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Would You EAT Your Afterbirth?

I was such an enthusiastic champ about pushing during childbirth that, as soon as the doctor plopped Kaspar onto my chest-- a real live baby! Hi, buddy!-- I realized I hadn’t thought at all ahead to what comes next. The Who’s Baba O’Riley was still blasting via an iPod and speakers (I’d managed to tell Aaron “I love this song!” just before my final push), and our little team of players-- doctor, nurse, Aaron, me-- were all smiles and excitement to see our guest of honor had arrived safely. But, to be perfectly honest (group bonding aside) I wanted everybody out as soon as I had my little man in my arms. All of my adrenaline was replaced with those good baby-love hormones in the moment I locked eyes with my son, and all of the pain and noise and pushing felt, immediately, miles away. Yet my doctor was still working, still asking me for one last push, prying something from me (I know, this is gross, right? If you can’t take this, though, stop reading now; this post is pretty out there) and then stitching me up. I found it simply irritating, although my doc was a rock star and worked quickly, plopping my (Kaspar’s?) placenta-- what that last push delivered-- into a biohazard box, and then leaving me (finally!) in peace, with my baby.

I’ve thought often, over the past two years, of that first magical moment holding Kaspar, but not once of the placenta. I did donate Kaspar’s cord blood, now that I think of it, but mostly I got on with the new mama marathon: Late nights, mysterious leakage, sore nipples: it’s bliss, right? ...Sort of. It’s also really, super hard, and I appreciated all of the help that came knocking. Hot meals, helping hands-- our friends and family were indispensible in those first few weeks. I luckily didn’t suffer from post-partum depression or anything like that, but going through such massive physical and life-stage changes was definitely, at times, tough to wrap my head around. My breast milk supply wasn’t as abundant as I’d hoped it’d be, Kaspar had reflux (and, shortly thereafter, eczema), and I was very, very tired. I remember crying one night, after crawling back in to bed for what felt like the hundreth time since attempting to sleep, just from exhaustion and overwhelmament. My tears had dried by morning, but had you offered me a magic (albeit non-medicated) little happy pill to ease my new-mommy mind-body woes, I’d have taken it in a heartbeat. No questions asked.

Which brings me to today’s awesome topic of discussion. Placentophagy! That’s right, folks, humans are now doing what most other land mammals-- plus some other humans-- have done since the beginning of time: we’re eating our placentas! Except, while some brave (because, seriously.) moms are downing theirs in smoothie or stew form, the more popular trend is now dehydrating and powdering our placentas, and popping them as pills. More palatable? You be the judge.

WHY eat your “afterbirth” (this is a real term for placentas, and it’s freaking me out), you may ask? Well... proponents say these organs, which the body grows to nourish and protect the fetus during pregnancy, bestow benefits to mom and baby alike. Better breastfeeding success, stronger mama-baby bonds, and increased strength, energy, and posicore moods (for mom) are among them. Doctors say adequate studies are lacking to either prove or disprove these claims. The FDA says it doesn’t really have a position since human tissue (yep) isn’t technically a food product. And moms who’ve tried it say no official proof or approval is necessary to sell them on the practice; whether placenta pills are full of mom-power or all placebo effect, women who’ve taken them have generally reported feeling good about having done so. Which, in a time when feeling good is way better than not feeling good (even more so than usual... new babies should feel good, right?) begs the question: why not? (Note that one skeptic interviewed for this article makes the important point that true postpartum depression requires real intervention. Women are encouraged not to rely upon placenta pills alone to bust blues of that hue).

I have to admit that photos like these, hokey quotes from hippy massage therapists-- I can say that because I’m about to become one-- who also cook placentas for a living (and "hold intentions" while handling human organs), not to mention mental images of placenta picnics in Prospect Park make me kind of want to hurl. But, push come to shove, I guess I really am a natural mom-- which is to say, this is one pill-popping trend that, despite the gross factor (let’s all just agree it’s pretty gross, okay? Even if we do eat chunks of other animal meat? This is different, no?), I’d totally get on board with if I were to do this all again. I mean, if all the other mammals are doing it (and shoot, Traditional Chinese Medicine’s been prescribing it for thousands of years for reasons like breast milk production... and you all know how I feel about TCM), I’d be on the betting side there’s some good reason for human mammals to go for it, too. This new mama was up for all the help she could get, whether for moods or boobs, back in the beginning.

I'm only on board for the pill form, though, personally. Ain’t no placenta smoothies getting mixed up in my kitchen. I wish I could say I’m that hardcore... but I can’t.

How about you? Did you eat your placenta? Would you? Will you? Pop it in pills? Do you think this is a pointless fad, or a healthful, helpful option for new moms? I can’t wait to see how you all weigh in on this one!