With an unceremonious plop, I slid the gelatinous, yet surprisingly thick, mass into the plastic bucket on the counter. After carefully labeling the bucket in several places with the mom’s stickered ID, wrapping the bucket in a bag, and labeling again, I whisked the entire placenta out to the nurse’s station for the tech to take care of.
It takes weeks for a woman’s body to grow a completely new organ — the only time in her life such a feat is even possible — months for it to do its job to nourish and support another human being, and only minutes for it to disappear forever.
But who owns a woman’s placenta? Who has the right to decide what she will get to do with it? According to many doctors, not the woman whose body it came from.
Jordan Thiering, however, knew that she wanted to keep her placenta after her son, Roman, was born. While discussing her birth plan with her OB/GYN in her third trimester, Thiering happened to mention that she planned on encapsulating her placenta.
Although there are no studies that prove eating one’s placenta is helpful, many mothers swear that it helps do everything from increase milk production to lowering rates of postpartum depression. And like a lot of things with parenting, science isn’t everything. “The benefits just seemed to outweigh any sort of negative,” Theiring explained to the Detroit Free Press of her decision to consume her placenta.
But when she checked the hospital’s policy on taking her placenta home, per her doctor’s suggestion, she was shocked to learn that she would need a court order for permission. By law, the Mississippi Department of Health considered her a “third party” to her placenta, a technicality that (rightfully so) baffled Thiering. “I’m thinking, ‘What? For my own body part?… It just doesn’t make sense,” she told the paper.
In some cases, when there is something wrong with the baby or a complication with birth, a doctor may send the placenta for further testing, but in most cases, placentas are considered medical waste by hospital facilities. Because of that technicality, no individual is allowed to take home medical waste from a hospital. So in the hospital’s mind, taking your placenta home — an important practice in many cultures — is equivalent to you asking to take a tumor home after a surgery.
The hospital remained firm on their stance, so Thiering was forced to go to the courts to be granted the rights to her placenta, which the judge gave her on May 17. Although she was grateful for this, Thiering found the whole experience rather unbelievable. “It’s your body part and no matter what women want to do with it, it’s their right to have it.”
I agree with Theiring, and I think that unless there is a special circumstance that warrants the placenta needing further testing, a woman should absolutely have the right to her placenta, should she want it. And as her story proves, more women should check with their providers and birthing facilities so they can be fully aware of what policies are in place for placental rights.
When I was working as an OB nurse, I’ll never forget the young mother who asked if she could take her placenta home with her. As her nurse, I promised her that I would make it happen for her. It was part of her body, wasn’t it? Hadn’t I been taught over and over in nursing school to honor my patient’s requests, knowing many cultures believed the placenta had important significance? And honestly, it’s not like we needed it at the hospital, anyways.
But when I asked the doctor what I needed to see the patient’s request through, she scoffed at me and became visibly annoyed. She refused to release the placenta and instead took it upon herself to make sure it was sent to the lab for testing. The patient was heartbroken, and I found myself wondering why on earth we are so reluctant to let women own their own bodies.
Welcome to 2016, apparently, when a woman can run for President but still not have the right to her own placenta.More On