Thank you, Tahlequah

After losing Theo in February 2017, I liked and joined as many infant loss and grief communities that I could find. But Tahlequah did not just pop up on my news feed because I follow every infant loss group known to man. Tahlequah made The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, and everything in between. 

Tahlequah, an orca who roams the waters between Vancouver and San Juan Island, gave birth on July 25th. This should have been a HUGE day for her clan as it has been dwindling over the decades and has not had a live birth since 2015. But it was not. Her “delivery room” was quiet. It was not filled with cheers and “how much does he weigh?” Instead, her sweet baby 400 pound calf that she had carried in her womb only lived for 30 minutes. 

But here is why the World took notice — Tahlequah carried that 400 pound dead calf around for 17 days. Her clan continued to travel — covering over 1,000 miles. But still, she carried her baby. 

This is the deal y’all – she should have let that baby go. It did not make it. The survival instinct is innate for animals. She needed to travel, she needed to eat, but she held on. Her dwindling clan needed her, but she held on. Another female in her clan is sick and in need of help, but Tahlequah held on to her dead calf. 

I have to admit that I could not open the articles the first couple of days. I could not read them. I did not want to know. I am getting better with my grief daily and I could not take on Tahlequah’s grief. But she kept holding on – 10 days, 12 days, 17 days. Tahlequah continued to carry her dead calf on her face for over 1,000 miles until she finally let go. She finally said goodbye. She finally accepted that the calf was not going to just wake up. It was not all a dream. 

Tahlequah held on. Yet, some still cringe when I mention Theo’s name 18 months later. Some think we should be over it because I was “only” almost 20 weeks pregnant. Some think we should have been better friends over the last 18 months. Some think we should not share pictures of Theo or talk about him because it is too hard. It is too hard for people to hear about how WE LOST A SON. 

Painting by Lori Christopher
Painting by Lori Christopher

Tahlequah’s clan that is now accustomed to loss did not tell her to let the baby go. The clan did not shun her for carrying around a 400 pound dead calf that undoubtedly slowed their roll. The clan did not tell her that the times was up after 24 hours or even two weeks. These whales let her grieve for as long as she needed to grieve. How humane is that?

I am so grateful to Tahlequah. I am so grateful that she gave value to the emotions of the infant loss community. We are all just mamas and daddies loving our babies. My husband and I still sleep with the blanket that we held our sweet Theo in 18 months ago. But she carried her 400 pound baby around for 17 days. I am so thankful for her validating the hurt and the grief that goes along with losing a child. 

I wish I did not have to know Tahlequah. But I sure am blessed to have her on my side. 

Tahlequah, thank you. May God bless you and keep you always. 

Rebecca Autin
Rebecca is an attorney by day and a toddler wrangler by night. She is a product of divorced parents and grew up in both Thibodaux and Franklin, Louisiana. Rebecca attended Loyola University of New Orleans and Southern University Law Center. Rebecca married her high school bestie in 2012. Quinton and Rebecca went through months of infertility before giving birth to Maxwell Lincoln in 2015. In 2016, they were surprised by a baby boy due in June 2017. But, in February 2017, they suffered with incompetent cervix and delivered sweet Theodore Paul too soon. In October 2018, after an incredibly difficult pregnancy, a cerclage, and a whole bunch of bedrest, Fitzgerald Joseph was born -- a happy, healthy, and perfect rainbow. If you can't find Rebecca, you can summon her with pot of freshly brewed coffee or look for her in Target or behind the kitchen island where she is hiding from her kids with a very generous pour of red.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here