One of the most amazing things to me about the body - my amazing female body - is that it has the capacity to create a new, temporary organ during pregnancy, for the sole purpose of growing and nourishing a human being. I've had the honor of doing that twice myself.
We’ve termed this organ THE PLACENTA, and today, I’ve termed her The First Mother - The Great Connector, The Gatekeeper of Life, The Caretaker of my Unborn Child.
The Mighty Placenta. It is so incredible.
I mean, when do you ever get to see or even hold one of your organs, normal and healthy, on the OUTSIDE OF YOUR BODY?
The Gatekeeper of Life - She orchestrates everything.
The Great Connector - She connects my unborn child to me. She holds his life in her hands.
I mean really, just think about that. The whole thing is a miracle. Every step of the way, it is pure grace.
The Caretaker of my Unborn Child - She watches over him, cradling him safely, caressing his skin with silky membranes and warm amniotic fluid, supplying the right temperature, the right amount of liquid, the right amount of nutrients. Day in, day out, she steals from my body to feed the child in her care for nine long months. She is the First Mother to my child.
SHE is in total control of the whole thing. My job is to simply KEEP BREATHING and STAY HYDRATED and nourished.
Her job, on the other hand, is to produce and manage hormones, create and balance amniotic fluid, direct all flow of nourishment and oxygenated blood. And depending on how and where and how well she grows and how precisely and for what length of time she functions, she has a great deal of influence over when I give birth, where I give birth, who attends my birth process, how I give birth, how slow or how long it takes, how natural and peaceful - or medical and intense - the process is, what positions I might have to labor in, his heart rate, his growth rate, his size; how I must breathe in labor, how hard or slow I must push. She determines whether my son actually grows to completion and lives to take his first breath of air... or whether he slips away quietly in her arms before I ever get to hold him in mine.
She determines whether I live or die, how quickly or slowly I recover, how much postpartum housework I can do and when I can resume normal day-to-day physical activity.
She also determines whether I bleed to death in childbirth or even come close to it.
I am at her mercy. Entirely. Victory or heartbreak belong to this temporary, mysterious visitor.
Many women who have given birth have NEVER EVEN SEEN HER OR MET HER AND DON’T WANT TO. After all, she’s a fearsome sight. She's bloody and glistening and strong-smelling and thick as a boneless steak as large as your open hand. And when you do finally meet her, you'll see dangling from her body a semi-transparent, ruptured amniotic sac and a white, flat, useless umbilical cord as thick as your thumb, most likely tossed in a stainless steel bowl with a metal clamp attached to the end of the cut cord, signaling IT IS FINISHED and THIS IS THE END.
To most, She is not pretty. Some people politely refer to her as “the afterbirth”. Some call her Gross and Disgusting and some might even faint at the sight of her.
Sometimes after the baby is delivered, she is tugged on and pulled out by the umbilical cord, often before she is even ready to detach on her own. If you give her time and respect her, she will detach on her own. But whether she is ushered out by traction, requires surgical removal, or just peels herself away as the now-vacant uterus continues contracting, when she leaves, she leaves a giant wound on the uterine wall.
She gets inspected for all her parts, and then with no further thought she is often dumped in the trash. “Medical Waste. Biohazard.”
Yet, no matter how she makes her exit, she perpetually sends you “Thank you for your hospitality” cards via the perpetual shedding of thick, syrupy, clotty blood, much like menstruating for weeks, which nobody gets excited about...but, welcome to motherhood. Motherhood is uncomfortable and messy and downright inconvenient.
And after I birthed my son, and actually, both times, I just waited for the Placenta to arrive on her own. There was nowhere to go and nothing to do in those moments right after giving birth, and my midwife kept an eye on my postpartum bleeding as usual. So I just clutched my brand new babe to my chest, and I breathed mightily, not sure if I had just died or if my life had just begun again.
His umbilical cord pulsed until it pulsed no more, announcing the death of Her Majesty. And then, the father of my child performed the ritual cutting of the cord. My first babe was bundled up and received by my mother while I regained my strength. The second time I gave birth, the babe went straight into the arms of his father, who was still reeling from my announcement, "Oh, it’s (another) boy!!"
Surprised I had to do any more work after getting that first baby out, I pushed again, cramping and bleeding, a little bit shocked and mostly overwhelmed, but that Great Connector - she just departed and willingly slipped away. I watched her go. My midwife escorted her into the next life. I don’t know where she went. I thought of burying her in the ground and planting a tree but I worried my dogs would unearth her in the yard.
Unlike my oldest sister who also birthed her first child at home, I did NOT keep Her Majesty in my freezer for four years. Yet, had I known that someone could pick up my placenta, wash it, cut it up, dehydrate it, pulverize it, and put it in capsules that I could swallow like supplements perfectly designed for my body, I surely would have done that, because all mammals consume their placenta for the myriad of benefits it provides. Maybe next time.
IWhen I gave birth the second time, two years later, I delivered her myself. I reached down and guided her out my body with my own two hands. I held her on my lap. Her blood - my blood - OUR BLOOD - spilled out all over me, down my forearms and on to my knees and back into the pool of water I had just given birth in, full of the evidence of our accomplishment: the floating white flecks of vernix, the amniotic fluid, more blood, and approximately eight old bath towels that were rolled up and submerged to support my back during the 32 minutes I spent in the birthing tub prior to my son's arrival.
I held Her Majesty. I thanked her. I actually said the words, “Thank you, Placenta!” and said goodbye to this sweet Caretaker of my unborn child because her support was no longer needed.
Her timely death was the sign of success: LIFE created and sustained on the outside. Life created and sustained by the oxygen that flows all around us and the milk that now flows freely from my breasts, and the warmth radiating from my skin against his skin. She was his first mother and I gladly pick up where she left off.
My sons….oh, my sons.
I still call them blood of my blood, flesh of my flesh. One in Kindergarten and the other in 2nd grade, they have a pretty good grasp on conception, pregnancy, and birth. They have witnessed themselves born, in pictures and video.
They understand that my body grew them and pushed them out; It’s Bedtime Stories for them. “Mom,” the younger one says, “I will always love you because you grew me and we shared the same blood.”
Yes sweetheart, I grew you. I held and sustained and brought forth life in partnership with those mysterious forces of the Universe, and of course, that Great Connector.
The Placenta. She rules pregnancy and birth. She rules life and death.
“Thank you Placenta,” Beautiful Tree of Life. I stand in awe of your power.