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.


Did you know The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year is now for sale? Are you interested in learning more about gentle, mom and baby-friendly practices that foster a joyful, connected relationship? Want to introduce a pregnant friend to natural parenting? Head over to Amazon to grab your copy today!

The Nipple Shield Protected My Breastfeeding Relationship

A question was posed recently on The Other Baby Book’s Facebook page by a mama seeking support in weaning her nursling from a nipple shield. The question and its ensuing responses thrust me back to my own nipple shield-wielding past, a time when I was similarly exasperated and longing to ditch that silicone nip for good.  My recollection of my early breastfeeding difficulties has slipped into a soft and distant focus–a luxury, I suppose, of someone who is still nursing strong and nearly effortlessly after nearly sixteen months.

In the beginning, breastfeeding kicked my ass. It kicked my nipples’ ass. It kicked my self-esteem’s ass. But, eventually, breastfeeding evolved from a serious ass-kicking to a seriously kick-ass experience. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the nipple shield’s past role in my current kick-ass breastfeeding relationship.

During my pregnancy I’d read abundant books and blogs dedicated to breastfeeding education and support. I attended a breastfeeding class. I regularly attended a local natural childbirth circle where a La Leche League leader was often present and where breastfeeding was celebrated. I had friends and coworkers who were lactation consultants, who were routinely sharing their enthusiasm and insight with me. I was pumped (no pun intended) about breastfeeding. I thought I was prepared. I thought I had breastfeeding in the bag.

I had a medication-free birthing, and my son, Arlo, was immediately placed on my chest and spent the first hour or so of his life there at my breast. He never left my room during our stay in the hospital. Lactation consultants worked with us regularly. I felt certain that everything that could be done to get our breastfeeding adventure off on the proper footing had been done.

Except I couldn’t get good latch from my baby. And together Arlo and I were a hot freakin’ mess, y’all.

I could share specific, sad memories with you. Like, say, our first night home from the hospital when my husband ran out to pick up some take-out for dinner, only to return to find me and Arlo in the nursery, both soaked in my tears and snot, both crying the exaggerated cries of the helpless and hungry. Or, you know, those nights when I would start crying as soon as Arlo began smacking his lips, because my nips were to’ up from the flo’ up. He would try to latch, and it was searingly painful. It was a toe-curling, cut-a-bitch kind of pain. Breastfeeding was not fun for either of us. I was so, so ready to throw in the burp cloth.

During this time I continued to follow up with the hospital’s lactation department as an outpatient, and I was given a nipple shield and shown how to use it. It opened up a whole new world for us. Feedings became more relaxed, and I began to feel more empowered. I was able to be in the moment with my baby as he nursed, instead of holding my breath, gritting my teeth and hoping for a mercifully quick nursing sesh. Those moments–the ones where my nursing son and I were lost in our cozy breastfeeding bubble, where we stared at each other like we were the only two people who existed, where I listened with pride to the glorious “kuh” sounds of his swallowing milk–they were boozy, and they hooked me hardcore on breastfeeding.

It took us just over 4 weeks to totally wean from the shield. It was an exercise of persistence and vigilance, and it wasn’t easy. I found it  difficult to find supportive words on the internet during the time I was trying to wean Arlo away from the shield. Everything I read discussed how bad nipple shields were, how they jacked with your milk supply, or how they promoted nipple confusion. The worst? When people would say that nipple shields were the devices of the weak, employed by those who can’t hack it. It was so thoroughly dispiriting, and felt a lot like getting kicked when I was down.

If I wasn’t deep-heartedly committed to hacking it, I would have never resorted to the shield. The nipple shield served its purpose for me and Arlo: it protected our breastfeeding relationship. It was a bridge to this gorgeously tender place that we now share more than a year later.

Rhianna typed this post from her bed, which she shares  with her hubby of 11 years and her toddler of almost 16 months. She once dozed off while nursing her son on an airplane and was thoroughly embarrassed when she awoke moments later to discover that her son had slipped from her boob, and it was just hanging in the breeze for everyone in row H to see.

A Hearty Hello, from Rhianna!

Is it super nerdy to say right here, in my very first sentence of my very first post on The Other Baby Blog, that I am pretty darn stoked to be plucking out words in this space? I’ve been following The Other Baby Book on Facebook for many months now, quietly enjoying a spirit of camaraderie with my fellow mamas there who dare to question the mainstream parenting ethos. If you also follow TOBB (and if you don’t, you should), chances are that we have been nodding our heads together at the insightful commentary there, while drinking our much-needed morning coffee. And since we’ve been unknowingly sharing morning coffee and mental high-fives across the vast interwebs together all this time, perhaps a proper introduction is in order!

I am the sometimes-bedraggled, always-smitten mother of a rambunctious, moppy-tressed 15 month old boy named Arlo. About a year ago I quit my job as a hospital social worker a few days after returning from my maternity leave. I naively assumed that I’d sail through my back-to-work transition, that it might be a little difficult that first day, but that I’d acclimate and all would be well. Except it wasn’t. It sucked. I hunkered down in my office with a wad of tissues in one hand and a picture of my bebe in the other, and spent my time sobbing to the beat of my breast pump.

I had thoroughly underestimated the power of attachment, y’all, and I was unmoored and rudderless in the absence of my baby. In those preceding eleven weeks filled with the blissed-out closeness of babywearing, of nursing on cue, of honoring and responding to his needs, and of sharing sleep with him, I thought I was nurturing my son’s secure attachment to me. Turns out that attachment parenting fortified my attachment to him. I had never before imagined or expected to be a stay-home parent, but I quickly tendered my resignation with unfiltered relief and confidence that it was the right decision for me.

Parenting Arlo has been a total trip, a journey both exhilarating and exasperating. In this time I’ve realized–rather sharply–the necessity of good support, of communing and commiserating with like-minded parents. My parenting choices have sometimes left me feeling on the fringe, regardless of my conviction and committment. I’ve fielded skepticism from my pediatrician for declining and delaying certain vaccines. I’ve deflected criticism that I’m spoiling my child by holding him too much and responding to his crying. I’ve stood my ground in debates over why my husband and I chose to leave our son intact and why we share sleep. I’ve gotten the stink-eye from strangers for nursing my toddler in public.

Those experiences are irritating at best and compound a hard day of mothering at worst. And those experiences are precisely why I relish opportunities to connect with other folks who also embrace natural, gentle parenting approaches. I hope that is what you can find here with me at The Other Baby Blog:  a space for connection, community, support and solidarity.  Okay, and maybe a dash of nerdiness and excitement here and there, too.

Rhianna is blogging in the middle of her relocation to St. Louis, where she hopes to find other mamas who share her her nerdy enthusiasm for new blogging ventures,  old Nancy Drew hardbacks, wool dryer balls, and cloth diaper-friendly diaper balm.