“So, Emily. What do you do for work?”
Depending on where I am, who I am speaking with, and my level of patience at the time, the answer to this question can take many forms. My husband is in the academic world so typically the inquirer is himself (sometimes herself) a student of philosophy. In this particular setting, this question often comes after I have first inquired about this student’s academic pursuits. This usually leads to my knowledge on an esoteric topic, such as “existential phenomenology,” being either expanded, or not, as my brain decides if the information is worth keeping around. While all of these philosophers are indeed studying obscure and (sometimes) fascinating topics, I still have to discern whether or not bringing home a woman’s organ freshly extracted from her post-birth body, dehydrating it, and turning it into poppable pills is too off-the-wall for these PhD boys to handle. I have seen many highly educated, refined expressions turn quickly to a mixture of shock and aversion as I describe the art of encapsulation.
If I’m granted enough time, however, the educator in me attempts to ease those feelings of alarm with explanations of the process and the intentions behind this newly surfacing ancient tradition of placentophagia (consumption of the placenta). Fear seems to be behind these averse reactions and I find an increased understanding of the unknown is always beneficial in reducing fear. This fear isn’t only present in philosophy students, it seems to be a constant battle also in the birthing world. We only have to look as far as Grantley Dick-Reed (particularly in his groundbreaking book, Childbirth without Fear) to know that fear disrupts the whole birthing process. This includes the post-partum period when women are making decisions about not only the health of their newborn babies but of their own health as well. So let’s be open to educating ourselves in hopes of reducing this fear that ineptly drives our discernment.
Perhaps to truly be able to have a fresh perspective on placentophagia, we need to rethink the way we view the body. Our bodies have an incredible knack for keeping us not only alive but thriving. Consider our bodies’ forgiveness for all we put them through: stress, harmful food, pollution, remaining stationary, etc. etc. Our bodies are amazing! Is it any wonder that the female body (arguably containing a deep wisdom beyond that of the male body) could provide a means of self-healing after the incredible toll it takes within pregnancy and birth? I won’t go into deep detail of the benefits of consuming the placenta (you can read my post on the topic here) but here’s a short list:
prevents the risk of postpartum depression
replenishes iron levels
helps establish early and healthy milk supply
It is becoming more and more clear that our bodies are working overtime during pregnancy not only to benefit the baby but to also benefit the mother during and after the pregnancy.
But a lack of trusting our bodies probably isn’t the biggest influence on the common aversion to placentophagia. In my own humble opinion, I think the bigger issue here is the fear of bodily fluids, particularly blood, and even more particularly that of the female type. I love the new movements happening in feminist culture around that of blood. Women today are live tweeting and instagramming their periods! We are stepping into a new way of expressing the female story that rids itself of shame, guilt, and embarrassment for our completely natural experiences. This incredible movement is reshaping the way we as women have previously viewed our bodies, and I believe there’s a place here for the placenta.
I didn’t always believe the placenta was beautiful. I started my training in placenta encapsulation solely with the belief that offering this added service would be helpful in my doula work. As I began to learn more about the placenta, the traditions surrounding it, the benefits it had to offer each birthing woman, and finally physically working with this gifting organ, I started to share the reverence felt toward the placenta in many circles including those of philosophy, theology, and now science. The placenta isn’t often referred to as the “Tree of Life” for nothing—it has incredible capabilities of nurturing women and their babies. Researchers are still discovering how this intricate system of veins and arteries passing nutrients from mother to fetus really works and it is paving new pathways in areas of stem cell, autism, and cancer research.
Understanding all of this has helped me to view the placenta in a new light, and so has working with it myself. When I prepare a placenta to be dehydrated, I spend around five minutes rinsing and massaging it under cold water to cleanse it of any meconium and excess blood. During this time, I meditate on all I know of this Tree of Life and the gifts it gave over nine months. The organ begins to turn blue and I notice the intricacy of veins branching out to deliver all of the nutrients the blood contains. Instead of feeling repulsed, I am truly struck by the beauty of the human body and its capabilities each time.
My challenge for those who still feel a bit squeamish about the idea of placentophagia is to simply learn more. Google “placenta” and notice the tree-like images. Speak to those who have chosen to encapsulate and ask about their experiences. Read up on the research and then read up on the counter-research. To be sure, much like anything else, placenta encapsulation isn’t for everyone and I in no way have any intention to pressure women to choose this option, but I will always push for empowerment through self-education. Prior to being educated, my fear of the unknown would have certainly led me to make a different decision than I will now with my own future pregnancies. This knowledge has also allowed me to stand a little straighter and defend the placenta and the work I do around philosophers in their 200th year of schooling. I am proud to be a placenta encapsulator and happy to tell anyone who will listen.
Emily is a Fertility Doula, Birth Doula, Postpartum Doula, Placenta Encapsulator. To learn more about her, visit here!
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