–Dr. Sarah Buckley, “Ode to My Placenta”
I’ve said for many years now that my favorite color is “placenta red.” A deep, rich, life-saturated red. I’m amazed by the placenta. How cool is it that we can grow a whole new organ and then just release it from our bodies when it is no longer needed? Pretty cool. I think the reason the placenta might not get as much acknowledgement and appreciation as it deserves is because it then pales in comparison to the miracle of a whole new person suddenly showing up on the earth as well. Forget growing a new organ, I just gave birth to a new person!!!! And so, the placenta may be cast aside with hardly a glance or even much thought to its powerful role in pregnancy and the sustaining gift of life it offers.
In a lovely article called “The Placenta Project: An Artful Birth-based Inquiry,” Nane Jordan (writing in the current issue of Midwifery Today) explains:
I love the placenta as a literal metaphor for communication and communion, for reclaiming birth, midwifery, and women’s body knowledge in a society that seems to have lost connection to the earthy mother-fabric of our origins.
Though shrouded in ‘blood taboo,’ as is a woman’s menstrual and postpartum blood…the placenta is truly an honorable life-giver. A sign of its taboo status is the immediate disgust so many people feel at seeing the placenta’s incomprehensible blood-filled mass. The stigma of women’s blood is augmented by fears of contamination and disease through contact with blood. After birth, the placenta is most commonly treated as refuse (what is refused) or garbage and discarded as a waste product. Though our society has an insatiable appetite for gore and violent bloodshed, we are seemingly lost when it comes to viewing the blood that gives life (p. 50).
So, how might we give the placenta a little bit of recognition? Here are some possibilities:
- Have a lotus birth—leave the placenta and cord attached to the baby until it naturally separates on its own timetable. Women writing about lotus birth experiences describe a very mystical sense of communion with the placenta and are adamant that it is still beneficial to the baby after birth. Sarah Buckley describes more about this process in her article: Lotus birth – a Ritual for our Times
- Plant it—many families choose to plant a special tree, shrub, or plant over their baby’s placenta, feeling that just as the placenta nourished the baby, it can now nourish the earth and another life.
- Create art with it—using blood or paint, place a sheet or paper or cloth over the placenta. Lift up gently to create a “placenta print.” Other women shape and dry the cord to save as a sort of ornament. Recently, I read an article about using a cross section of the cord to create a unique art portrait of the greatly magnified life-giving tissue specimen.
- Encapsulate it—in this process, the placenta is dried and powdered and put into capsules for the mother to ingest postpartum. Though research is not ample on this process, anecdotal reports are very enthusiastic about the benefits of doing so.
I’d love to hear your ideas, particularly about additional rituals of celebration! In my own case, I wish I’d done a little more to celebrate the placenta’s role in each of my children’s lives. Here’s what I actually did:
- First birth: I meant to take my first son’s placenta home from the birth center to plant under a tree, but then forgot it. When we back for a postpartum visit, we asked for it, but it had already been discarded with the other “hazardous waste.”
- Second birth: My mother was tasked with making a placenta print. It was hard to handle and resulted in very limited success! (I rolled the print up and keep it behind my belly cast from this pregnancy, which seems fitting. In honor of this post, I unrolled it for the first time in almost seven years and took a picture! See gallery below). When this son was about two years old, we finally buried his placenta ceremonially underneath a nectarine tree. We experienced two redneck moments with regard to this solemn occasion: we cracked up while planting it because the tree had a label around it that said “super sweet” and it looked like it was pointing the placenta. And, when we were digging through the freezer to find it, my husband said, “here it is!” and I had to say, “actually, I think that is a squirrel.” You know you’re a redneck if…you confuse the squirrel in your freezer with your placenta…
- Third birth: this was a second trimester miscarriage at home in which the placenta did not release until 6 days later. I was desperate for the placenta to come out and I talked to it, saying that I would do something special with it if only it would just come out. When it finally had to be gently twisted free by a midwife, it had decomposed enough that it came out in many little chunks. At the time, I was so relieved to have it gone, that I didn’t care when she tossed it in the trash. Later, I wished I had brought it home to bury and to acknowledge for having tried so hard to keep my baby alive that it wasn’t willing to let go even after my baby left me.
- Fourth birth: my postpartum doula was tasked with making a placenta print. She did so on paper with marginal success. Paint would probably have been helpful, but since we were also encapsulating it, we did not use paint (as with my son, I rolled this print up and stored it behind my belly cast from the pregnancy). After this birth, I consumed a dime-sized piece of the placenta immediately after the birth and then my doula took it home to encapsulate. I became a huge fan of placenta encapsulation after this experience (more about my personal experience is here).
- After each newborn, I also chose to keep their cord stumps after they fell off and I keep them all in an amulet bag that I originally wore around my neck throughout my first labor.
*In the version of Buckley’s Ode to the Placenta that I had saved in a folder on my computer, this is the last line. Googling for it, so I could link to it in this post, only produced a handful of websites (not hers) that had the poem reproduced, but with “Goddess” replaced with “God.” I’m really curious to know which version is correct! I find the differences interesting…