Behind the Scenes With Christy Turlington-Burns

Christy Turlington-Burns is a global maternal health advocate and powerhouse mama.

Did you know that almost all global maternal deaths are preventable? 800 women a day die from complications related to childbirth. The US is the only developed country with a consistently rising maternal mortality rate. These are some of the many staggering facts you’ll come across when visiting the webpage of Every Mother Counts.

You may not know this, but the driving advocate behind this incredible organization is Christy Turlington Burns, who founded the agency after experiencing her own complication during childbirth. 

Now, Every Mother Counts is just shy of its 10 year anniversary and its mission remains simple: to make pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother, everywhere. Christy and her team accomplish this by joining forces with mothers, community leaders, government officials, and medical professionals across the globe.

Most people don’t realize that 1/3 of maternal deaths happen one week to one year following childbirth – a window of time so often focused on the baby, but critical for mom’s health too. It’s why Little Spoon and EMC have teamed up to launch #OneForYearOne – an effort to raise awareness of some of the startling facts on maternal health and to bring the focus back on mom in year one of parenting. 

Christy was gracious enough to sit down with us in between meetings and a busy travel schedule tee-ed up to advocate for maternal health around the world. She shared her own musings on motherhood, and how the journey of being a mom ultimately landed her on a global stage.

Finding The One

Before children, and before her life changed course to focus on enacting global change, there was a love story.

Things moved quickly between Christy and now husband, Edward. Shortly after the two met, conversations began about their future.“I think sometimes you know that fate puts you together and it’s like, ‘Oh this is a person, not only that I like or that I’m attracted to, but that I could actually start a family with,’” Christy says. 

But when the tragic events of 9/11 occurred, the wedding came to a halt.

“We canceled our wedding because it was too close. We were planning to get married outside of the US, but people were terrified of traveling,” she remembers. “We broke up, actually, for a little while because that’s really hard to do: stop a marriage from happening.”

“Also, 9/11 just really made me start asking a lot of questions, like who am I, what do I want? Do I want kids in this world?,” Christy says. “We got back together, then we got pregnant, and then we got married. So we ended up at the same sort of timeline and trajectory we had planned, but in a curvier path.”

The Origin Story

“I like to say that I became a global maternal health advocate the day I became a mom,” says Christy.  Christy’s oldest child, Grace, is now 16 years old. 

Leading up to Grace’s birth, Christy developed a clear plan that involved an unmedicated birth, under the care of a midwifery practice that was affiliated with what is now Mount Sinai West. 

“​I felt really informed and supported. But, after the delivery, which went pretty much the way I wanted it to, I had a complication,” Christy shares.  “I had a retained placenta. It’s something you can’t really test for, because there aren’t any outward signs or indications.”

Christy had to immediately have the placenta removed, which caused her to hemorrhage. Fortunately, because of the exceptional level of care she received in a hospital setting, the procedure went as smoothly and Christy was able to avoid having a transfusion, which is often necessary. 

The experience opened her eyes to the reality women near and far are faced with when they become mothers. “The complication I experienced is a leading cause of death for women around the world. They don’t have access to the care that I had.”

Christy, who is now a mother of two, is hoping to bring awareness to maternal health and the struggles many women experience during their pregnancy. This includes advocating for access to healthcare and education, for societal changes, and stronger support systems for women during their early days of motherhood.

Many women frequently share that there are so many unknowns they come across during pregnancy and childbirth; that so much of motherhood is shrouded in mystery until you actually are in it. 

Christy says that so much of what people know about childbirth is from what they’ve seen in movies. “Which is not helpful. Because the way it’s usually depicted is…usually like a couple of grimaces and a couple of deep pushes, and then? Done!” As many of us mothers know, that’s often NOT the case AT ALL. 

Which is why Christy wanted to start a global advocacy network: “Thankfully there is better information out there now, but if you can’t lean on people that are close to you, what then?”  

Having a network to turn to and hear you are not alone is unparalleled – and it’s why Is This Normal is taking a stand when it comes to recognizing and supporting parents everywhere who are doing it all.

State Side

As the Country that seems to lead the world in so many things, it may be shocking to learn that the United States is the only developed country that does not have mandatory paid maternity leave. This was one of the things Christy underscored with us when we spoke.

We hear the struggle time and time again from working moms that feel the pressure to return to their jobs before they are physically, or mentally, ready. And the research backs up paid leave’s invaluable impact on both mom and baby’s health postpartum. 

For one of the wealthiest and most progressive countries, this doesn’t add up.

And then, there’s healthcare.

Christy, who has a Master’s degree in Public Health from Columbia University, shared that many families she speaks with simply don’t understand the complicated system enough to effectively navigate the healthcare landscape and get care when needed. The complex path weaved by lawmakers can create a huge barrier between the family and the coverage that not only fits their needs, but is actually affordable.

She shares that the barriers only increase when it comes to women of color.

“​The national estimates are that black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth related complications. And that is regardless of her economic status or educational background. That’s crazy.”

“So there’s been more and more conversation and more research around implicit bias training for medical providers. Because everybody has a bias of some sort. So it’s realizing that our systems are racist…And so how do you get to the root in those systems? There has to be these policy changes that have to happen at every level to advance.”

What Unifies Mothers Everywhere

Despite the differences in access to, and treatment within healthcare, mothers around the globe share a united bond. 

“I would say that we all share in common the desire to take care of the children that we have, right? To make sure that they’re fed, to make sure that they have access to education, and the health care they need when they need it.” 

“I feel like those three things, they unite every mom on the planet. I would say that just a common ground is that I can talk to any woman about resiliency. We will do anything we can for our children and our family.”

We breathe this truth every day at Is This Normal. We also see a common theme of self-sacrifice that becomes part of being a mom. That feeling that the needs of the family and the child come before our own mental and physical needs.

Christy asserts: “​It’s like you’re relinquishing control and the reality is you don’t really have control anyway. But it’s the sense of how can I be okay with wanting to be the parent that helps guide them in the direction that they’re going to learn for themselves. They’re going to practice freedom and autonomy and agency, right? Because that’s what humans should grow up to do.”

However, balancing her desire to encourage them with her instinct to protect them from the world is something she has struggled with.

“You have to encourage them [to be independent] and you have to support that. But at the same time, parents want to hold on and they don’t want to let go. So it’s just self-awareness, noting when you’re doing that yourself, noting when it’s not positive or when it’s harmful to the person that you love.”

Looking Ahead

When not focused on her own family, Christy has her eyes on the future. Every Mother Counts’ ten-year anniversary is on the horizon, and her team is being very intentional about planning the organization’s next 10 years.

The organization will continue to hold awareness and advocacy events across the globe as well as stateside, including marathons, on both coasts of the US. 

While we always learn something every time we sit down with the bad ass moms we interview, our interview with Christy really opened our eyes to the issues women are facing throughout the world – and invigorated in us a desire to get involved. 


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