Editor’s Note: Kassia Meador recently traveled to Haiti with Christy Turlington to learn about Every Mother Counts, an organization started by Turlington. EMC is campaign devoted to ending preventable deaths caused by pregnancy and childbirth around the world by informing, engaging, and mobilizing new audiences to take action to improve the health and well-being of girls and women worldwide. The following is a transcript of a conversation with Kassia about her life-changing trip.
It really changed my life forever. Just being there in Haiti with Christy and the people she was working with from EMC, training more midwives and spreading the word – walking into the hospitals was more full-on than I ever could have imagined. It was gnarly; the heat, the flies, the blood, little baby chickens running in and out of the hospital rooms, women in labor, others about to go into labor, the miracle of life and the frankness of the situation was something that will never leave me.
When I went down to Haiti to document Christy Turlington and her non-profit Every Mother Counts, it was a huge deal for me. Christy was a name I grew up with, as she was one of the most iconic super models of the 80’s and 90’s. I was extremely impressed and inspired with the work she was doing with EMC. She was around in a time when supermodels were true role models: worldly, well-read, well-versed in politics, and the type of woman everyone could, and should, look up to.
With Christy’s first kid, there was a simple, common birth complication. In any of the developing nations she now works with, something like this could have been the end for her or her child. But because she was home in America, a place with great health care, clean hospitals and well-trained midwives, the situation was easily taken care of, and all ended well. That situation got her thinking of all the mothers and children out there who live in countries where there aren’t well-trained midwives or the best health care – places where simple complications often lead to fatality for the mother, child, or both. In Haiti, a lot of women go to the doctor or hospital to give birth, and a few hours later, they go home. If something simple happening, like too much bleeding, and there isn’t a trained midwife that is looking for those types of signs before they leave the hospital, the end result could be an unnecessary death.
Seeing first hand and understanding what Christy is doing with EMC and the heavy healthcare situation around the world was a humbling, life changing and just made me really want to help spread the word and educate others. In Haiti they were training midwives, then those midwives would go out to other villages and remote locations and train other men and women with the knowledge to help save lives. It’s hugely important work, and it is just incredible people are out there doing it, and organizations like EMC are out there doing all they are to save lives and help where they are needed.
To take a photo of somebody when they’re in a hospital bed, in the most vulnerable place, about to give birth – there’s a level of trust; a huge level of personal space and respecting barriers. I was definitely very shy and didn’t want any of the women I was shooting to feel invaded or uncomfortable in any way, shape, or form. I didn’t even really know how to go about it. The other filmer saw me kind of white in the face and unsure of my next move. He just looked at me in the eyes and said, “You just gotta jump in there. Don’t think about it, we’re here for them. We’re here to help spread the word and awareness, so just get in there.” That helped me so much, I jumped in, stayed out of the way and just tried to capture all that was happening as the miracle of life was all around us. At one point, I remember this one woman was in labor and all the doctors were with her… the woman in the bed next to her was in a lot of pain, very hot, and must have been going through contractions or something. No one was helping her as all the doctors had their attention on the other patient. Then I saw Christy walk over to her grab her hand and start fanning her with newspaper. The trust and appreciation between two people who have never meet before was a hugely magical moment for me to see… so beautiful.
One day I definitely want to have kids. The entire Haiti experience really made me think differently about it. I’m kind of a naturalist and always glorified the idea of a natural, at-home birth. But seeing and understanding all I did on this trip made me realize how fragile we all are and how important well-trained midwives and the proper health care situation is, anything can happen at any time. People don’t really realize how hard it can be to have a kid; I for sure didn’t until this trip. In our world, people are having kids all the time and everything’s fine. But in places like this, you really realize how scary it can be, something can go wrong in the blink of an eye. The smallest simplest thing can be the difference between life and death.