Last weekend, my husband and I roasted my long-frozen placenta over an open flame outside. Then we fed it to our four dogs, who devoured it with crazy eyes and slurping noises.
We felt super-primal.
Before I tell you more, you may need to strengthen your rooted-to-the-earth first chakra with some tunes. Below you’ll find everything from explicit hip-hop to Finnish soul. Such is the nature of Katrina’s iPod. Howl at the moon or something. Then let’s reconvene for more placenta talk.
Three and a half years ago, I didn’t quite know what to do with my placenta. I mean, I knew my options—encapsulation, burial, eating it in a stew—but really, after having a newborn, my brain could not deal with having to make a decision that felt so final, so personal. It was a piece of me. It was my son’s close companion for nine months; a cushy pillow that connected the two of us. And I was damn proud of it: looking at it—all the veins, the meat, the cord—I felt like my body, which at times had felt like my own enemy, had done something right. It made me feel confident and capable of feeding and nurturing the little dude who had mooched off it for almost a year.
I didn’t want to bury it because I didn’t want something so intimate to be tied to a neighborhood I didn’t really love. Encapsulation, which apparently wards off postpartum depression, would have cost us big bucks. And eating it? Oh, dear. Vegetarians sometime dig placenta because it’s the only meat available that did not require killing a living thing. That’s nice and all, and I know that dogs and cats and other mammals eat theirs, but there just wasn’t enough hippie in me to stomach the thought, much less an actual mouthful. This would most likely be my last baby, my last placenta, and I didn’t want to decide hastily. So in the freezer it went, until I could make up my mind.
Most new mothers don’t have to make this decision. After a hospital birth, the placenta is labeled a biohazard and discarded. If you’re a placenta encapsulator, you have to be standing at the ready with a beer cooler, and even then, some hospitals refuse to allow the placenta to leave the premises. It is their property, their responsibility. Most women don’t ever get to even see this really cool thing they created.
Me? I would much rather have to deal with my three-and-a-half year conundrum than have a piece of my body owned and treated like waste. And in fact, this was one reason I chose a bit of a different route to give birth. I’m not saying this is for everyone—not at all—but it was perfect for me, and I’m going to tell you a little bit about it.
I hate needles. I hate blood pressure cuffs. I hate people bothering me. I hate people talking to me like I’m a child. I hate being pinned down. I hate being told I can’t do something, and I hate confrontation.
So, I reasoned, how on earth could I expect my vagina to relax enough in a hospital—where unfortunately most of these things I hate would have a good chance of being present—to open up and birth a baby? Plus, I wasn’t sick; I was pregnant. It made no sense to me to welcome a newborn baby to a petri dish of infectious diseases if I didn’t have to. And thankfully, I didn’t have to. I was healthy, and so was my baby.
Thank bejeezus for hospitals when we need them, but I’m of the belief that for most uncomplicated births, hospitals do more harm than good, and there’s plenty evidence to back me up. Now, it doesn’t have to be this way, and there are some hospitals that “get it”—where mother and baby are never separated, where formula vendors are not allowed on the premises, where women can labor how they damn well choose—and I’d have no qualms about having my baby there.
But others? Even if I wanted to have a medication-free hospital birth, I’d most likely have to fend off an anesthesiologist offering me an epidural every half hour (and sneering when I refuse), deal with nurses’ shift changes (and risk getting an unsympathetic crew), be restricted to the hospital’s own time frame of when they think my bed should be available for someone else, and be stuck laboring on my back, unable to move my hips or get in a shower for pain relief. Would it be any surprise if my cervix would be terrified of opening up under such pressure? Most concerning to me, however, would be saying no in a moment when my body would want to say yes yes yes: requesting that no one take my baby to bathe him, weigh him, measure him, etc., etc., before he makes it to my arms. Being denied those first few moments would be something I couldn’t get over; I know myself well enough to know that.
