There’s a placenta in my freezer. I found it on Friday morning when I was rummaging around in the basement freezer. The gleaming white umbilical cord stretched across the inside of the clear ziploc bag quickly revealed that it was not a flank steak after all, but my own placenta from L.’s birth fifteen months ago. I felt slightly queasy as I looked at it — not because there was a human placenta in my hands (safely wrapped in plastic, of course), but more because I was horrified that I’d forgotten to bury my beloved son’s placenta last summer. How does a person forget about something like that? The problem is, it’s February in Canada and the ground is frozen hard as iron with a thick blanket of snow on top. I won’t be able to bury the placenta until May at the earliest, so I wrapped it up again and carefully stowed it in the bottom of the freezer for another few months.
Baby L. was born during a November snowstorm in our living room, assisted by three lovely midwives. After he was delivered, they spread out the placenta in a basin for examination. They were very impressed by the perfect knot that he’d tied by flipping around in utero and even took some pictures of it because it’s so rare. Then they asked what I wanted to do with the placenta. (It’s illegal to throw it out with the garbage.) I liked the idea of burying it in the garden and planting a tree on top to honour our new family member, so my husband whisked away the basin, presumably to put it in the freezer till the ground thawed. I turned back to my newborn and never thought about it again.
There’s a definite gross factor when I think of what’s residing downstairs but, at the same time, I kind of like it. Having that placenta around reflects my philosophy toward childbirth — that it’s a beautiful, sacred, natural process that should be celebrated and enjoyed, rather than the overly medicalized, fear-centric procedure in which women are treated as sick patients and doctors make decisions in order to keep on a schedule. Why shouldn’t a mother have access to her own placenta following a birth? Why treat it as bio-hazardous waste and be so quick to remove it from the presence of the mother?
After all, the placenta is nothing short of a miracle — an organ grown throughout the pregnancy that nourishes the baby. Many cultures view the placenta with great reverence. In Costa Rica and Cambodia, burying the placenta is thought to protect the health of baby and mother. Some native cultures consider the placenta a friend or relative of the baby. The Ibo of Nigeria believe it to be a dead twin and provide full burial rites. Dried placenta is used in Chinese medicine as a healthy restorative. Apparently deer (and I’m guessing other mammals, too) eat their fresh placentas to regain much-needed nutrients.
When this subject came up at a baby shower yesterday, I learned that there’s a new doula in town who offers a special service drying and encapsulating the placenta as pills to take during the post-partum period. As fascinating as that sounds, I’m definitely not at the point of wanting to eat my own placenta. It will remain solidly frozen for now and, come springtime, will provide its nutrients to a new little tree whose roots are the source of one of my greatest oversights.
Just curious — what did some of you female readers do with your placentas, if anything at all?