Christy Turlington: A model mother

Christy Turlington is a legendary fashion model turned MODEL MOM, in more ways than one. Our Tracy Smith has tracked her down for some Questions and Answers:


When supermodel Christy Turlington Burns and her husband, actor/filmmaker Ed Burns, hit the streets in their New York neighborhood, they're virtually incognito - just two parents out for a stroll ...

But when she wants to, Turlington still has the power to turn heads.

After all, she's spent nearly 30 years on magazine covers, in ad campaigns, and on the runway. And all along, she's used that famous face to shed light on issues she really cares about.

If I can get Us Weekly to cover global health, fantastic, 'cause it wouldn't be covered otherwise," she said.

"And then, it's an extra bonus if you actually know what you're talking about - you know what I mean?" she laughed.

She can certainly back it up. She traveled the world on her own dime to make a documentary called "No Woman, No Cry," a gripping look at why so many women die during childbirth.

The film made its TV debut last night on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

"There were hundreds of thousands of women dying every year, but 90 percent of them are preventable. And that was the piece that made me think, this is the story that needs to be told."

Left: Christy Turlington Burns speaks during a panel discussion on "Breaking Gender Norms: Changing the face of maternal health," during the 2011 CARE International Women's Day Panel at the Washington Hilton, March 9, 2011. (Kris Connor/Getty Images)

It makes even more sense when you know Turlington's personal story, and the luck she's had along the way.

At age 14, riding a horse in Florida, she was discovered by a photographer.

Just two years later, she was on the cover of fashion's Bible.

"I worked with Vogue - pretty much every issue I had some story or spread. I was kind of a Vogue girl for a number of years from that point on."

But as her modeling career flourished, her mom, Maria - an immigrant from El Salvador - kept preaching the importance of education, even when Christy didn't want to hear it.

"She kept pushing and pushing and pushing," Turlington said. "When I got my diploma, I sent it to her in the mail. I didn't even open it. I just sent it to her.

"I was like, 'This is what you wanted, here you go!'" she laughed. "So that's the thing I'm probably the most grateful for."

After getting that high school diploma, she signed lucrative deals with designers like Calvin Klein ... made commercials ... even appeared in a few music videos, like George Michael's classic 1990 hit, "Freedom."

But there was one thing she never liked doing.

"What were you thinking when you were walking down the runway?" Smith asked.

"How can I get back as fast as possible!" Turlington laughed.

Along with her beautiful friends, Turlington was front and center at the height of supermodel mania. But she says she looks back on those days and cringes.

"If I ever write a memoir about it, it would be called, 'My Life as a Drag Queen,'" she laughed. "The '80s were like the worst possible, and early '90s, the worst possible time to be a model, in terms of images that really hold up. I find them quite dated and not pretty at all."

To Turlington, modeling didn't matter nearly as much as what was happening in real life.

While she was going to New York University in the 1990s, her dad, a lifelong smoker, died from lung cancer. An ex-smoker herself, Turlington launched a series of famous anti-smoking ads.

"It makes me very happy when I hear people say that they quit smoking because of me. And I get that a lot."

"And now you want to save more lives?" Smith asked.

"Yeah. Heck yeah! It feels good to save lives."

Turlington found a kindred spirit in the socially active Ed Burns, although maybe she didn't realize it when they first met 11 years ago.

"My friend said, 'Hey, you know, Christy Turlington is single. Should we try and set you up?'" Burns recalled. "I was like, 'Yeah, sure, set me up with Christy Turlington. Of course. Why not? I'm down with that!"

"Who says no to that?" Smith said.

"And then I guess when she heard that I was interested, she said, 'Absolutely not. I'm not interested at all!'" Burns laughed. So then about two months or three months pass and we both are at a charity event in the Hamptons. And I see her. She sees me across the field or whatever. It was a concert outside. And she immediately does a 180 and heads the other way!"

Eventually, Burns managed to win her heart, and they got married in San Francisco.

"Did you guys talk early on about having a family, being parents?" Smith asked.

"We were planning a bigger family," Turlington laughed.

"We talked about four. And then one week into the first one I was like, 'I think we gotta knock this back to two,'" Burns said.

When their daughter Grace was born in 2003, Burns of course shot video of the whole thing and captured something they never expected.

"I had no clue as to what was going on," Burns said. "Just that they were rushing to get the doctor. You could imagine just the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in a matter of a couple of minutes."

Turlington had a postpartum hemorrhage. Thanks to an experienced doctor, she was quickly stabilized. But without medical help, she could have bled to death.

Now she's determined to help other women who aren't so lucky.

After she's put Grace and brother, Finn, to sleep every night, Turlington hits the books, so she can earn a masters degree in public health from Columbia University. One mother - inspired by another.

"I sit in the front row, and I don't miss a class, and I would do all the reading - no matter how stressed out," she laughed.

And no matter how stressed she is, her husband says it never shows.

"I'm constantly blown away by her patience," he said. "How much she gives to them. How she never gets rattled."

"That's not true!" Turlington said.

"Just with me. Never gets rattled with them. You know, and if they do rattle her, then she'll just channels that energy over there."

These days, Turlington channels her energy into Every Mother Counts, an organization she founded to help others get involved. And she speaks at events like one held last Tuesday in Washington, D.C., with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

She still models, and hits the red carpet for her husband's movie premieres. But at age 42, Christy Turlington's found her true mission.

"I think mothers are so important," she said. "I mean, it seems like such an obvious thing to say, but I think we don't really express that enough, apart from one day a year. So I think we need to come together and celebrate us every day."

For more info:

To watch the complete film "No Woman, No Cry," courtesy of the Oprah Winfrey Network, click here. (Available through May 18)

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