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Why No Mothers Day Matters: An Interview With Christy Turlington Burns

You’ve seen the video. You’ve shared the video. You’ve talked about the video. But do you know the story behind the video?

We’ve been promoting the ‘No Mother’s Day’ campaign – the brainchild of Christy Turlington Burns and her organization, Every Mother Counts – for about a week now, and we’ve seen a lot of dispute and disagreement over it. It is, after all, a controversial campaign that takes a controversial approach to social change: it’s using silence as an action to get peoples’ attention. Not everyone agrees that silence is a useful – or empowering, or effective, or meaningful – strategy, and those who disagree have been vocal this week in making their case. So we thought it was time to let Christy and EMC make their case.

I interviewed Christy about the meaning and intention behind the campaign, and about her hopes and expectations for the campaign, and her team provided me with a little bit of narrative around what they’re doing. The result is this discussion, which I hope you’ll read, and give some thought to, and perhaps even weigh in on…

This past week we (Every Mother Counts) shared a new short social issue film here on Babble that features our dear friends Alisa Volkman and Catherine Connors. The film serves as the cornerstone for a new campaign we’ve launched in the lead up to Mother’s Day which is called “No Mothers Day.” It may sound counter-intuitive at first glance and indeed the campaign has raised a few eyebrows as well as a few critiques on this site. The truth is that was always the intent. Mother’s Day has always been a natural moment for Every Mother Counts, as it is for any organization focused on maternal health. But this year is different. This year we are poised to take the campaign further and hope to engage a wider audience. We are launching a variety of new partnerships, new ways for people to take action and yet- we are facing one major problem—not enough people even know that this is an issue. We did some research and if you look at the numbers across the U.S., people just do not realize that this is urgent domestically or abroad and for those that DO have any sense that it is, most don’t realize how solvable it could be. So, the challenge was this, how do we call people to action if they don’t yet know there’s a problem? And secondly, how do we break through all the noise that comes at us from retailers and all the other causes… What could get attention to begin a conversation that is solution-oriented? No Mothers Day is just that. It is what we hope will become an open dialogue where we all come together and figure this out because we value motherhood. We know this is a big ask and how uncomfortable it may feel. We are moms too and we know hard we all work all year long so now we are asking you give up our one day too? What good will that do many of you have asked? Well, going silent on Mother’s Day may not immediately save lives today but it very well might tomorrow and beyond. All we wanted to do was invite you into a global dialogue that you can have a voice in, but needed to get things a little quiet in order for us to be heard. Our founder Christy Turlington Burns sat down with Catherine Connors to talk about this approach in a bit more detail and to address some of the questions that have been posted about the campaign.

Catherine: So, Christy… obviously I know about the campaign. I was in the video. I get it. But tell us- what do you hope will happen when people see this campaign? What is your goal?

CTB: Well first of all I just hope they watch the video- I really think it does a great job explaining what we’re trying to do. And I hope they’ll share it with their networks as well. I love that we have some comments and questions coming in on the website- that’s the whole idea! My original hope was just that people would consider the facts we present in the No Mothers Day film and then in turn question them. People are thinking about it, talking, reacting. All those people are now aware. And that’s incredible because now hopefully those same people will come join us at everymothercounts.org to solve it together.

Catherine: Right, but going silent won’t save lives, right? What do you say to those who worry this effort won’t really have an impact?

CTB: No if all we had to do was go silent then I think we really could solve this pretty quickly. No Mothers Day was not designed to be an immediate solution. By not answering your phone or responding to email on May 13th you won’t save a life today, but you could be a part of saving thousands of lives from that day onward. Until a majority of the public is aware that there is a problem, we won’t be moved to solve it, and this is the role of No Mothers Day – to get their attention, begin a dialogue and build a community of activists. We believe that once people know the facts, they will want to do what they can and come to us to find ways to engage. We want people to become aware of the problem but perhaps more importantly, become aware that there are solutions and that their participation is needed and welcome.

Catherine: So what do you say to moms of young kids? Is this really about ignoring your kids on Mother’s Day?

CTB: We understand how important Mother’s Day is to you. All of us are mothers too, and having our children bring us breakfast in bed or making us a special gift is something we’d be really sad to go without. But the scale of the tragedy of maternal mortality is so great, and there are so many families around the world unable to celebrate Mother’s Day, that this is a sacrifice that we’re prepared to make if it raises awareness around the problem and encourages people to provide support and funding to help solve it. What action you choose to take is up to you. Say no to gifts and phone calls, or no to gifts and yes to phone calls, or just go silent on social media it’s your choice. Or maybe the options we came up with on our Facebook page don’t work for you- that’s ok. Come up with your own way to engage and ‘disappear’. It’s about finding a way to spread the word and join in solidarity with our sisters in motherhood and that can be a very personal choice. Our primary hope is that you spend a few moments on May 13th to think about those unable to do the same.

Catherine: Do you have any advice on how parents might use this campaign as a ‘teachable moment’ with their kids? How are you talking to your children about ‘no mother’s day’?

CTB: I think of everything as a teachable moment so yes, most definitely. If our children ask, as mine have, what we may want for Mother’s Day we can explain to them that many moms do not survive childbirth and that that leaves millions of children without mothers every year. I tell my kids I am lucky to have them and they are lucky to have me.

Catherine: And what next? How does this fit into your overall plans with EMC?

CTB: NMD is a moment in time – it’s designed to get attention. Every Mother Counts is an ongoing advocacy and mobilization campaign. As such, we hope to educate and inspire new audiences to engage on this issue. We hope that No Mothers Day will get people’s attention and shock them with facts, and then in turn, we hope they’ll be moved to do more. Following the No Mothers Day campaign we will have a revamped, action-oriented website with the goal of becoming the epicenter for maternal health information. We hope that those interested in engaging will come to think of us as an action resource center.

Please consider taking part in this campaign (I am, obviously). Even if it only prompts a conversation with your spouse or your kids or your friends, consider that meaningful. Every show of support counts. Every mother counts. Let’s make this count. You can find more information, and the video, at Every Mother Counts. Please check it out.

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