She’s a model, CEO/founder of nonprofit Every Mother Counts, a filmmaker, marathoner, wife of actor/director/hottie Ed Burns, and a mother of two, Grace (13) and Finn (11).
When we chatted with Christy Turlington Burns, we girded ourselves for a neurotic, Type-A go-getter. But she’s quite the opposite – an old soul with a gentle demeanor and fairly normal-sounding way of life (yes, truly). Totally inspiring and refreshing!
Christy opened up about her path to do-gooder-ness, which started with her own traumatic postpartum complications, and shared her insights on parenting and staying in shape – inside and out. This cool as sh*t, inspiring woman’s stories are straight ahead…
I had a picture-perfect pregnancy – I was healthy and felt great. I also had a beautiful delivery in a birthing center with a doula, midwife, and a supportive OB as backup. I was nursing Grace right after giving birth and suddenly saw the tone in the room shift. Most people go into the fourth stage of labor, delivering the placenta, at this point, but mine had grown attached to my uterine wall (something you can’t screen or test for) and needed to be extracted. The doctor had to intervene and literally tear it out of me. It was so unexpected and excruciatingly painful (like more so than giving birth without drugs). I was rocked to my core.
Down The Rabbit Hole
Shortly thereafter, I jumped onto Google and discovered that 530,000 or so women were dying per year from delivery complications and postpartum hemorrhages. I had no idea that women still died in pregnancy and childbirth in the 21st century. I thought that only happened in rare instances. I was determined to raise awareness for the many women who do not have basic care to save their lives if this happens to them.
On A Mission
A year and a half later, when I was 6 months pregnant with my son, I went on a humanitarian trip with CARE to El Salvador. CARE has been around for 50 years and does their work quietly, which intrigued me. I spent the last day with women who were also pregnant at a well. They were coming to retrieve water, and CARE had prenatal care set up onsite, so the women could receive it without missing work (a big reason many don’t get medical care). I saw this program in effect and working.
When I got home, it really hit me then that if I didn’t have the fortune and resources I do – if I had been in a village like the one I visited – I could have died. Maternal health has to be a priority. I was so eager to do something.
The Ugly Reality
We partnered with CNN on a series called Giving Birth In America, where we tell the difficult stories of 4 women giving birth in the U.S. in order to raise awareness. The U.S. ranks 46th in the world for maternal health and is one of 13 countries with a rising maternal mortality rate, mostly due to postpartum hemorrhaging, over-medicalization of childbirth, and unnecessary interventions (which has become more commonplace). My hope is that these stories will encourage women to share their own and advocate for their communities.
Keep It Going
Now, my nonprofit, Every Mother Counts, lets people actually get to work and directly affect change. By purchasing a product, donating an old cell phone, or even running a race, you provide tangible things – transportation vouchers in Uganda, training for birth attendants in Haiti, and solar-power to clinics in Malawi – that are desperately needed. On the site people can see the impact they’ve made via short films, photos, and blog posts, bringing it all full circle.
I’m training for my 7th marathon! I’ve gotten obsessed because it’s connected to the work I’m doing, so it’s become symbolic. I’m hooked! I run without music, it’s my quiet time to clear my thoughts. EMC has teams all over that you can join – it’s such a great way to get involved and support the cause!
I parent the way I would have liked to be parented. They are my teachers and my equals in many ways, but they need guidance and behavior models. I understand that and cut them some slack – I don’t need to be really strict to raise kind humans. Ed and I watch, learn, and just simply be there for them, that’s the key to success.
I once read something about how kids learn life’s joys and hardships by seeing you go through struggles and overcoming them, so admitting when you’re overwhelmed is actually a good thing for them to see and grow from.
The Parenting Struggle Is Real
There are times when our 13-year-old doesn’t take everything at face value. She really questions things, which is just her wanting to be taken seriously as a human. She’s fiery and pushes back, and while that’s hard on us as her parents, it’s great for the world. She is becoming a grown up!
Christy’s Sister Married Eddie’s Brother
My sisters are my best friends, and Eddie’s brothers are his best friends. My sister Kelly is mutual friends with one of his friends, so she’s sorta how we met, and then she met his brother Brian through us, and they got married at our house 10 years ago! We have kids around the same age, making them double cousins! It’s so cool, they’re blood donors for each other – perfect matches on all these different levels, and they sense it themselves. I see my sister 3-4 times a week, and her kids are always at our apartment. It’s such a nice arrangement.