She's a world famous mother, but she's also helping mothers around the world as the founder of the nonprofit Every Mother Counts.
On the latest episode of the second season of The Motherly Podcast, Sponsored by Prudential, Turlington Burns tells Motherly co-founder Liz Tenety about her journey into motherhood and why she wants the world (and America, especially) to understand that every mother counts.
How birth changed her perspective
Turlington Burns tells Tenety that she felt empowered when she had her first child 15 years ago. She was at a place in her life were she felt ready, and had access to great healthcare. She chose to birth with a midwife and a doula in a birthing center within a hospital. She describes her daughter's birth as "perfect," but she wasn't prepared for the medical issue that came next.
"I felt so proud of myself. I felt so strong. I felt so grateful. I didn't know my daughter's sex until she was born and so I was just like beside myself that I had a daughter and she was latching on and she; like everything was like perfect, perfect. And really in the next I guess within sort of 45 minutes or an hour after she was out is when things sort of turned and changed," she explains.
She continues: "That was the part that I just was not prepared for. I did not deliver my placenta. I had a retained placenta but I didn't even know really what that meant at the time. I had witnessed my sisters giving birth and I sort of seen the placenta come out as an afterthought, not a big deal."
An obstetrician was called in to extract the placenta, an experience Turlington Burns recalls as "excruciatingly painful."
Despite the painful ending, she still looks back on her first birth as a beautiful, life-changing experience.
Helping fellow mothers
Turlington Burns recognizes how privileged she was to give birth in a great hospital with a midwife, doula and OB to help her and that many mothers don't have that kind of access to quality healthcare.
"That experience is what opened my eyes to this global tragedy. You know I did not know that women and girls were still dying in pregnancy-related complications all over the world. I had no idea," she explains. "I'm sure I would have thought that if that happened it was an incredibly rare event. And I think that's what most people assume. And I learned that the U.S. at that time; my daughter was born in 2003, that more than half a million girls and women were estimated to be dying yearly around the world and that number hadn't come down in decades. And I was completely shocked."
She was shocked, but then she took action. Turlington stated studying this problem, seriously. She was inspired to pursue her Master's degree in Public Health at the Columbia University, and in 2010 she made a documentary, No Woman, No Cry and launched the nonprofit, Every Mother Counts, dedicated to advocating for safer childbirth, everywhere.
"That decision didn't happen overnight. You know it took me a while before I really delved in. After my experience with delivering Grace I thought okay I want to advocate for natural childbirth. I want to advocate for every woman having access to options and you know having information and being able to make those choices and how everybody deserves this you know empowering transformative birth experience. But I didn't know how that would sort of play itself out and it really wasn't until a few years later after I had my second child that it started to become more clear. And then you know being lucky that I was in a position in my life and career where I had some time. I had the resources. I had relationships. I had connections," she explains.
What connects mothers around the world
As a filmmaker and the founder of Every Mother Counts, Turlington Burns has had the opportunity to talk to mothers around the world, and she says no matter where a mother lives there are some things we all have in common.
"We all want our kids to thrive. We all want our kids to have opportunities to access education, to have food and shelter and those are basic human rights and needs met. That every woman that I've ever met, everyone has that feeling and without even a shared language," she tells Tenety.
"We can sit side by side and connect on those just simple facts, which is a beautiful thing. And it's an inspiring thing. I think it really helps us stay on course with the work because that's what we ultimately want right is for a mom to be able to do what she can to thrive not only for herself but for her family and her community."
To hear more from Christy Turlington Burns about her experience as a mother and as an advocate for mothers, check out the The Motherly Podcast, Sponsored by Prudential.