After the Birth

I’m both amazed and grossed out that S’s body builds an entire organ to sustain the fetus which will then be spat out of her vagina. When else does a person eject an entire organ? Even the name afterbirth has ominous overtones, like it’s the dark side of the miracle of life. I love it.

But I’ve never thought much about what it does, or how it works. Some quick wikipediaing reveals that placenta is from the Latin for cake, because it looks like a pancake drizzled in gore. Arteries carry the baby’s blood up the umbilical cord and into one side of the placenta, where it absorbs nutrition from the mother’s blood and discharges waste. On the other side, the mother’s blood leaves nutrients and picks up waste. The two bloods never meet. The placenta is the wall or filter between mother and fetus, cloaking the new life from detection by the mother’s immune system, which would attack it.

In the United States, the placenta is often destroyed at the hospital, I presume by burning. But I’ve been playing with the idea of bringing it home.

In non-Western cultures, it’s not uncommon to put the placenta to use. In China, the placenta is boiled. The mother drinks the broth to enhance her milk production.

I’m not interested in eating it though. I’d like to bury it.

This is also tradition in many cultures. The Ibo of Nigeria believe the placenta is the baby’s twin, with its own spirit, and give it a full burial. In Mexican and Nepalese belief it is the baby’s friend, and so also buried. The Maori of New Zealand bury it in order to establish a connection between the earth, specifically the land of the tribe, and the child.

I see the placenta as something that my wife’s body has made, and I don’t like the idea that it’ll be burned or discarded like a piece of crap. It served a purpose, it did a job, and it was intimately connected with our child and sustaining his life. There’s something symbolically significant about burying the placenta in our backyard. Not because it establishes a connection to the small bit of land behind our brownstone, but because one day the material that makes up our child will return to the earth, as all of our bodies will.

My wife is wary of this, which I think is funny, seeing as she used to have a box in her dorm room of all the hair she brushed off her head massed into a big ball. She wonders if I’ll feel differently once I actually see the bloody thing plop onto the birthing center floor, and we’re not even sure if we’ll be allowed to take it.

But I think I want it. To bring home, to love and care for, with our child, so that when our son grows up he can show his friends, “That’s me as a baby, and that shriveled up purple prune looking thing there, well, that was my best friend.” Kidding kidding. I want to dig a deep hole and have a drink and think about life and death and having children and our general lack of control over what our fate is in this universe, and then cover it in dirt. Why the hell not do something special with it, something crazy, like having a placenta party.

Come on – how many times in my life am I going to have placenta around!

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6 Responses to “After the Birth”


  1. 1 Erika January 28, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    I love the burial idea! Would really make your backyard into sacred ground.

  2. 2 cindy January 28, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    I’d fly across the country for that (she says, inviting herself).

    And I’d bring some recipes for placenta stir fry straight outta Berkeley. Oh yes, they exist. Just Google and you shall see.

    Placenta: it’s not just for the Maori anymore!

  3. 3 briangresko January 28, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    Cindy — PLEASE tell me you have a recipe for placenta polenta! And I love your tag line. I see this thing going bigger than BoJo (monkey meat).

    Erika — I agree! Though I wonder how deep I need to make the hole?

    You’ll both be invited when it happens. Maybe that’s what we’ll have instead of a Bris, or Baptism, or Naming Ceremony, or whatever they’re having these days…

  4. 4 KMB January 28, 2009 at 10:13 pm

    I say you plant it under some basil and see what happens to that there basil. Could be a potent, well, something – hallucinogenic, vitamin? The next Airborne?!

  5. 5 John M. April 13, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    I remember when my first niece was born and I was all interested in the placenta. I also cut the cord, because my brother-in-law didn’t want to. It was like cutting undercooked pasta. Then I went over to where the placenta was all heaped up on a table and the nurse was poking at it. She thought I was a med student. Then they took it away for testing. I remember it was very bloody.

    • 6 briangresko April 14, 2009 at 9:18 am

      I’m making pasta tonight and practicing the cord cutting!

      I’ve heard (and seen in pics) that the placenta is pretty bloody nasty. Not sure if I’ll actually want to take it home when I see it…


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