I learned last week that the baby Panda born in the National Zoo only recently has died, when it was less than one week old. I read that the mother Panda let out an “unusual honking sound” when her baby would not wake up. Although we are of two different mammalian species, I could instantly feel her pain.
As I read about the loud, painful noises she made that echoed throughout the zoo, I am reminded of the women I have known who have also lost children. I am reminded of the woman I knew in graduate school whose baby died of SIDS, and recall the phone call I received to tell me of the news. “I have the most horrible news to tell you”, another fellow graduate student told me, trying to brace me for the unthinkable. I am reminded of a relative who gave birth to two sons, only to have them die immediately after birth. And I recall the several women I know who gave birth to children who had died shortly before being born. And, despite the secretiveness that covers miscarriage, I can call to mind many women who have experienced them. Indeed, I know enough women who have suffered through the loss of a pregnancy to notice a great conspiracy of hope that emerges when other mothers who have also miscarried make themselves and their stories known, sometimes to complete strangers, to share in their pain and help the grieving mothers realize that the event is not nearly as rare as we like to believe. Some even post their painful stories on the web, for the world to read and cry over on their way to healing.
I was reminded of the woman who made a memorial to the victims of Pan Am Flight 103, a flight that contained her son, was blown up by terrorists in December of 1988. She made statues of the stance of women, some sisters, some mothers or grandmothers of the victims who were themselves mostly young people, capturing the feelings of the women at the moment they learned of the tragedy. I wondered what shape a statue of the Giant Panda would assume, if one were created to model the moment she realized that her tiny baby was no longer alive.
One article said that the baby Panda was the size of a stick of butter, which brings out every maternal instinct in me that wants to protect such a small creature. I was immediately sad that the tiny baby had died, and angry that such things happen in our world.
Of course, there are many human children who die each day, some indirectly due to decisions I make as a member of the richest nation on the planet. I try to work towards making decisions that moves us toward a world where more children are safe, although I know that I have a long way to go towards being a completely responsible citizen of this planet. When I think about it, I realize that my decisions of what to eat and wear are not always ones that support life for all children, including children in very poor countries, some of whom work to produce the goods that we seem to consume so easily in our own, rich, country. Although I realize that I am not without blame for much maternal pain that exists in the world, I feel a great connection to the mother Panda bear that just recently experienced the ultimate betrayal of trust in the goodness of the world. Although she is probably twice my size, I wish I could give her a big hug.