After a very successful but tiring medical mission to Nepal I traveled with my friend and colleague Dr. Nancy Reynolds to visit my family in India. We drove from Ilam, Nepal to Kakabitta and crossed the Mechi river bridge to Raniganj, India. I thought it would be a great idea to film the border crossing only to be stopped by the Nepali police who asked to see the camera and demanded we erase all the border photos. It was a colorful crossing filled with rickshaws, vendors and a mass of humanity. This is an open border for Nepali and Indian people but as foreigners we had to go through the immigration process.
We drove up the barely two lane winding road and up into the foggy mist past hillside villages and tea gardens built into the steep cliffs to Darjeeling. After resting for a few days we drove down winding roads to Bagdora and flew to see my family in Delhi. From there we took a bus to Agra to see the Taj Mahal.
The Taj Mahal was built in 1631 by the grief-stricken emperor of the Mughal Empire, Shah Jahan as a tribute to his wife Mumraz Mahal who died giving birth to their 14th child. Mumraz Mahal (“the chosen one of the palace”) was the love of his life, his constant companion and trusted confidante. In their nineteen years of marriage, they had fourteen children together, seven of whom died at birth or at a very young age.
I had visited the Taj Mahal as a child but was not prepared for the majestic splendor of this great monument and tomb of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan. It is a jewel beyond compare and very moving to behold. The sorrow he must have felt was palpable and no different from the grief a family feels today from the loss of a mother, a wife or a daughter.
As I stood by her tomb, I could picture Mumtaz lying there dying as her attendants stood by helpless and unable to prevent her death. I imagined her lying in a pool of blood, though my research did not reveal the actual cause of her death. Hemorrhage is the most common cause of death in mothers throughout the ages.
Today, maternal hemorrhage remains the most common cause of maternal mortality and is very preventable when women have access to care. Women continue to die of the same causes because in resource poor countries 80% of mothers deliver without a skilled attendant.
The fact that girls and women are still routinely dying from preventable complications of pregnancy is shocking news – not because this is a new development, but because this is not the kind of news that gets into the press. In fact, it’s been going on for decades – even centuries. And those who die are almost always poor and voiceless, buried without a trace.
Women don’t die because they have a disease we cannot treat. We already know how to prevent these deaths. So, what can we do about it? Few of us can travel to rural areas in far away countries, even if we have the skills to prevent it. But we all have a voice. So the first action you can take is to spread the word. From there you can support the work of those who are already working to solve these problems.