I’m not sure if you’ve seen the article about J35 – a sweet mama whale whose baby passed away shortly after birth. It will grip your own mama heart. It will have you suddenly feeling that yes, you absolutely relate to an orca whale. As I read her story and then dug in to learn more about her pod, I came to an uncanny realization. There were so many parallels between this community of would-be parents, and so many people and would-be mamas that I know.
J35 is one of the “southern residents” near Puget Sound. This group of about 75 whales hadn’t had a baby in almost three years. Imagine how we’d celebrate that with our own friends!
I found myself reading this article on Saturday with tears streaming down my face. Just that morning, I’d woken up thinking of my own babies’ funeral. I felt an instant kinship with this poor, hurting mama. At this point, did it even matter if she was a whale or another human mother?
“This is a real change from baseline behavior, she is laboring, not taking care of herself, not acting the way she normally would in order to keep her baby,” King said.
I read that and knew instantly that this is a creature that understood my heart, and I understood part of hers. The article speaks to love and grief and that we share it with other animals. Oh, the truth that pours out of every line in this article. I’ve been thinking of her constantly. Searching for more articles, wondering if she’s found the strength within to finally let her baby go. Knowing that even if she has, the researchers may worry about her for months longer. Keeping watch as her heart continues to hurt and her behavior showing signs of it at every turn.
Leaving your children behind is something that mothers, whale, human or otherwise, simply don’t know how to do without losing ourselves entirely. I won’t pretend to know every kind of pain or every kind of loss mothers experience, but I have walked enough loss as a mother to see the tears of another walking through it and be catapulted right back into the fresh feelings of grief. Some days, my own heart hurts enough to bring back the beginning and feel the loss all over again.
I don’t know if she’s let her baby go yet or not, but I can tell you that it will feel wrong to her heart in every way. After you do let them go, your insides feel twisted, you want to scream and you think you might have, but your voice is caught in your head. Or you do scream and you can’t stop, even though you were sure you had. I can tell you that we, the human mamas, need exactly what those researchers are giving J35 and we could all learn so much from this story.
They drive the boat alongside her and say they won’t give up until she does. They hurt with her, they follow her, they keep watch on her to make sure that while hurting deeply and acting differently, that in general, she is okay enough for now. They make sure she is not alone. I can tell you that the people that were in my figurative boat, following me and letting me live my pain until I’ve been ready to start walking away from it, are the ones that made sure I survived it. Every last word in this article could be spoken to how we walk grief as people. Or at least how we should walk it, as a community, not alone, but together.