Monday, September 12, 2011

Why Did I Want the Placenta?

Nope, I still haven't written Ilse's birth story. Workin' on it. ;-)  But I thought I'd write about something else in the meantime. Of all the comments/questions I received about my birth plan, there was one most common. What on earth can you want with the placenta? several people asked (in varying tones of panic).  At the risk of alienating a few readers and frightening my family and friends, I've decided to tell you.

I wanted it for this:

Shakes. Smoothies. Of placenta (and juice and fruit).

Now, to some of you placentophagy (ingesting the placenta after childbirth) isn't a foreign concept. You're probably the ones who, like me, have been frequenting some crunchier online forums, edgier mom's groups, or reading the more natural parenting magazines. You may or may not have consumed a placenta yourself, but you're aware of the practice and probably know other moms who've done so. 

But if you're hearing about this for the first time or are firmly entrenched in more mainstream customs you might be... alarmed by this idea. I understand. I was once alarmed (i.e. totally disgusted and freaked by the thought). Before you gag on what you're eating or throw up bile or whatever you are going to claim happened to you just now,  just keep reading.  Because, while I understand it sounds unusual, it's not as gruesome as you may suppose.

I'll first mention that many women who ask to keep their placenta do not intend to ingest it. There are other reasons to want a placenta. 
  • You might want to make a placenta print (which looks remarkably like a tree. Tree of life. Call it a birth tree, etc.) with the placenta as an art piece commemorating the birth. You can see a woman providing instructions on this here on YouTube. They can be quite lovely and a truly unique piece of artwork.
  • Others may plant/bury their placenta. They may intend to hold a ceremony (and say a few words about birth/their child/motherhood) or they may simply dig a hole and perhaps plant a tree over the placenta.
  • I'm on a forum where one mother, though vegan, cut up and fed the placenta to her dogs, believing that to allow it to be incinerated at the hospital was to unduly deny her pups a meal of ethically obtained meat.
  • And there's always the placenta teddy bear. Seriously. Click here. (Or don't. I actually find this one mildly disturbing.)

But back to consuming the placenta. It's claimed that there are nutritional benefits to the practice:  
[T]he placenta contains vitamins and minerals that may help fight depression symptoms, such as vitamin B6 ...[and] the placenta is considered rich in iron and protein, which would be useful to women recovering from childbirth, and a particular benefit to vegetarian women.                         
Beyond iron/protein, it has been claimed the hormones found in the placenta may ward off postpartum depression.

Now, some say that these benefits are only really helpful to an undernourished mother and that we modern humans don't need (and thus should turn away from) any sustenance which may be received from the placenta. And I would agree that most of us mamas don't *need* the placenta as a meal like, say, a mama cat might. After I give birth my husband and family brought me other nutritious food. And even if they didn't, I'd been well fed prior to labor and I wasn't birthing out in the wild in need of a sudden jolt of protein so I could be on the alert for predators. Nevertheless, there are nutrients and hormones in the placenta and consuming them may provide the new mother with something necessary (and possibly even unstudied/unknown). The social rules disproving of a mother's ingestion of the placenta seem unfortunate. If there's a chance to receive benefits from the practice I think a mother should be able to receive them without censure.  

Of course, the benefits I've received may all be from a placebo effect. I'll give you that. But even if it's a placebo effect, I do feel better emotionally after this labor and birth than I did the first time around. Was this birth different? Absolutely. It was a gentle birth at home vs. an unwanted c-section. Is healing from my vaginal birth taking less of a toll on me than the surgery? Yes, and I suppose that's true for most natural births when compared to cesareans. Is my avoidance of court TV a benefit to my mental health? Absolutely;  People's Court and Judge Joe Brown did not contribute last time to a feeling of wellness or peace or foster a positive outlook about our country. But might some of my happiness and energy be from my shakes? I think so. I truly do. And (according to some viewpoints) if I think so, so it is. And that's good enough for me.

There are three main ways to consume a placenta: 
  1. Raw (which includes being frozen and blended into smoothies)
  2. Cooked (It's just meat, after all. Click HERE for actual placenta recipes to cook. Even if you're squeamish, don't worry:  no pictures on this particular link)
  3. Dehydrated and encapsulated (I've found this is by far the most socially accepted way to consume a placenta, but it also costs money--about $300 in my city. That is, it costs money if someone else does it for you. You could give it a shot yourself and try it for free. See HERE or HERE for a tutorial on how to encapsulate a placenta at home)

I chose option one. My midwives offered to cut my placenta into small pieces and those pieces were placed into mini ice cube trays which were themselves put inside Ziplocks and then into our freezer. Because the pieces are small and frozen I'm able to pop them into my smoothies without any gross-out factor. Easy and gives me some voom each morning. 

My basic recipe is:
  • 1 cup juice (I prefer orange or pineapple but apple is also very good)
  • 2-3 Tablespoons yogurt (whole fat vanilla is my preference)
  • Mix of frozen berries 
    • 1-2 Tablespoon raspberries
    • 1-2 Tablespoon blueberries
    •  2-3 large strawberries
  • 1/2 banana (optional)
  • 4 pieces of frozen placenta

It's good, I swear. You taste only juice and berries. 

And that's why I wanted the placenta. So now you know. 


Robyn Newell September 12, 2011 at 10:00 PM  

How wonderful that the Holy Spirit provided I Corinthians 8 as the subject of the sermon on Sunday! I was perfectly prepared for your post. Enjoy your food in the freedom of the Lord. :)

Anonymous September 13, 2011 at 10:13 AM  

Belated congratulations on the birth of your beautiful baby!

I'm totally on board when it comes to consuming the placenta, and when I give birth in January I am certainly going to do that!

Funny story on placenta consumption... I was telling my sister-in-law about my plans to give birth at home with a midwife, and she gasped: "Can you imagine that there are crazy women out there who would actually eat their placenta???" I decided not to tell her that she was speaking with one of them. :)

Vanessa September 13, 2011 at 4:18 PM  

I did not know about this! Thank you for educating me. I just asked to look at mine after giving birth before they disposed of it. Now I'm kinda sad that I didn't keep it.

Thomasin September 14, 2011 at 2:31 PM  

I think it was 8-9 years ago when I'd first learned about the various uses of the placenta after birth. I wasn't ready for smoothies after my first daughter (I'd hoped to plant that placenta, but the hospital staff tossed it before I remembered to ask for it) but I'm happy with my choice this time around. :-)

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