Clancy McCarty is a true champion for women. She helped establish Every Mother Counts (EMC)—an organization dedicated to making pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother around the world—after co-producing the documentary No Woman, No Cry, which examined personal stories behind the then statistic that more than half a million women worldwide die from childbirth. Today that number is now closer to 303,000 women and girls. She’s currently the Content Producer at EMC, which allows her to create projects like the series Giving Birth in America. Clancy’s very excited about its fifth installment which follows the story of an immigrant mother seeking maternal healthcare in California. The installment will be released in the fall at CNN.com/mothers (where the rest of the series currently can be viewed). She didn’t always have an inclination to create film and work with mothers. She was born and (mostly) raised in Malibu, but spent some time in New York City as a child and then lived there again to attend university. When she was young, she wanted to be in fashion. Those passions shifted during college and she became more social justice oriented. Her mother is a painter and father a restauranteur, so she grew up surrounded by art and the food business. On top of her documentary production, Clancy is a marathon runner, a trained doula, and studying to be a midwife. She’s touched lives across the world and has definitely changed ours.
Sun Sign: Leo
How did you first get involved in the topic of mothers, pregnancy and childbirth?
I was very fortunate after college to co-produce Christy Turlington Burns’ first documentary film No Woman, No Cry (OWN). The film is about maternal health challenges that impact the lives of millions of girls and women around the world. I knew about reproductive injustices, but not that women and girls were still dying in pregnancy and childbirth. We spent two years diving into the issue, meeting with key players in the field of global public health—midwives, doulas, policymakers, government leaders, community health workers, doctors, and pregnant women—filming in Tanzania, Bangladesh, Guatemala as well as the States. I really fell in love with the subject matter and the dedication of these people to provide this basic right for a woman to survive this physiological happening that affects every single person in the world. After the film, Christy founded the non-profit, Every Mother Counts, in which I joined her efforts to continue to educate the public about the barriers and solutions to accessing essential maternity care. Since 2012, EMC has been a grant-giving organization and currently supports community-led programs in seven countries around the world, including the United States, and continues to share the stories behind the challenges and solutions to the global maternal health crisis.
I read that you wanted to be in fashion ever since you were 12, then took fashion internships throughout college. What sparked you to make the switch to documentary film?
I knew at an early age that I wanted to become a fashion designer. My mom is a painter and I loved pop culture and design, so that felt a good combination of all of those worlds. I was fortunate to get access to great internships and exposure to the fashion industry at an early age, but I always knew I needed an academic education. In my college years, I really became more passionate about current events and global affairs and how women were impacted, which led me to documentary film and ultimately the job I have now. I love learning by watching documentary films and I love the process of being educated by producing them. It’s also such a special moment to be watching someone live their life in the moment. But, ultimately, it’s production, research, and planning that I thrive off of—when I get an idea in my head and go after it and make it happen. Documentary provides that but that type of work can translate into other fields too, I think.
What do you hope people take away from your documentaries?
Ultimately, our goal with these films is to provide a human connection and relationship to the issues—to be able to see where people come from in their experiences, while also educating people on both the challenges and solutions to improving poor outcomes for women and girls.
Do you keep in touch with the women you’ve filmed over the years?
I definitely try to. Many of the women I keep in touch with on social media and check in with them, especially as many of the films tend to continue to be screened. Honestly, I would quit Facebook if it wasn’t the main way I communicate with a lot of people I work with. In rural Haiti or rural Malawi, I am in touch with people via Facebook messenger. I also stay in touch with a lot of the providers I film with, many of them who have become my mentors and have been guiding me as we continue in this work.
Was there a particular mother’s story that stayed with you?
I’ve been doing a lot more work in the U.S. over the past couple of years through our film series, Giving Birth in America (CNN), and after spending so much time abroad, it’s even more disheartening to see women in a country we consider to be the greatest in the world really be deprived of basic needs and support. I think a lot about the women I have filmed who are alone in their pregnancies and birth and looking for support but cannot find it. One woman I filmed in Louisiana had received poor care at her local hospital, and her friend had died there during childbirth. She knew she wanted to give birth at a certain hospital far away from her hometown so she made the trek, all by herself, traveling hours on a bus to get to the hospital, and living on a friend’s couch with several other people working late night jobs while experiencing a complicated pregnancy. I wish she could have had access to a doula but that option just didn’t exist for her.
Share one of your most memorable experiences traveling and filming.
