Friday, July 1, 2011
Cannibalism, Placentas, and Post-Partum Depression
Have you ever considered consuming your placenta? Placenta encapsulation? Eating the placenta?!!!
I vividly remember years ago, before I ever had kids, sitting at a bar-b-que and hearing my father in law talk about how every woman should eat her placenta. I was totally disgusted. He said something about how animals did it. I think my father was there and he said something along the lines of, "Yeah, so that other animals don't find THEM and eat them because of the bloody placenta they are trailing around." My father in law talked about how disappointed he was that his wife always refused to eat the placenta, despite his urgent advice to do so.
Fast forward a few years and I am giving birth to my second child. The midwife at the birth center had me sign a paper on one of the visits so that she could dispose of the placenta. "Do people actually WANT that?" I ask, incredulous. "Yes- I have even had people eat it RAW!" she admits, since it is obvious that I am not a believer in this particularly twisted form of self cannibalism.
True confession. I just had my fourth and I am almost finished with....THE PLACENTA.
Yes- I have been eating it. I am not so bold as to consume it raw, I still have some gag reflex left. Let me tell you how this happened.
I must admit that this fourth pregnancy was a, shall we say, surprise. (Hubby says no child should ever be called an accident, so we will stick with surprise.) So when baby number three was just 13 months old I found myself to "surprise" be pregnant. True story- I cried for a week. It wasn't that I didn't want any more children, I was open to that. It was just that the timing freaked me out a bit. I didn't feel mentally, much less physically, ready for another pregnancy or birth.
This would be my fourth baby in six years. I have been continuously nursing or pregnant for the last six and a half years. Frankly, I just felt literally drained. Like my body had been giving and giving and giving and just needed a little break before it could give any more to another human being. But- a break was not in the cards and I was pregnant again before the memory of the last birth had even faded to the background haze of "that wasn't so bad..."
By now I am well indoctrinated into the world of natural birth. At first, things like eating your placenta seem pretty wacky. Then you hear of lotus birth, free birth, nursing toddlers, rear facing car seats until the age of two- you know- the list of crazy "natural" stuff just keeps getting longer. And yet, the idea of consuming ones own ORGAN (for goodness sake) still sounds a little freaking weird.
But- boy do I feel tired! Like really, my body is worn out. Plus, as if things can't get harder- I turn 31!!! Ouch. I am now in my (gasp!) 30's.
I have heard women talk about the benefits of placentas. It makes post-partum depression disappear. It helps with milk supply. It helps with weight loss (I admit, this is the first thing that gets me thinking.) I can't really find any real proof that it does these things, but hey, there apparently isn't any proof that natural birth is great so, who needs proof?
I throw the idea out to my husband. "Maybe I should eat my placenta this time..." His initial response. "I am so posting that on Facebook if you do that!" is followed by, "I will just buy you some supplements if you feel like you need something to help you recover."
But I take a look a the supplements and I realize that these expensive and high quality whole food supplements are made of....animal organs. Yes - it is true, many fantastic supplements are simply ground up cow livers or kidneys or the like. I start to think, why not just eat my own? At least then I will know what is in it.
Now- it is the time of birth. I accidentally have an unassisted birth (I know, next thing I will be leaving my kids rear facing till they are two) and the midwife promptly asks me (when she arrives) if she should get the placenta going on the dehydrator. Yes- is my response.
It dehydrates for 24 hours (and no it did not smell strange) and yields some stuff that I will admit, looks oddly like beef jerky. I took it out and ground it up in my little spice grinder and put it in a bottle. Honestly, I was planning on encapsulating it (putting it into pill form) but one day post-partum, that just wasn't happening.
And- I will admit, though it sounds very very odd, I really felt like I should eat some. Like, it sounded GOOD. So, I took a spoonful of the powder and stirred it in orange juice, closed my eyes and threw it back. I have done the same thing every day since, with only a few exceptions.
So- was it worth it? I can't prove that it did anything. But I must say that though I have never seriously struggled with overwhelming post-partum depression, I always have a complete nervous breakdown on the third day after giving birth. This is the day that my milk comes in, my hormones re-boot and my entire world basically comes crashing down. I cry. A lot. I get overwhelmed. I feel like crap. I cry some more. My husband looks at me like I am insane. I am, in fact feeling a little insane.
This time- nothing. Not only do I not crash the third day, but I feel FANTASTIC. In fact, normally I pound B-vitamins every day to keep myself a little more emotionally stable, and though I didn't take them at all post-partum (just my placenta) I feel so incredibly happy. I must say that this is the best emotionally that I have ever felt after giving birth. I also feel physically good. I no longer feel drained and tired. I feel like a person again.
So- to sum up, I do feel like consuming my own organ, the placenta, helped my recovery immensely. I know too, that my passed father in law is looking down on me from heaven and he is just so proud of me for eating it. And now, rather than thinking that he was nuts to encourage this, I am simply amazed that he was so ahead of his time, encouraging placenta consumption 40 years ago. And yes, my brother called me a cannibal. I am cool with that.