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Former Model Christy Turlington Founded Women’s Maternal Health Organization

In 2010, American supermodel Christy Turlington Burns founded the nonprofit Every Mother Counts, an organization which focuses on providing funds to maternal health organizations around the world in order to help improve their theory and practices. Since its creation, the charity has gone on to invest $4M in grants into these maternal health organizations. Some of them have been featured in a short film created by Burns in partnership with National Geographic.

Burns told National Geographic, “In 2003, I had a postpartum hemorrhage after giving birth to my daughter, who’s now almost 14. That experience made me want to understand not only why that happened to me, but also why so many girls and women around the world are continuing to die from pregnancy and childbirth-related complications when we actually know how to solve those problems.”

Since then, Burns has gone on to create a short film titled Con Madre to provide a window into the lives of women who give birth at home and the women who take care of them.

While childbirth can always lead to complications, the risk in society’s impoverished communities is usually much greater. Guatemala, for example, is one of the most dangerous countries in Central America to give birth, particularly among indigenous populations.

It isn’t just that women lack access to healthcare, either. Women refuse to go to health centers for fear of discrimination. One of the midwives in the short film states that about 50 percent of Guatemalan women give birth at home. This leaves many women in need.

With trained and readily available midwives, however, the situation becomes much more reassuring. One school in the short film explained that it trains midwives for three years and provides a full scholarship to everyone accepted into the program.

In another scene, a midwife with a baby wrapped to her back washes what appears to be bloodied sheets. The baby’s head bounces back and forth as the woman wrings the blood from the cloths.

The woman to whom the blood belonged explained minutes before that the midwives made her feel entirely safe – that giving birth in her home was a beautiful experience rather than a terrifying one.

“The philosophy of Corazón de Agua is that all people have the opportunity to make conscious choices to focus on a healthy and empowered vision, while knowing their rights, knowing their options, everything in harmony with nature. The plan is for the graduates to go back to their communities and offer their services. We will start a type of midwives cooperation, where we will be supporting one another.”

“What makes me happy is seeing babies being born,” said one of the midwives, “helping women in the community to know what they should eat, and to see their children grow up healthy.”

Though practicing midwifery seems like it might be separating the community from public health services, in reality, the midwifery organizations are being recognized as state-level essential health care providers, possessing the ability to license midwives in their community.

Both the people in the public-health sector and those practicing midwifery acknowledge they have much to learn from one another.

Jorge, the director of the Mother and Child Health Center (CAIMI) says, “For years it was difficult to share the caregiving. The medical professional did not accept the presence of traditional midwives. We realize that culturally, midwives are very accepted . . . Currently the young ladies are doing training here. We gave them the opportunity to attends shifts and to give care. They could really make a change. They are a link between the population, Between the family and the health services.”

When Burns was asked about the part of Every Mother Counts that makes her most proud, she replied, “On the best days, it’s that sense of community that’s come together because they want to do for other people. There’s so much more to do. Birth is just the beginning – it’s an overwhelming amount of work. So I go back to those human moments, that’s where the pride is.”

Burns’ work and philosophies, alongside the actions of the women featured in Burns’ short film, shed light onto birthing methods that often receive criticism for not following the mainstream forms of medicinal practice. With this short film, Burns has given the world the stories of women whose passions reside in not just bringing life to the world, but ensuring that those lives are taken care of.

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