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How Christy Turlington's Scary Birth Experience Made Her A Birth Activist

Model Christy Turlington has two young children with director Ed Burns, and she’s just become a director herself with No Woman, No Cry, a powerful documentary about maternal mortality in childbirth. The documentary was inspired by Christy’s travels to developing nations and a new awareness of what women giving birth in these environments are up against. But it was also inspired by experience. Christy herself had a life threatening complication when giving birth to her daughter, Grace. And visiting these cultures drove home a frightening truth: had she given birth in one of these places instead of New York City, Christy Turlington could have been one of the staggering number of women—approximately 500,000—who die in childbirth around the world each year.

After a smooth, unmedicated birth, Turlington experienced a PostPartum Hemhorrage (PPH). The bleeding was controlled via swift intervention and the kind of medical expertise we have come to expect in our high tech society. But many are not so lucky. About 1000 maternal deaths per day are attributed to uncontrolled postpartum hemhorrage worldwide.   In a story in the UK’s Daily Mail, Turlington opens up about her scary experience and how it spurred her into the action that eventually became No Woman, No Cry and Every Mother Counts, the charity she founded to fight unnecessary deaths during childbirth.

‘I had a perfect pregnancy with Grace,’ says Christy, 41. ‘Your first child is unknown territory. You don’t know how your body will deal with what’s going on, so I was very careful to look after myself. But I was lucky because everything was straightforward. I had some cravings, mainly for avocados and lemonade. I cannot remember how much weight I put on but it was not too much or too little, and I was lucky enough not to suffer any morning sickness. I thoroughly enjoyed the pregnancy. Ed and I agreed that we wanted to have our baby in a birthing centre attached to St Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital near our home in New York City. We talked to the obstetrician there who would be with us in the event of an emergency. After giving us a tour of the centre, he said, “Don’t worry  -  you’ll most likely never see me again.” Famous last words.’

The birth went fine, and Christy was basking in the joy of her new baby when it became clear that there was a problem.

‘Our obstetrician was called as after almost an hour I still hadn’t delivered the placenta,’ says Christy.

‘He said he would have to remove it by hand. The procedure must be done quickly  -  there is no time for painkillers. The placenta has to be torn away and the doctor needs to make sure there is nothing left inside, as this can cause infections.

‘It was an excruciatingly painful experience. The delivery of Grace was nothing compared to it and I’d had no pain relief then either.

‘There was a lot of bleeding, but what happened was nobody’s fault. My doctor and his team were fantastic.’

‘I ate plenty of iron-rich food such as lentils and spinach and took an iron supplement. I was incredibly weak, having lost so much blood.’

It wasn’t until she took a trip to San Salvador, her mother’s birthplace, that she realized the complication that she’d experienced was a leading cause of maternal death during childbirth. More travel, more outrage, and more inspiration followed. Christy learned that 90% of maternal deaths are preventable, and she decided to take action. No Woman No Cry looks at childbirth conditions in Tanzania, Guatemala, Bangladesh and the United States.The hope, according to Turlington, is that the film will raise awareness of how much greater the risks can be for women giving birth in other cultures. In telling her own story, maybe she’s trying to take that idea a bit closer to home.

Read more:  I would have died giving birth if I wasn’t a rich Western model, says Christy Turlington

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