Women Who Dare: Christy Turlington Burns Takes On Maternal Mortality

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This post is part of Pathfinder's "Women Who Dare" series in celebration of International Women's Day 2013. Because remarkable women around the world continue to "dare" each and every day, Pathfinder will continue to feature "Women Who Dare" beyond just International Women's Day.

Christy Turlington Burns is the founder of Every Mother Counts, a campaign dedicating to ending the hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths linked to pregnancy and childbirth that happen every year around the world. Prior to her work with Every Mother Counts, Christy directed and produced "No Woman, No Cry," a documentary about the state of maternal health for mothers worldwide. As a part of "No Woman, No Cry," Christy dared to share her personal experience with postpartum hemorrhage, a condition that claims the lives of nearly 350,000 mothers every year.

Recently, Pathfinder spoke with Christy to learn more about the progress she's seen on the sexual and reproductive health front and her advice for changing the world.

You were very candid about your personal experience with postpartum hemorrhage in your film, "No Woman, No Cry." Did you ever imagine then that you would now be such an incredible advocate for maternal health?
I knew the moment I became a mother that my life would be profoundly changed, but I was surprised by the experience I had postpartum after everything else had gone so smoothly. Even with the complication, the experience was incredibly positive and liberating on so many levels. Then, when I discovered that pregnancy often leads to death for so many women and girls around the world, I needed to know more and do all I could to help raise more awareness. The film was basically a long research project that further proved that so much more could and should be done to save these lives. Once the film was complete, I knew that I still had a role to play and now, with Every Mother Counts, I am continuing to advocate with a mission to make pregnancy and childbirth safe for all moms.

You’ve committed tremendous time and resources to raising awareness for improving women’s health. Do you ever consider that work daring?
There is a certain amount of daring that comes with sharing intimate details of your life and putting yourself out there over and over with audiences of complete strangers, but I feel that it’s healthy to share vulnerable aspects of our lives and if doing so inspires more mothers to share their stories with others and for others, I believe together we can make a difference.

In your work thus far, have you encountered any resistance or negative feedback?
Not that I am aware of. I think my passion and commitment is pretty transparent. But there is a certain amount of scrutiny because people who are known by the public know you for your other associations. I have been very open about what I know and don’t know and it seems clear to most people that I take this issue very seriously and am committed to doing everything I can to keep it in the hearts and minds of anyone I come into contact with.

What changes have you seen in the last few years for women’s sexual and reproductive health?
When I set out to make  “No Woman, No Cry,” over a half a million women were dying from complications in pregnancy and childbirth every year. Today, the numbers are closer to 300,000. This number is still way too high, but the fact is the world now is more aware of the problem and we are counting girls and women and registering births in more countries than we were doing previously. And the world is changing and our population is continuing to grow and we still aren’t reaching millions of people who wish to access family planning to help them control their family size so that they can care for them. Women’s reproductive health continues to be politicized, even in (the US) where women remain perilously close to losing the rights and freedoms we currently enjoy.

What inspires you to continue this work? Are there particular other daring women who motivate you?
I keep good company these days and frequently meet women who are so extraordinary that they inspire me daily. Even the most ordinary women in some places in the world are extraordinary to me given all they endure and yet continue to persevere. But women are daring in so many ways. Each and every one of us.

If you had one piece of advice for someone interested in changing the world, what would it be?
If you truly want to change the world, set an intention and the “what” and the “how” will present themselves. When you’re dedicated to making a change, and you believe deeply in what it is that you care about, you will make it happen.

This post is part of Pathfinder's "Women Who Dare" series in celebration of International Women's Day 2013. Read more stories of daring women and learn how you can take action at www.pathfinder.org/WomenDare.

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