Spending the entire day behind a broken down truck in rural Haiti while trying to transport a container of supplies, furniture, and medical equipment to a birth center we were helping develop with our partners, Midwives for Haiti.
Is there a story you want to tell, that you have not yet gotten the opportunity to share with the world?
I’m actually really excited about the film I am wrapping up. It really feels a bit more personal and something I care deeply about. It’s the fifth documentary for our Giving Birth in America series, following a woman who immigrated from Mexico to California, with her family, to work in the strawberry fields to provide a better life for her family. We follow her throughout her pregnancy and the care she receives from an incredible doctor, who is also of two generations of farmworkers originally from Mexico. I just hope it can bring some awareness to how important the immigrant community is, and provide a true understanding of the realities of people’s lives.
Are you a practicing doula?
I’d love to practice, but my work and travel schedule hasn’t really allowed for it. I did my doula training mostly to be more insightful and helpful to the pregnant women I film. I’ve been able to volunteer for a couple of last minute births, but I am sadly unable to commit to anyone given that I am usually on the road every month. I started school over a year ago as well, so I can apply to midwifery school which has only put more of a strain on my schedule. At this point, I just have been gathering doula recs and birth recs for friends to set them up when they become pregnant because it’s so hard to even know where to begin for most people.
What is the difference between a doula and a midwife? Why are both important?
A doula is someone who provides emotional support to women in pregnancy, birth and postpartum (depending on the type of doula). Many doulas also offer additional skills such as lactation consulting, nutritional expertise, massage, being a night-nurse etc. A doula is available to the mother as a resource and support, and stays with the mom the entire labor and delivery. Doula care really become popular in the U.S. as childbirth became over-medicalized, family units became smaller and people were more and more unfamiliar with birth. Ultimately, women were left to navigate birth all by themselves—many of whom had never been part of a birth. A midwife is a medical professional who can provide gynecological care and delivers women’s babies, with low-risk pregnancies. They do not perform surgeries, although they may assist in them. Midwifery is a universal practice and in most countries the preferred method of delivery. Both a doula and midwife provide compassionate care and really take time to listen to women from a holistic standpoint, not just pregnancy as an isolated incident or a disease.
How has your work affected your own relationship with your mother and the idea of motherhood in general?
I never grew up thinking much about birth other than knowing my mom had really complicated high-risk pregnancies. It’s definitely made me more aware of my mother’s journey and while I feel I’ve always respected her process, I feel closer to understanding how tough she was through it all. It’s also been wonderful to include her in this work and have her be a part of it and meet with the moms and healthcare providers I work closely with.
How many marathons have you participated in?
To date, I have run five marathons in Tokyo, Big Sur, Chicago and NYC.
When and why did you start running?
I started running six or seven years ago when EMC started to incorporate long-distance running as a way of community engagement and fundraising. Long-distance running is a really great metaphor for birth. And it also highlights the distance that many women in developing countries have to travel, by foot, to reach skilled care—basic care and emergency services. It really has been a great way to be part of the cause and contribute, and I love how it transcends everywhere.
Describe the feeling of completing your first marathon.
My first official marathon was great, but also definitely one of the hardest in terms of unpredictable weather, tough terrain with the NYC bridges. But, also the most fun with the huge crowds, familiar faces, big team, and running through the city that I love. You kind of just feel delirious after and are in shock and it can be pretty painful. Then, you spend the rest of the day eating and drinking and having an excuse to lay on the floor with your legs up the wall.
What others ways do you unwind?
I hike more than I run now, and love to go on road trips and do long treks, sometimes climb bigger mountains with a close girlfriend of mine. My new meditation is taking my dog to the dog park or the beach. I don’t know why but it gives me such pleasure to watch her run around and have the best time.
How do you want this world to be different because you lived in it?
I just hope there are enough people who prioritize the world being green and sustainable; who care about women’s rights and voices; and who recognize the history, contributions, rights and voices of immigrants, so that we can maintain some type of peace and progress together.
How do you want to be different because you lived in this world?
I feel like I’m learning from my surroundings and what I think is needed and how I can best contribute. Becoming a midwife feels like the best way I can do that, despite how difficult it may be being a midwife in the U.S. with all of the limitations and barriers.
What keeps you up at night?
The current administration and political climate. I don’t want to be naive to think that there hasn't always been awful and corrupt people in the world, but the fact that it’s come to this point of transparency, racism, blatant corruption, distorted priorities and complicit behavior is so disgusting to me. I hate that it consumes me.