christy turlington burns explores the perils of giving birth in america

A new documentary from Every Mother Counts follows four pregnant women on the bumpy road to delivery.

by Jane Helpern
23 December 2015, 4:25pm

What's it like to give birth in America? For many, especially low-income women, uninsured women, and women of color, the answer to this question is "terrifying." A new three-part short film series from Every Mother Counts now viewable on CNN, supermodel-turned-activist Christy Turlington Burns' global maternal health non-profit, follows four pregnant women in Florida, Montana, and New York on their journeys toward delivery and motherhood. Through meeting these women, as well as the passionate doulas, midwives, and medical professionals who care for and provide emotional support for them, "Giving Birth in America" investigates the most common barriers to maternal health in America and what we can do to make the system safer and more accessible for expectant mothers everywhere.

Some frightening facts: Did you know that the US is the only industrialized nation where maternal mortality rate is consistently on the rise? Or that we are ranked 60th in the world when it comes to maternal health, yet we spend more than any other country on healthcare? What about that in the U.S. we lose two women a day from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth? And that African American women are four times more likely to die from pregnancy related complications (In New York, seven times more likely), while Latina women face twice the risk?

So, why are women in America dying senseless and oftentimes preventable deaths? According to "Giving Birth in America," a few of the biggest contributing factors are obesity (more than half of the pregnant women in the US are obese, which can lead to fatal complications, including fetal diabetes), lack of insurance (there are 17 million uninsured women ages 16-64 in the US, many of whom are Latina), and over-medicalization (the national cesarean section rate is 33%, when World Health Organization suggests that rates should not be higher than 10%). The universal flaw, though, is that "American mothers lack access to affordable, skilled and compassionate maternal health care." Through education, doula training, and funding for the pre-natal care of at-risk mothers, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay, Every Mother Counts is on a mission to lower the U.S. maternal mortality rate.

In the film, we meet Emerald, living in a remote part of Montana with her husband and their six beautiful wood-chopping, goat-milking kids. Pregnant with their seventh child, she's forced to drive 2.5 hours to a hospital that will allow her to have a vaginal birth. As we learn, malpractice insurers make it extremely difficult for VBAC (vaginal birth after c-section). Then there's 24-year-old Lissette, pregnant, fleeing from an abusive ex, and living in a domestic violence shelter. After becoming pregnant for the first time at age 17 and delivering by doctor-ordered C-section, she lost custody of her baby due to postpartum depression. This time, she's turned to Ancient Song doula Rochelle to ensure depression doesn't befall her again, and for someone to advocate on her behalf. As Lissette explains, her doula was the first person to ever inform her that she had options. Though their pregnancy stories and personal circumstances couldn't be more different, both Emerald and Lissette (as well as Rachel and Naomi, who we also meet along the way) are up against the similar challenges of accessing compassionate, affordable, and skilled prenatal care in America.

To learn more about the challenges pregnant women face in the U.S., watch "Every Mother Counts" at CNN and educate yourself.


Text Jane Helpern
Photography courtesy Every Mother Counts

Christy Turlington
christy turlington burns
every mother counts