On June 14, the White House and its partners convened people from around the world for the United State of Women, a large-scale effort to both celebrate how far women and girls have come and all that still remains to be done.
Christy Turlington, mother and founder of Every Mom Counts, shares a personal story about maternal health and why access to healthcare is essential for new mothers.
It’s often in times of crisis that we find our true mission. That’s what happened to me 12 years ago when my daughter was born. It was the day I became a mother and a global maternal health advocate.
After a healthy pregnancy, labor and birth, I experienced a life-threatening complication and began to hemorrhage. Within minutes, I went from feeling empowered to feeling frightened and confused.
But I was fortunate. My midwife and her backing obstetrician worked together to manage the situation. I was able to begin my journey into motherhood, safely, unlike the hundreds of thousands of women who die each year due to pregnancy and childbirth related complications.
That experience left its mark on me. I had so many questions, many of which had no clear answers. I learned that a pregnant woman dies every two minutes and that the leading cause of these deaths is hemorrhage. I also learned that life-saving solutions already existed to prevent nearly all of these deaths, yet not every mother had access to them. I knew I had a role to play in changing those statistics and that change was possible in my lifetime.
My first step was to become educated and familiar with the issue so I went back to school to study population and family health while working toward a Masters in Public Health at Columbia University. I also produced the documentary film, No Woman, No Cry, which explored the contributing factors to maternal death in four countries — Bangladesh, Guatemala, Tanzania and the United States.
Every audience who saw the film was shocked to learn that girls and women all over the world die from preventable and treatable pregnancy-related complications like hemorrhage, infection, hypertension, cardiac disorders, malaria and malnutrition. Many wanted to know why this still happens in the 21st century and how they could help.
That’s when Every Mother Counts was born.
It began as a campaign to educate wider audiences about an issue that touches all of us yet not enough people know about. We worked to raise awareness that the Millennium Development Goal to reduce maternal mortality 75 percent by 2015 lagged behind all other goals.
We’ve evolved as a nonprofit organization since our early days into a movement of dedicated individuals who are educating, advocating and mobilizing resources to help remove barriers to safe pregnancy and childbirth. To date, we’ve raised more than 13 million dollars. We’ve funded work to make essential maternity care accessible in 13 countries, including the US, and we’ve helped educate hundreds of thousands of Americans, health providers, mothers, philanthropists and advocates about the challenges we face and solutions we need to improve maternal health.
Since my daughter was born, global maternal mortality rates have dropped by 40 percent. We’re seeing the impact of investments that improve women’s lives and health through education, employment, access to transportation, clean water, sanitation and nutrition, especially for the poorest women in the world.
But we know we still have much more to do, both here at home in the US and abroad.
A growing community of healthcare providers, educators, government leaders, birth ambassadors and parents recognize that maintaining the status quo is unhealthy for women and bad for families. Change is needed and thousands stand with us as we work to educate, advocate, and provide support to make pregnancy and childbirth safer for every mother, everywhere.
Christy Turlington is a mom, wife, daughter, yogi, marathoner and founder of Every Mother Counts.
*This article originally appeared on Medium.