In her world travels as an advocate for mothers, Christy Turlington Burns has seen a wide expanse of birth experiences, from home births in undeveloped countries to deliveries in urban New York hospitals.
Through her nonprofit organization Every Mother Counts, the former supermodel has spoken up for the health of mothers and their babies in a series of documentary films detailing the issues of maternal health.
Over the next year, she will bring her advocacy to Louisiana to create a short documentary about the state with the assistance of the Baton Rouge-based Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Family Foundation.
“There are so many stories and so many situations,” Turlington Burns said after a screening of three short documentaries in her series, “Giving Birth in America,” at the Louisiana International Film Festival.
Every Mother Counts and Turlington Burns will “localize a documentary about Louisiana to look at what we’re doing in the area of maternal health and what Louisiana really looks like, particularly in the areas related to rural women and underserved women,” said Lori Bertman, president of the Pennington Family Foundation.
Turlington Burns starred in a documentary about the state of pregnancy-related health called “No Woman No Cry,” released in 2010. Last year, her Every Mother Counts foundation partnered with CNN to release the “Giving Birth in America” series on pregnancy in America.
“People are starting to use documentaries and filmmaking as a way to begin a movement around social issues in general, which I think is really clever,” Bertman said.
The first three films in the “Giving Birth in America” series focus on the challenges facing mothers in Florida, New York and Montana. Some deal with a lack of healthcare options in rural areas while others face a confusing maze of medical aid options from the state and federal governments.
While maternal deaths have dropped worldwide since 1990, in the United States, the number of women who die from childbirth or birth-related causes has risen, according to the World Health Organization. Every day more than two American women die from pregnancy-related causes, according to a report from Amnesty International, and researchers say that half the deaths are preventable.
“We know how to save their lives,” Turlington Burns said.
Louisiana has 15.9 pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the Amnesty International report, ranking the state 46th in the country. Maine, which is No. 1, has only 1.2 deaths.
Turlington Burns knew of the Pennington Family Foundation’s work from past experiences with president and CEO Bertman at the United Nations. Turlington Burns contacted Bertman about creating a documentary about birth concerns in Louisiana next.
“It seems like as good a place as any to put a stick in the ground and learn more,” Turlington Burns said.
To create the film, Every Mother Counts will work with healthcare providers to find interesting stories as they have in others states, Turlington Burns said. Last week, a team from Every Mother Counts met with local leaders through the Pennington Foundation’s Southern Women’s Leadership Roundtable and toured area healthcare providers to gather information.
The Louisiana film could be completed in time to premiere at next year’s Louisiana International Film Festival, said Debra Duffy, director of communications for Every Mother Counts.