Thanksgiving is over, and one thing I’ve wanted to write about for quite some time now has been my experience of placentophagia. That’s eating your placenta, or in my case, placentas, as I was carrying two of them around. Gross! Who would do such a nasty thing? Besides pretty much every land mammal around and January Jones?
It turns out, placenta consumption is not as uncommon or as revolting as you may think. It’s become increasingly popular in recent years along with home births, breastfeeding, and other methods of “natural” mothering. There are enough ways to prepare placenta that range from the tame (encapsulation into nice little pills) to the adventurous (placenta + fresh lime juice served in a chilled glass like a ceviche), so there’s no reason why anyone who wants to give it a try should be scared. I went the encapsulation route not because I’m unadventurous – honestly! – but because I didn’t want it to be a one-and-done thing. A placenta smoothie is finished in a half hour, but placenta pills can last almost a year. Hell, you can even freeze them for when you’re menopausal!
Of course, a lot of people think it’s all a lot of new age quackery, and it doesn’t work out very well for everyone. But I happen to love new age quackery – in fact, the only thing I love more than new age quackery is not being depressed. Among the many purported benefits of placenta consumption is a decrease in instances of the post-baby blues. This is because it allegedly helps ease the dramatic drop in hormones that a woman experiences right after birth; replenishing some of the minerals and nutrients lost during the process. For me, I can definitely say that while I haven’t warded off the monster that is post-partum depression entirely, I am leaps and bounds ahead of where I thought I would be. PPD is apparently more common in women who a.) have a history of depression and b.) have multiples, making me a prime candidate for weeks spent in bed refusing food and crying, but instead I’ve bonded with the twins beautifully and have kept my crying spells and fits of desperation to one or two per week. A team consisting of a therapist, a psychiatrist, a loving husband, and a night nurse help, and so do placenta pills. I believe it’s no coincidence that those sporadic crying jags always seem to happen on the days when I forget to take them.
Other plusses: placenta consumption helps the uterus shrink back to its regular size faster. I will never be fully happy with my abdominal region but I have to admit that going from carrying almost 11 pounds of baby to this in two weeks is impressive, even by my draconian standards of self-criticism:
Similarly, women who consume their placenta report less post-partum bleeding and greater milk production. I can vouch for both, and even though breastfeeding carried a whole medley of unsavory issues for me, milk supply was never one of them.
Aside from this, the whole concept just made sense to me. I didn’t want the organs that nourished my sweet twins for all those months and helped them grow into strong, healthy babies to be tossed into an operating room biohazard bin. I felt that anything that gave them such a vibrant start in the world deserved more respect than that. And did you know that the veins of a placenta look like the branches of a tree of life, which is why some people opt to plant their placentas instead? Many then report lush, blooming, vibrant, ageless trees sprouting up.
At first I wasn’t sure I’d be able to pull it off. My therapist told me no way in hell did she support such a thing unless I produced a citation-heavy thesis paper worthy of JAMA outlining its proven benefits; my obstetrician looked at me as if I’d said I wanted to eat the actual babies. The hospital where I delivered said it would be up to whatever pathologist was on duty whether I could keep the placentas or not, as they usually liked to examine them to determine whether the kiddos were fraternal or identical. Right, because having one boy and one girl doesn’t answer that question beforehand? But my husband was really into the idea (so much so that I’m surprised he has yet to get into my stash o’ pills), and he promised that no matter how drugged up and delirious I was after delivery, by hook or by crook by God he’d get his hands on those placentas.
He didn’t have to struggle. The twins were delivered via C-section in the late afternoon and my OB was in a particularly punchy mood – in addition to high-fiving me and telling me that I was a pleasure to operate on, he called Tai “big guy” and told him the pathologists could go smoke a cigar. So while I was being stitched back up, Tai was putting the two placentas in Ziploc bags and running back and forth to the recovery room kitchen to fetch new ice for them.
We discovered a wonderful doula named Melissa to do the preparation. She swung by my hospital room two days after the birth to pick up Tai’s meticulously chilled cooler, and made the capsules the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) way: cleaned, steamed with ginger and myrrh, dehydrated, and ground. Another popular method is the raw method, which forgoes the steaming to preserve more nutrients – the same philosophy behind raw food preparation.
A few days later she dropped the pills off, along with a beautiful heart keepsake made from the twins’ two umbilical cords.
I take one every morning along with my fruit and gluten-free museli, and sometimes it weirds me out but mostly it just makes me feel healthy, much the same way that eating salmon or avocado makes me feel healthy. Now, the FDA has not endorsed the consumption of placentas, but the FDA also allows rodent hair and anal secretions to make their way into our food so I could really give two hoots what the FDA says about anything. All I know is that I am totally high on placenta power, and it’s helped me realize myself as the best mother I can be. So who’s going to argue with that?