A Placenta Story

It was our last night in our old house in Virginia, and all of our worldly belongings were packed into a Missouri-bound moving truck in our driveway. I’d asked my husband if he would defrost  our freezer while I nursed our then nine-month-old, Arlo, down for the night, adding that he could just toss what little was left in there. We’d already eaten our way through the turkey burgers and surplus garden veggies that were in the freezer, and I didn’t think much else remained beyond a few empty ice-cube trays and a couple of icy bricks of way-old breastmilk.

That is, until my husband gingerly peeked his head into the bedroom a few moments later and whispered, “Uh, what did you, um, want to do with your placenta?”

Oh yeah, and that. Forgot about that.

I’d had every intention of encapsulating it. During my pregnancy my doula had given me the contact information for a local woman who offered this service*, and I’d enthusiastically tucked it in a folder next to my birth plan. And then my baby came, and breastfeeding handed me my ass, and newborn care enveloped me.  A week passed, and then a month, and then another month, and I kind of forgot about my delicious placenta living in the back of my freezer next to the turkey burgers and surplus garden vegetables.

Shortly after Arlo’s birth, I explained to my nurse that I wanted to take my placenta home. Once I was all stitched up she gave me a friendly tour of my placenta. She opened it up, and with her gloved hands she showed me where Arlo had been attached, and where it had been attached to me. And then she put it in a medical waste container and double-bagged it in  biohazard bags. My doula took it home from the hospital for me. Nothing says lovin’ like your doula putting your organ her freezer for temporary safe keeping.

So, now  I had a bit of a problem. What to do with this placenta?  The following morning, literally moments before my husband hopped into the driver’s seat of the biggest moving truck I’ve ever seen, we walked out to a place in our backyard by our garden, near the spots where we’d buried two of our family pets. My husband dug a hole, and I unwrapped the biohazard bags. Arlo was snug in the Ergo, and it occurred to me that this was the closest he’d been to his ol’ placenta in over nine months–just about as long as he’d known it in utero.

I opened the medical waste container, sloshed the half-defrosted placenta into the freshly dug hole and marveled at it. It was bright red and beautiful against the dark brown of the surrounding earth. I felt sad for it, like I’d let it down. I wished I could have done more for it, that I’d honored it better than this last-minute, half-assed burial. I stood there staring and waiting for my husband to chuck the dirt back in on it, only to realize he was standing there waiting for me to say something like I do whenever we bury things in our backyard.

Farewell, trusty placenta. You served us well. We loved you.

It wasn’t particularly eloquent, but it had to do. I was heavy-hearted about our upcoming move and that I wouldn’t see another growing season in my garden. I tried to take comfort in knowing that my placenta would become part of our garden, that some lovely earthworms would eat it up and poop it out over in the strawberries, and that when the birds ate next season’s strawberries like they always do every year, they would be sustained by the best fruit I was lucky to ever receive, life in my uterus.

What’s your placenta story? If you are currently pregnant, have you thought about what you’d like to do with your placenta? What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever forgotten in your freezer?

The sweetest thing Rhianna ever sprouted is her 16 month old son, Arlo. She also blogs at A Brave New Garden, where she documents all the compost-lovin’ and toddler-wranglin’ ways she gets her hands dirty. Please don’t judge her for forgetting about her dear ol’ placenta.

 

*If  you are interested in finding a specialist who does this, you can start here.

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7 thoughts on “A Placenta Story”

  1. Well…umm….I’ll be terribly honest. The strangest thing I have left was in my fridge, not freezer. It was the sac that encapsulated my could have been baby that I miscarried. I flipped my shit when I saw it sitting in my panties and didn’t know what to do. Flushing or trashing it just seemed wrong. So there is sat for over a week until I gathered the courage to bury it behind a peaceful buddha statue in our front yard.

    1. I don’t find that the least bit strange, Christina. I think it’s important that you found a way to acknowledge and honor your pregnancy loss, and that you did so in your own time. Sending peace…

  2. I am a friend of Rhianna’s and my first grandchild was born within days of Arlo so we (from very different vantage points) went through much of this mothering journey in tandem. I am used to very high-tech high-risk births for most of my career and most recently have dealt almost exclusively with perinatal loss, so I know first hand how important a healthy placenta is.

    At my grandsons birth (a non-medicated water birth that scared the crap out of me but I was respectfully silent as it was HER birth, not mine) the placenta came out and almost everyone in the room shrieked and recoiled in disgust, but I (very much like when Rhianna buried hers) looked at the dying organ and said “thank you so much, you kept him alive”. Yes, the collected group DID think my words were odd, but I really meant my appreciation.

    My grandson’s mother (my sons partner, not my daughter) had gained a fascination with natural birth processes and even though she didn’t encapsulate her own, she learned how to do it for her brothers wife a few months later.

    I’m sad that disgust is the first response so many have to a placenta…it is an amazing organ and it gets more amazing the more you learn about the anatomy and physiology of it. I’ve too often seen the sadness that can result from sick ones, I will likely thank every placenta that brings me grandchildren, however many I end up with.

    Tammy

    1. I love that you were so supportive of your grandson’s mama’s water birth! I, too, am grateful that her birthing experience was the very opposite of what you courageously contend with each day at work. And I couldn’t agree more: the placenta is pretty frackin’ amazing. 🙂

  3. By the end of my pregnancy, I was so tired of doing research for various decisions, that I forwent doing anything with the placenta. I was just too darn worn out! Will I do it differently next time? Probably. I appreciate you talking about your experience Rhianna because I don’t know many people who take the placenta home with them. I love that you held a burial service….it does seem fitting.

  4. This is so funny to me and comforting. For awhile we were staying with my folks, and I recently remembered it was in their freezer still, almost two years later. I too meant to do something special with it. I am hoping when we move to our new home, i will put it in the ground someplace sacred. (I better tell my dad its not meat loaf first!)

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