Standing Up For Mothers Everywhere: Christy Turlington Burns and “Every Mother Counts”

By Lynn Adams Smith

Images Courtesy of Every Mother Counts

Fashion model Christy Turlington Burns has represented some of the biggest names in fashion such as Calvin Klein and Versace. Most recently, she has devoted much of her time, energy, and passion towards the organization she founded, Every Mother Counts, a campaign to end preventable deaths caused by pregnancy and childbirth around the world. 


When did you first become interested in maternal health?

When I became a mom in 2003, I became more interested and concerned with maternal health. I had experienced a complication after delivering my daughter which helped direct my focus in this direction and was the impetus for directing my first documentary No Woman No Cry. Before that I had no idea that hundreds of thousands of girls and women die every year from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth simply because they don’t have access to basic or emergency maternity care. Almost all of these deaths are preventable. When I learned this I asked myself what could I do, and it turns out, quite a lot.

Tell us about your experience of making the film No Woman, No Cry, including where you traveled to and how you connected with the women in the film.

While pregnant with my second child in 2005, I did a lot of traveling in Central America where I came across many individuals who were successfully helping women rise above the tragic maternal mortality statistics. I wanted to share these stories with the world, the considerable challenges and real solutions. It was the hope in these stories that inspired No Woman, No Cry which features stories of real women from my travels to Tanzania, Bangladesh, Guatemala and the U.S. between 2008 and 2010. I have gone back to each of the countries where we filmed and most of the participants have viewed the film. Once you are a part of someone’s story they are with you forever.

What efforts related to Every Mother Counts (EMC) are you the most proud of?

Every Mother Counts is a campaign to end preventable deaths caused by pregnancy and childbirth around the world. We inform, engage, and mobilize new audiences to take action to improve the health and well-being of girls and women worldwide.

There are many are things I am proud of. One in particular is the way we’re beginning to see a groundswell of interest and concern about the welfare of women and mothers in the world. When I had my childbirth complication ten years ago, there was very little attention being paid to the problem of maternal mortality and poor maternal health conditions. Now, we’re seeing and hearing more about it. I’m also really proud of the grants our organization has been able to fund. Because of the generosity of our supporters, we’ve been able to fund projects that are making a significant and direct impact on maternal health in some of the most in-need countries in the world like Haiti, Uganda, Malawi, Indonesia and the United States. I’m also very proud that people are beginning to look closely at women’s health and maternal health conditions right here at home and understanding that we need to do more and do things differently to take care of our own mother.

What is your long term goal for EMC?

To continue to make pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother, and that eventually there will be no more preventable deaths. Mothers and their children will thrive and girls will see their future lives as mothers as hopeful, safe and supported.

When you speak with young American women about issues related to maternal healthcare in other countries, what are they most surprised to learn?

Well, they likely aren’t aware that women continue to die in childbirth in the 21st Century. We have known how to address most of the complications commonly related to these senseless deaths and yet, millions of women don’t have access to the people and supplies that could save their lives. Fifteen  percent of pregnancies will result in a complication, as mine did. We can’t always identify who may have one, which is why it is so important that every pregnant women have access to prenatal care and quality delivery care wherever that may be. EMC is focused on addressing access gaps so transportation and education are two of the focal areas of our grants so far.

Did you start marathoning because of EMC and how can runners join the team?

I started running as a kid. My dad would put me and my sisters in meets at a local college. I was fast and had long legs. I wish I had stuck with it but I moved on to other team sports. Later as a teenager I would run three to five miles a week periodically but I never enjoyed it as much when it felt more like exercise than for fun. It wasn’t until the summer of 2011, that I was given the opportunity to run the ING NYC marathon with EMC that I started to run again for more than just fitness and that’s when I started to enjoy it again. Running long distance provides a new way to elevate awareness for maternal health. Distance is one of the biggest barriers pregnant women around the world face when trying to access critical maternity care; 5k is the minimum distance millions of women have to walk to access basic care and 35k is an average distance many would have to travel to access emergency obstetric care.

Anyone can run in support of EMC by joining our team or starting their own fundraising team. All of the details can be found on our website here:

Do you still practice yoga or meditation and do these techniques help to manage being a working mom, wife, and advocate for global maternal health?

I still practice yoga and can’t even imagine my life before it. It has given me so much more than I could ever have imagined. Not only is it an excellent form of exercise, it has given me perspective in so many other aspects of my life. I feel a great sense of connection and community with others because of this practice.

How can people help support the EMC mission?

There are many ways that people can get involved to support EMC’s work, which we detail on our website We’ve had men and women do everything from donating to the organization, running in support of EMC through apps such as Crowdrise, purchasing a product in which proceeds go to benefit maternal health projects on the ground. Any action that helps raise awareness and educate people about maternal health is something will support EMC’s mission.

Is there anything else about EMC or any of your advocacy work thus far that you want to share with us?

Even though we’re still a small organization, we’re amazed and humbled by the immense response we’ve received from women and men all over the world. This issue really resonates with people from all walks of life. Once people hear the statistics and realize that women are still dying giving birth in the 21st century, from almost entirely preventable conditions, that strikes a chord. So often people will then say, “I knew a woman…” and they relate the work we’re doing to a personal experience they’re connected to. We’re banking on those personal connections to help all of us prevent maternal deaths.