Panda love

I’ve been thinking a lot about Mei Xiang.


She gave birth at the National Zoo two weeks ago, and the internet has been full of images of her cub.  About the size of a stick of butter, they say, squirming and eating and looking well.

Every time I see an updated picture of that bright pink cub, I think about her twin.  The one born still.  The surprise.

I cried when I read that Mei Xiang groomed her baby for 17 minutes before she would relinquish him to zookeepers.  My first thought was, “I get it, mama.”

I can imagine it clearly…even after she must have realized that her little one wouldn’t breathe, she cuddled him close.  Bathed him.  Looked at him, top to bottom.

I held Ezra for hours.  I remember the nurse bringing him into the room, wrapped only in a flannel blanket.  She wanted to give me the chance to see all of him before she dressed him.  Together we unwrapped my son and exclaimed over his perfectly formed hands and feet, the curves of his knees, his surprisingly chubby thighs.  I made a gorgeous baby, and I’m filled with gratitude that I saw him.  I needed that experience. I needed to hold him and kiss him and touch his face.  I needed to see him dressed warmly in a gown and hat.  I needed to know him before I let the nurses take him away.

I think about that panda, cradling her motionless cub while her living daughter squealed nearby.  I think about those 17 minutes. I think she must have needed to know him before the zookeepers took him away. I get it.


About tamarainwriting

I'm a queer, married, child and youth counsellor, in Toronto, Ontario. My wife and I had a beautiful stillborn son and we have an amazing one-year-old daughter. It's a complex journey.
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3 Responses to Panda love

  1. mamaetmaman says:

    When my grandpa died, the funeral director asked if I would be interested in dressing him for the funeral. He was a primary caregiver to me. Buttoning up his shirt, tying his tie, straightening out his suit jacket sleeves, it was the most beautifully intimate moment of my life. I imagine this was a small fraction of what you might have felt holding Ezra.

    • What a powerful memory to have of your grandfather – for various reasons this wasn’t an option when my mother died, but I think it would have helped me. There’s something about ritual and physical care, something that I wouldn’t have predicted to be as important as it is. Thank you for sharing this memory.

  2. What a beautiful post. I think it’s true, that all creatures need to know and care for even the babies they’ve lost. I’ve taken care of a lot of animals, and have watched a cat do the same thing: care for both of her kittens– one living, one not– with equal attention. Even when the second kitten was gone, I’m certain that cat remembered her and that time together mattered.

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