Beth Shea over at inhabitots.com has compiled five ‘fun’ things your can do with your baby’s placenta including making a teddy bear (salt curing is only the first step); synthesizing it into a powder for ingesting; making art; fertilizing a tree; and printing onesies with the placental blood.
Look, I can get pretty crunchie and I’m not at all squeamish. But to me, this cured and stitched teddy is pure Silence of The Lambs. Really, it belongs in a serial killer-themed art exhibition– maybe alongside a couple of the blood-stained onesies?
The burying of the placenta, on the other hand, I get. This is a long-held tradition in many cultures, springing, I would imagine, less from sentimental attachment and more from lack of a HAZMAT disposal. Where did the placentas go in Little House on The Prairie? (Of course, there’s probably a long, tedious chapter detailing the answer, I haven’t read it in a while).
These days we don’t have to bury it, but I do see the appeal of taking the placenta- which is, after all, a pretty impressive organ– and connecting it with the earth. I like the idea that you can look at a beautiful tree and remember the birth of your child. Hey, why not?
Well, for one thing, you may have to smuggle the bloody organ out of the hospital. Some birthing facilities are not fond of placental removal. (BYO Tupperware.) At a home birth you have to think of what to do with it. Does it just go in the trash with last night’s plate scrapings? That seems a bit depressing.
Eating the placenta–placentophagy– is perhaps the most controversial of the recycling options. On the one hand, some research suggests that hormones and nutrients found in the placenta can help new mothers in the postpartum period. Women experience a huge dip in certain hormones postpartum; eating the placenta may soften the fall. The oxytocin in the placenta can supposedly boost milk supply and mood while helping prevent postpartum hemorrhage. According to a placenta expert named Moondragon:
“The Placenta is prepared by nature to be devoured and swallowed. It is easy to eat since it is formed “chunks” about the size of a chestnut… It is suitable to avoid cooking the placenta, so the hormones and other nutrients are not damaged by heat and will be of optimal benefit to the mother.”
Despite Moondragon’s recommendation that you just chow into it like a cat might, there are others who take the lasagna approach. Here are a few entirely uninspiring Italian recipes for placenta. Top Chef challenge anyone?
I once heard about a woman who prepared a placenta meal for her inlaws, but didn’t tell them until the meal was well underway. Bold. And possibly illegal? Consuming another person’s placenta could technically be considered cannibalism. Several sites I visited warn against eating someone else’s placenta for health reasons. Though some placenta-eaters point out that since no person or animal was killed in order to produce this piece of meat, vegans may be able to partake.
Since the idea of eating a placenta is repulsive to most of us, including many of the earth mothers at mothering.com, there is the encapsulating option. This practice has become more common; you can hire a placenta encapsulating specialist or DIY with some helpful instructions from places like this. Chinese medicine has long respected (and used) the placenta for its healing properties. The idea is not totally out to lunch.
But still, I’m not getting the evolutionary connection here. I know other mammals eat their placentas. But we’re not “other mammals.” We don’t have an insatiable appetite for the placenta when the baby is born. I would imagine a dog does. But dogs have also been known to eat their own vomit. There’s a point at which we need to look at mammal behavior all together, and a point at which we can separate humans from the others. Maybe this is one of the instances where we can draw the line?
I’ll end on a funny note: In the 80s, I heard from a friend’s older sister, who worked quite high up in the movie business, that Hollywood wives were all suddenly obsessed with the placenta’s skin-rejuvenating properties: Apparently these glamourous women would grab the organ and smear its powerful blood on their faces in the delivery room. It’s like a cross between Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto and The Real Housewives of Orange County: the elemental and the superficial all rolled into one.