A Day In The Life Of A Maternal Health Activist: Christy Turlington Burns' Diary

Yesterday I led a panel at the WIE Symposium on the topic of moms and social change, featuring Heather Armstrong, Mary Alice Stephenson, Alisa Volkman and Christy Turlington Burns, that was sponsored by Johnson & Johnson/&you. For Christy, that panel was just the beginning of a very busy day, that saw her go from the WIE Symposium to the 92Y Social Good Summit to the Westside Highway to speak truth to power about the cause of maternal health and about mothers and social good. Which she is uniquely positioned to do, as the founder of Every Mother Counts, as the maker of the film No Woman No Cry, as CARE’s Advocate For Maternal Health, and, of course, as a mom. She’s a tireless advocate for mothers, and all-around amazing woman, and her account of her day yesterday will, I hope, inspire you. Read her entire post after the jump.

Ah, New York in the fall. The air is crisp, the kids are excited to be back in school and I get my own back to school week when the world comes to town for the UN General Assembly. It’s sort of a strange phenomenon- the UN GA provides a great opportunity to reflect on global leaders’ commitments to a number of development challenges including maternal health- but it also means that many other organizations hold events that compete for heads of state and other notables which makes for a very FULL week seeing everyone working on similar issues.

After welcoming Heather Armstrong to New York the night prior, we headed off first thing for a “Wake Up Call” at the WIE Symposium. WIE stands for Women: Inspiration & Enterprise and is pulled together by Donna Karan, Arianna Huffington and Sarah Brown. The” Wake Up Call for Women and Newborns of the World” served as a fantastic framing event for the week with each of the hosts taking turns speaking passionately about their own commitment to this global issue. We also heard from health workers, an OB and two midwives from three countries—Bangladesh, Kenya, and Tanzania, to learn more about the challenges they face in improving health outcomes in their countries and the sort of support that would make their jobs easier.

But the big news came when Dr. Julie Gerberding, President of Merck Vaccines, took to the stage to announce that Merck was coming to the table with a $500 million commitment to maternal health through the “Merck for Mothers” initiative. More details will be released tomorrow but we were thrilled to hear about their involvement and look forward to working with them further.

Around lunchtime, I took to the stage myself in what became known as the “tall mom panel”. I joined Heather, Alisa Volkman (co-founder of, Mary Alice Stevenson (fashion maven @MARYALICESTYLE) and moderator Catherine Connors (@herbadmother) to talk not about our height, but about moms getting involved in social good. The real question before the panel was the relationship between being a mother and engaging in social causes—is there a casual relationship or is there something about being a mom that makes us better at this sort of work? We each described our own individual experiences and how we came to find the philanthropic and advocacy work to be such a large part of our lives and some common themes emerged. We all felt that we had resources/skills/platforms that could be used for good and therefore SHOULD be used for good, we all noted that the balance between being a mother and doing this sort of work was a challenge but immensely doable, and we shared a sense that our experience of being mothers perhaps helped us connect even more with others. Catherine Connors summed it up well in noting that ‘the experience of motherhood almost universally links us to a feeling of vulnerability’ and that opens us up to new connections. There was also an interesting conversation about the whole premise of the panel — of how we had gathered to talk about being moms and those associated qualities, such as being nurturing, would strike some young feminists as a step backwards. But I think we all agreed that we now had OPTED to embrace the label of mother as being one piece of our portraits. As Heather noted, “we are not DEFINED by motherhood but we’re fueled by it.”

After a quick late lunch we raced up to the 92Y Social Good Summit where Heather and I shared the stage once more to talk about our work together on maternal health. We were joined by Executive Director of the United Nations Foundation, Kathy Calvin, who interviewed Heather about how we came together — which began with my reaching out to her via Twitter to invite her to a Salt Lake City screening on NO WOMAN, NO CRY last spring, which then resulted in our traveling to Bangladesh together over the summer to highlight the potential of social media advocacy work.

While a slideshow of Heather’s personal photos taken on the trip rolled in the background, we talked about the state of play on maternal and child health and the goals of Every Mother Counts and what work we have ahead of us. We talked about how Heather got involved and decided to come to Bangladesh and then use the platform she has with blog readers to spread the word. Heather is a perfect example of an individual coming forward because she was moved by what she learned watching my film, and offered the skills and resources she has to bring to bear, and is finding a productive way to put them all to good use. This story seemed to be pretty well received in front of a room full of social media experts.

After making it back home I got to cap the night off with a 5 mile run with half of the Every Mother Counts training team. Our co-captains, the Newbold brothers, led the charge and Heather, Erin and I suited up to run along the Westside Highway. Now that it’s official that we are running the ING marathon in NYC on November 6th we have to keep up our training even at the end of a very long day…

You don’t have to run a marathon to support Every Mother Counts (I’ll be sticking to walking myself, at least for this year; anyone who wants to walk with me in comfortable shoes, raise your hand!) — visit their site and consider making a donation to the cause, or spreading the word through your own social networks.

Whatever you do, make sure it includes taking a moment to hug a mom. Thank her for the work that she does. And encourage her to pass it on.

Article Posted 5 years Ago

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