and women for the universal human right to health. As a mother, I feel my connection to other women in such a profound way. It is that sisterhood of motherhood that truly does inspire my daily efforts.”
What would you most like the public to know about the issues plaguing mothers across the globe, and how can they get involved?
“I’d like the public to know that this isn’t an issue without solutions. We know what to do, but we need political will and those of us who are empowered to use our voices must use them to make sure this issue is prioritized. Every one of us has something to contribute and I encourage you to find a way to do that. Visit everymothercounts.org.”
You seem to be a proponent of the idea that one can never stop learning, that it is never too late to continue your education. This is one of the tenets of The Chalkboard. What led you to continue your education after a successful career as a supermodel?
“I fell into my first career and success came easily to me, which made it less satisfying than having set a goal that I worked hard to attain. I always knew that I was capable of much more, but I had to make the space in my life to discover who I was and what I wanted to be. Going back to school at 25 was one of the best decisions I ever made. Going back for a Masters in Public Health more recently has allowed me to continue learning about issues I am passionate about.”
Who has been your most influential teacher?
“My children are probably my most influential teachers, but I have come to view every experience and every relationship as a teacher in this life.”
Where do you see EMC going? Are there any new projects coming up in 2012?
“Every Mother Counts started out as an advocacy campaign, but we are now in the process of becoming a non-profit and we plan to continue to educate and engage new audiences about maternal health through some exciting collaborations and partnerships in the next few months, so stay tuned!”
How do you balance being a dedicated mother with your career and your life as an activist? Do you have any advice for other passionate working moms?
“I know I am a better mom when I am taking care of myself. The best way I know how to take care of myself is to be true to myself. I do believe I can be a good mom and a good citizen of the world at once.”