I have been quiet for a while. That’s what happens when you get busy raising three beautiful children. I got lost in that life and while I haven’t forgotten the two little saints I have in heaven, I haven’t been here to talk about them or share about loss in ways I used to.
Today though, we are hearing about Tahlequah, the Orca whale who delivered a stillborn calf. I read the story about two weeks ago and watched the video but it was so incredibly painful. It was so painful to watch this mother mourn over her dead baby. It was also beautiful. This is what mourning is. She will let go of the physical body of her baby when she is ready.
But we, as humans, aren’t given this opportunity. And here, the world watches and waits. They mourn with this whale and they empathize with her. They want to see how long she carries this calf and they see all the other whales carrying this calf FOR the mother. Yet I am saddened that we, as humans, can’t give each other the same empathy and compassion.
Why is it that we can empathize with this whale but not with our neighbor?
It actually makes me angry to see how society is reacting to this whale and her mourning because women have their dead babies ripped from their arms, thrown in boxes and told they “don’t want to see their dead baby” every day! Sure, some hospitals allow time to grieve, a few hours, maybe even a day or so but then the mother is pressured to turn over her baby. She isn’t allowed to let go of the physical form of her baby when she is ready (that’s extremely rare).
Human families aren’t given all their options for processing their losses. They are told to move on, move past it, forget, this isn’t a big deal, it’s better not to look, you will forget faster if you don’t, etc. I have seen this countless times in full term stillbirth but much more in miscarriage (mostly because it happens more often).
Society doesn’t value human life. If we did, we would mourn with these families. We would carry them, we would even carry their dead baby for them (without judgment) if that’s what it required. But that’s not what we do. A few days, maybe a few weeks are given to mourn the loss of something so great and then they must move on.
Look, this whale mother is carrying around the physical form of her dead baby. This is just the beginning of processing the loss. Once she let’s go of that physical form, her journey continues. It’s not over for her and it’s definitely not over for humans when their dead baby enters the ground. What society is witnessing is a view that they would see in humans IF we were given the same opportunity, to let go of the physical form of our babies when we are ready, no matter what that looks like; and yes, that may mean taking our dead baby home and laying them in their crib (read Ghost Belly).
But if we did that, it’s seen as crazy. Society would tell you to seek mental health care or that the mother needs to be put in a psychiatric ward. Some doctors would medicate the woman or family for wanting or doing such a thing. You see, we aren’t allowed to grieve the way our whole body feels they need to grieve. Sometimes it takes a while to let go of that physical form. Not everyone is the same. I have seen mothers hold their little ones for an hour or so and then hand their baby over to the funeral home and it was fine. They were ready but I have also seen others who were given merely a few hours and told they HAD to give up their baby.
This is incorrect and completely wrong.
The nurse was uncomfortable, society was uncomfortable, but there was no real reason. Heck, I have seen nurses blatantly lie about why the mother needed to “turn over the baby.” “You’re holding up a room for a living baby to be born,” “the funeral home won’t come back another day,” “the autopsy can’t be performed after two hours,” “you’re baby will start bleeding,” and more.
I have also witnessed a mother hold her baby and keep her baby for days! A great hospital and great staff helped this mother and kept her baby in a state where she could hold and love on her dead baby until she was ready to let go of the physical form of her baby. I remember this mother distinctly saying, “It’s time. I want to remember her looking like this and not much different.” It didn’t make it easy to let go of her physical form but she was ready.
This is what we must provide families. We MUST give them all the time they need and desire with their babies. We must allow them to tread through the water, pushing their lifeless one, until they are ready. What hospital wants to support that? Do they want to spend the money on the mechanisms needed to provide such care (like the Cuddle Cot?) Or a special room, in a designated area to provide the care the family needs? It’s a RARE hospital to do that, but they do exist!
Mothers deserve to mourn their loss in the way they need to, for as long as they need to. It’s a lifetime of grief. Mothers who have experienced the loss of their child (through miscarriage, stillbirth, infant loss, toddler loss, child loss, adult child loss), will ALWAYS carry them. For now, we must carry them in our hearts.