Instead, I went to a former hippie commune whose midwives are internationally famous. My midwife had forty years of experience, and she never saw a single mother or baby die—a better record than most doctors. She made sure I saw a local obstetrician so that if a hospital transfer were needed, the transition would be as smooth as possible. She maintained a host of equipment in case of emergency, as she was also a physician’s assistant—pitocin in case of a stubborn uterine bleed, oxygen masks for mothers and babies, stitching equipment for tears—so I felt entirely safe in her care. Our leisurely prenatal visits involved tea and walks and talks, and also important, involved my husband. We were a couple giving birth, a couple becoming a family.
This transitory leap was honored there. When it came time to drive the 70 miles south (me in labor), I was not afraid. In pain, sure, but not fearful. I knew that comfort and understanding awaited me. I knew that I could move around freely, and drink juice to stay hydrated, and meet my baby before anyone else.
That May morning, just before dawn, we were welcomed by my midwife standing in the doorway of a birthing cabin deep in the woods. We were the only couple around; we weren’t a number. I stripped down naked. I wandered from shower to bed to shower to bed again. I howled and screamed and cried. I got primal. I did what felt right, what came naturally. No one raised an eyebrow. No one spoke to me as if I were a helpless child; I was part of every decision. My midwives showed me my progress, and massaged my cervix with olive oil to prevent tearing. Out popped my son’s head, and my husband, who held me on the double-bed, gasped. Our baby’s shoulders slithered out, then his legs, and—yes yes yes—our new family was born.
His cord was not clamped until it stopped pulsing, so he continued to get nutrients and oxygen. When he was set free, he made his way to my nipple and went straight to work. No one washed off the white waxy vernix on his skin, because my midwives knew it served the purpose of naturally protecting him from microorganisms. In hours, after the midwives made us tea and eggs for breakfast and we gobbled it all down, it had melted away.
The midwives adjusted my boob and my son’s mouth so his latch would be ideal. They kept doing this for days, until we were pros by the time we went home at the end of week. We were over the moon, not at all overwhelmed. We had all been respected, guided, supported. I came out of a potentially traumatic experience entirely uplifted and fiercely confident.
I also came out with a fully-formed placenta. But more on that later.
Right now I want to talk about “Krunga.” Chuck Richardson’s short story reminds me a lot of my primal birthing experience—all the fluids and sounds and friction and urges and small necessary actions. The knowing, or unknowing, of a self. The pulling of something deep in our DNA. If a text could illustrate the core of physical human-ness without being a series of grunts, this would be it.
“The Tree” by Steve Meador is a glorious tribute to what many of us miss for lack of conscious recognition. Look into a forest: there are subworlds within worlds, and even deeper places than those. There’s all kinds of life; there’s a past. And we swirl around it all with our own stories, make living things ours, even for a moment. They play parts; we play parts. And at times, they remain markers of our loss. What I love most here is the narrator’s inner world, and mindful regard for trees, weather, wild animals. The story is a storm that moves in, leaving things better off after it passes.
Timothy Kercher’s “Nobody Gets Lost” flexes our time-and-space-continuum muscles. The poem stays visceral, even though we must imagine a spatial and temporal leap, because the speaker still requires water, still recognizes the stench of dead flesh, has memories of seeing his smiling face. That’s right: Nobody has senses, has a mind. Nobody stumbled into all this, and Nobody knows how to get back to something recognizable.
Nobody probably also knew just what I should do with my placenta, but if he did, he didn’t tell me. So it all came down to practicality.
I have trouble holding back at Trader Joe’s. The one here in Nashville is in a busy section of town, so I don’t get out there too often because the traffic is tough to deal with at the end of a long workday. When I do go, I load up. A couple weekends ago, when I tried to stuff all the frozen flatbreads and ready-made risotto into the freezer, there just wasn’t room. Something had to go. And I was looking right at my placenta. It was time.
I couldn’t believe it had taken me almost four years to come up with the doggie-treat idea. We love our dogs. They’re part of our family. And, hell, they had given up a certain amount of attention to welcome the kid into the household, so didn’t they deserve something for all their inconvenience? Darn right they did. And they slept like colostrums-drunken newborns that night, their bellies full of a peculiar deliciousness they’ll never have again.
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