CUIDADO: If you are easily grossed out by bodily fluids, blood, and after-birth (i.e. everything that comes out of you besides the baby while giving birth) you might want to skip Urban Baby Blog this week. It’s okay. I won’t be offended. Next week, I promise, will be completely not disgusting.
“What are you doing with your placenta?” That sounds like a crazy question. It IS a crazy question. The first time I was asked that question I was maybe a week into my second trimester. I didn’t have an answer. Who knew that was even a question? What was I doing with my placenta? I thought whoever was in charge of clean up would take it away. I wasn’t aware of any other options. Turns out, there’s a ton of options.
Some people eat their placenta. More people than you’re probably comfortable with. A little bit of googling will leave you with a ton of recipes from smoothies, to casseroles, to raw preparations (sashimi?). I had heard of people eating placenta, but I thought that was just limited to super crunchy granola vegan hippies with dreadlocks who drove Volvos adorned with Kucinich bumper stickers. Then I met a placenta eater that didn’t fit the above description who told me about all the health benefits of eating your placenta. I had stopped paying attention to what they were though because I was too busy thinking of arroz con placenta and whether or not that would go with sangria. I didn’t want to eat my placenta.
Another thing you can do with your placenta is encapsulate it. Basically, you give your placenta to someone who turns it into a vitamin sized capsule for you to take. This way you can get many of the placental consumption nutrition benefits without any of the placental consumption gross out. I was definitely more comfortable with that idea than placenta guisada, but I didn’t want to give my placenta to a total stranger and trust her to give me back my placenta encapsulated. What if there was a mix-up and I got the wrong capsule? I have a hard enough time picturing MY placenta, I didn’t want to worry about somebody else’s. I decided not to go with encapsulation either.
Some people bury their placentas. That sounds nice, but I live in an apartment building and don’t have a back yard. I would have had to bury my placenta in the park. Aside from that probably being very very illegal (and if that sort of thing isn’t, it probably should be) I was afraid that a stray dog or some other woodland creature would dig it up. The last thing I would want to see is some mutant subway rat dragging my placenta down Broadway.
I decided to do something completely wild and crazy (if eating it isn’t crazy enough) with my placenta. I had prints made. My placenta was dipped in paint and laid across a canvas and then lifted back up. What was left over was a kind of funky but beautiful print of the organ that had sustained my child while she was inside of me. Before I gave birth, my friend Gillian and I went to an art supply store to get supplies. I had never done anything like this before so I asked the sales guy for some advice. I warned him that it would probably be the craziest question he had ever heard. He responded by reminding me that this was New York City and that he’s heard it all. I asked him what paint and what fixative he would recommend for making prints using biological material, particularly afterbirth. He said “You win.” Then he told me what paint, canvas, and spray to use after I was done.
Fast forward to my birth. Gillian (who was my doula) waited for my placenta to come out, and put it in a bag. Then she put that bag in her own freezer (what are friends for?) and then when she had time (21 months later LOL) she made prints. She had just given birth and her husband instituted a one placenta at a time rule for the freezer. Fair enough.
Anyway, I have a gorgeous conversation piece to hang in my apartment. It’s a reminder of how far we’ve come as a family, how much my daughter has grown, and how twisted my sense of humor is because I seriously can’t wait for someone to look at my wall and ask what kind of flower that print is of.
Rachel Figueroa-Levin is a soapmaker, cofounder and educator at Urban Babywearing, a hyperlocal Inwood blogger and organizer, a political/life/religion/parenting satirist, and all around trouble maker. She is also the creator New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Spanish-speaking alter ego @elbloombito. You can reach her via twitter @Jewyorican.