DAY OF REST

05.11.12

Christy Turlington Burns: Why You Should Stay Mum This Mother’s Day

Stop tweeting, texting, and talking on the phone this Sunday, writes Christy Turlington Burns, in honor of silenced mothers.

I don’t remember what I thought about Mother’s Day before I became a mom myself. I suppose I was a dutiful daughter and bought my mom a card or made her one when I was younger; as I got older, I would buy her small tokens of appreciation. But then I became a mother, and I remember suddenly feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude that I could never express with gifts or words alone.

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Turlington Burns in Bangladesh, directing a documentary called “No Woman, No Cry.” (Clancy McCarty)

My mom always asked for my sisters and me to just get along. That’s all she ever really asked. Well, now that we are grown women, we are all mothers. We are equals, and we each have a deeper respect for the other because of that common understanding. We know what it takes to do this important work, and we listen to one another when one of us needs that. What it comes down to is a simple truth—mothers need mothers—and I see all of us women as sisters, so we can do this very thing for each other every day.

So what do I expect of my children on Mother’s Day? Well, that’s a different story. Their mom is a global maternal-health advocate working toward a very big goal, to reduce preventable maternal death around the world. I spend every day focused on finding new ways to engage others to join me in this effort. I believe that every life has equal value, but so many girls, women, and their families are not treated as such, and that is why hundreds of thousands of them die every year. The good news is, this is an urgent but solvable problem, because almost all of these deaths are preventable.

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Since it takes big ideas sometimes to reach big goals, my fellow advocates and I at Every Mother Counts decided to do something different this year for Mother’s Day. Last week, we launched the “No Mothers Day” campaign. The big idea behind this was pretty simple. We know that using our voices is powerful, but silence can be powerful too. So that’s the idea behind No Mothers Day. To go silent—to not answer emails, to not answer calls or update social media.

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In Tanzania with a young mother named Lightness. (Nicolas Newbold)

We’re asking mothers to refrain from such communication for one day to remember the thousands of mothers who have been forever silenced unnecessarily due to complications with pregnancy or childbirth. The cornerstone of the campaign, launched last week, is a social-issue film directed by my husband, filmmaker Ed Burns, featuring moms encouraging moms to get involved by “disappearing” this Mother’s Day. The film drives you to our Facebook page, which offers a couple ways you can choose to join the No Mothers Day campaign, but it’s meant to be a personal thing—if none of our options works for you, find your own way to spread the word or honor your sisters in motherhood.

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On a break from shooting the film "No Woman, No Cry" in Bangladesh. (Josh Estey)

We wanted to get the attention of the public at a time when mothers are at the top of our minds and hearts and redirect some of the love and good intentions that come with honoring our own mothers on this day toward other moms and families that don’t have the same support. We wanted to suggest that we take pause, in solidarity with at-risk moms-to-be around the world. By doing so, our hope was to start a dialogue about how we can in turn use our voices collectively to act on their behalf.

Is silence really going to save lives? No. We know that. Is silence a lot to ask of moms on their one day? Yes. Absolutely. But we think the goal is a worthy one—we think that for this one day, we can make thousands more people aware that maternal mortality is going to claim 1,000 lives on Mother’s Day and that we can change that. And awareness is the first step. The curiosity that emerges as a result of the silence is meant to spark conversation and in turn knowledge and ultimately action.  

We hope that once people are aware of the statistics, they will be motivated to act. Every Mother Counts is an information and action resource center to help people find ways to engage, whether by signing a pledge, running a 5k or even a marathon, or donating an old cellphone so it can be used to facilitate communication and medical care in rural areas. Our website offers solutions and shows people how to work toward creating a better world for mothers to be and their families.

So join us May 13 and figure out how you can join the No Mothers Day campaign. And if you’re still wondering what I really want for Mother’s Day? I just want MY kids to get along.