NYC-based model and mom of two Christy Turlington Burns is still turning heads on the streets, but her work these days is less about the runway, and more about the delivery room. As part of our ongoing series in partnership with ViaCord, we spoke with Christy about Every Mother Counts, the organization that she founded in 2010 with the mission of eradicating unnecessary maternal deaths around the world.
Tell us about how Every Mother Counts came to be.
I founded the organization in 2010 when I completed my first documentary feature film, No Woman, No Cry. The film examined health barriers around the world that contribute to hundreds of thousands of preventable maternal deaths every year. Initially, Every Mother Counts was an awareness campaign trying to bring more attention to the issue, but it grew as a movement and we evolved into a grant-giving organization and 501 c3. Our current mission is to raise awareness and funds to make childbirth safer for every mother, every where.
And what’s your role at EMC?
As the founder and CEO of the organization, I have been a part of every development since day one. I travel a lot—it’s important to visit the field as often as possible, and I also travel to educate audiences about the challenges and solutions across the US (where we also have grantees), and to invite more participation and involvement in our movement to make pregnancy and childbirth safer for every mother, everywhere. We started providing grants in 2012 and to date have given 3.5 million in grants. We currently have 11 grantees in 9 countries and have impacted more than 500,000 lives.
How do you balance all of the travel with your family life?
This year, I have traveled to Haiti twice, Guatemala, and Iceland. I am planning to visit Tanzania early next year. I will be returning to central Florida to visit our grantee there for the second time in the next few weeks and returned from my third trip to California in a month last night. I am really careful to schedule my travel around my family’s schedules so that I don’t miss anything I don’t have to. As important as it is for me to teach them how important this work is, it is as important to be there when they need me.
What are your favorite things about being a NYC mom?
I love raising my kids in NYC. They don’t know anything else. They walk and engage with people of all types and backgrounds every day. My kids are now 13 and 10, and starting to do more stuff on their own. They are both really active and are involved in a lot of team sports at school and outside of school. I think most people would be surprised how similar that part of their lives is to children who grow up outside of cities.
And finally, what is your ultimate goal with EMC? What’s next for the organization?
My ultimate goal is ending all preventable maternal deaths. When I became a mother in 2003, the global estimates of women who die from complications during childbirth and pregnancy were well over 500,000. Today, that number is it about 303,000, so we’re moving in the right direction—but not quickly enough. 98% of these deaths are preventable. We can and should be doing much better. There is a long way to go, but it is possible. Motherhood should be respected, supported and validated by all. When that happens, dying in childbirth will be the rare event that most of us think it is.