I often dream about the first meal I’ll tuck into after giving birth. It’ll include mouth-watering nibbles that are forbidden in pregnancy: soft, warm, crumbly goats’ cheese perhaps or six grilled oysters and a glass of crisp bubbly. What hasn’t cropped up on my fantasy menu however, is a plateful of my own placenta…
Clearly not everyone feels the same way. My antenatal yoga teacher, for example, recently revealed that she’s partial to a placenta smoothie. She keeps hers from her daughter’s birth in the freezer, and if she’s ever feeling low she crops a bit off and whizzes it up with strawberries and natural yoghurt.
Of course, normal rules regarding food go out the window when you’re pregnant. There are all sorts of things that are ‘unsafe’ to eat, and then there are the weird, normally stomach-turning things that you have a sudden burning desire to chew on. But while I can understand anchovies in vanilla ice cream, and I’ve even submitted to crunching on a whole, raw onion as if it were an apple, my own placenta is something else.
Eating or burying a placenta
Still, eating your placenta, or ‘Placentophagia’ as it’s officially known, isn’t unusual in some cultures. After all, it is rich in minerals and vitamins, particularly the depression fighting B6. Western medics might ignore the health benefits, but Chinese medicine holds human placenta in high regard and prescribes it in dried shreds as a life-and-energy-giving food supplement.
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Munchies aside, placenta disposal involves all sorts of traditions. In some cultures it's the norm to bury or burn your placenta as a part of a post-birth ritual to bring good health and good luck to your baby. In fact, two women got arrested on our local common when police rumbled them with a shovel and a bag of what appeared to be human remains. It turned out to be a placenta belonging to one of the ladies.
Recently, a trend towards ‘placenta art’ has emerged, particularly in Europe (here's a Youtube vid showing you how to do it). Fans of this take their freshly expelled placenta, place it on a piece of paper and allow the blood and amniotic fluid to leave behind a print, which they then frame.
Rod Stewart and Tom Cruise's placenta plans
Unusual placenta usage has also become fashionable with the rich and famous. When Penny Lancaster gave birth, she and husband Rod Stewart took the placenta home, stuck it in the freezer and later defrosted it, doused it in tea tree oil and buried it in the garden. And Tom Cruise boldly announced on US TV that he intended to eat the placenta after the birth of his and Katie Holmes’ first child Suri – though he didn't reveal if he did.
The most memorable celeb placenta moment for me was in 1998 – long before having a baby crossed my mind – when the worryingly earthy Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall cooked one on live TV in the presence of the woman who’d just given birth and her husband. With a frightening glint in his eye, Hugh fried the placenta with some onions and garlic, and then served it up with a hunk of focaccia bread. The husband actually went back for seconds, but it proved too much for some viewers – the complaints flooded in.
A glass of placenta juice?
“So what do you think?” I asked my hubby after my yoga class, doing my very best to look serious. “Why don’t we invite some people over to wet the baby’s head with a glass of placenta juice?”
“Absolutely no way,” he quickly resorted. “I don’t even want it in the house.”
I can’t say I disagree with him. After the birth of my first son I remember delivering the placenta. It was a bizarrely serene, painless experience. As soon as it was out, my midwife plopped it on a tray, put it on the hospital table in front of me and told me to take a look.
“It’s just amazing,” she gushed, stretching it out to its full size. “This organ grew your baby!” All I could see however was a pizza sized lump of dark, shiny purple flesh. “I could put it in a bag for you if you like?” she continued. I asked her to get rid of it – and when my second son is born next month I’ll probably be saying the same thing!