Lessons from Tahlequah
Thank you, Ashley, for writing this lovely article about loss and bereavement.
Many of us have seen the article circulating by now about Tahlequah, the mother orca that carried around the body of her calf for upwards of two weeks. This documented, circulating story has struck a chord in many, and for many different reasons. Most obvious, we can all relate to the pains of grief and loss in some way or another, and all our hearts break for this mother. The article and photos I’ve seen circulating have stirred within me for days, as I feel compelled to share the significance of this occurrence.
Infant loss for all mammals, is a daily occurrence, including humans, yet, we don’t hear about it. And if we do hear about it, we certainly don’t want to discuss it as infant loss if so intensely painful. It’s hard to express in words. I have not personally experienced infant loss, but I have come close to many who have. I am a certified bereavement doula with Stillbirthday.com. I have come alongside grieving families as they’ve birthed their baby sleeping, and done my best through training to provide the safe space for them that they so desperately yearn for and deserve. When you read the article, you see that Tahlequah‘s whole family came around her and supported her. They fed her. They took turns holding the baby when she needed a break. This is what infant loss support should look like. It’s breathtaking.
With every family I’ve volunteered to come alongside when their baby was born sleeping, my focus is always on them doing everything they want and need to have time with their baby. If they’re nervous, I encourage them to hold the baby. Talk to baby. Sing. Dress them. Rock them. Cuddle them. And especially, take photos. While all of that can be excruciatingly painful to do, they only get that one chance.
My heart longs to tell you, wether you’re a family going through this or know someone going through infant loss: don’t let fear hold you back from grieving with your baby in your arms. This baby is yours, and you deserve every minute, every hour you so desire with your child. If you’re a loved one, encourage them. Hold the baby yourself. Love this child while you still can through touch, and long after they leave your arms. Look into certified bereavement doulas to help support a family in need, even last minute. Many of us do this work pro-bono. It’s a scary thing to face these fears of such unknown and deep pain, but this orca Momma has shown the world that it’s natural and important.
To all that have lost, I see you. Don’t be afraid to keep talking about your baby. It may help someone who will face this down the road to have the courage to cherish the limited time they’ll have with their baby in arms. Get connected. Give yourself grace, and know you have a community, even with Tahlequah.
Photo credit: Jenny’s Childbirth Services offering free stillbirth photography to grieving families