Before I got pregnant, like most unbearable little know-it-alls, I had a lot of ideas about what being pregnant and what giving birth is like, along with many expectations about the kinds of choices I would make about that whole deal once I was facing it. Most of these preconceptions — like most preconceived ideas about anything ever — were often dramatically removed from what actually happened. I like to consider myself ~open-minded~ but nonetheless, there are certain hard limits in my life that I’ve always just assumed were immovable, permanent, and in place for very good reasons. Among these limits, “not consuming parts of my own body” seems like something that should unquestionably be on the list. I wasn't even a booger-eater as a kid. No, thanks. The idea of eating one of my own organs never seemed like a necessary, nor particularly advisable, course of action. I like to make good choices, guys. That is, until I got pregnant and learned that some women eat their own placentas after giving birth, and against all expectations, I became one of them.
For the uninitiated (hey, welcome to my uterus, let me give you a tour), the placenta is the organ that’s attached to the wall of your uterus and is responsible for transferring nutrients to your baby while it’s subletting space in your body. It weighs about a pound, usually gets tossed out after birth, and in recent years, there’s been a surge in women being interested in eating their placenta. Because giving birth isn’t gross enough.
When I first heard that eating one’s placenta (or placentophagy if you’re fancy) was a thing people did, I was promptly aboard the Hell Naw bus to Fuck That Mess-ville, in the county of You Hippies Need To Stop For Real. I’ve always been a fan of rare steaks but beyond that, I’m fairly devoid of any inclination to chew on a bloody piece of raw meat, particularly one that I just shat out of my own body. No thanks, weirdos. But justifiably visceral first reactions to the notion aside, my pregnant self was more or less open to any non-pharmaceutical solution to prevent (ideally) or treat (OK, fine) postpartum depression and anxiety, which was a possibility I feared more than birth itself or the idea of my child being born with horrible disfigurement like 3 heads or red hair. I wasn’t about to neglect to overturn any stone that potentially held the key to emotionally and physically recovering from childbirth, which I had yet to experience, but understood to be a considerably depleting shit show. If chowing down on the leftovers of my baby’s bloody womb-biscuit was going to make me feel great, I could hold my nose and look past what horrific abomination I was ingesting.
Also, January Jones ate her placenta the same year I got pregnant, and I’m solidly #TeamBetty, so it felt like something that at least merited looking into. I would look into the practice of placenta eating. If it was bullshit, then whatever, no one was holding a gun to my head, and at least I would feel more informed when I judged people for doing it. And who doesn’t love to have a well-founded basis from which to judge strangers’ life choices? Right, so there was nothing to lose.
After researching the various methods by which women eat their placenta (it literally never stops sounding gross, no matter how many times you read it, so just settle in for an uncomfortable ride here, guys), consulting numerous midwives (including my own), OB/GYNs (including my own), doulas, and veteran placenta-eaters, here’s how I decided to partake of my own innards:
Immediately after giving birth, my midwife would inspect my placenta to make sure it was healthy, whole, and safe to eat. (Spoiler: it was. I totally had the best placenta ever, which is one of the oddest things I’ve ever been proud of. #overachiever)
She would then put that sucker in a cooler, on ice, and pass it off to the encapsulationist, who would already be there waiting. The whole transfer was not at all unlike what happens during an organ transplant.*
She would then go home, slice that beast up, dehydrate it with lemongrass and ginger, grind it up, put it into pills, and haul it back to me at the hospital.
*My idea of what an organ transplant looks like based on what I’ve seen on Grey’s Anatomy
Despite not being easily shaken by unpleasant thing, and despite being open to most things if they make sense to do, it took me most of my pregnancy to actually commit to doing this. Mostly, I just doubted if it was necessary and/or worth the money. I wondered if it was safe. I didn’t know if I was remotely interested in adding one more thing to my already intimidating list of “Things To Do Because You’re Having A Baby And There’s A Lot To Do, Oh God, Why Did I Ever Decide To Do This?”
Before I get into why I did eventually decide to bite the afterbirth bullet and go for it, let’s talk about some reasons I absolutely did not decide to do it:
1. Because I’m a “crunchy, granola, natural birthing mom”
One of my first points of hesitation with the idea of eating my placenta was that I immediately assumed doing so was just the kind of bullshit way people waste $300 just to validate their identity as a ~natural mom~, and I felt no such connection to that label. I’m actually a bit turned off by it, despite having made a lot of the same choices in my pregnancy and birth that are typically associated with that identity. Did I have a midwife? Yup, but not because I wanted to give birth in a field surrounded by a squad of naked attendents who would make flower crowns and braid my hair as they sang hymns to coax my baby out gently into the world where we would let him drop into a pile of feathers and then toast with some kombucha. I used a midwife because they’re fucking excellent at helping babies get born. When I had done all the research that a person can possibly do and learned as much as humanly possible, it seemed inarguably clear that midwives know how to work with women to get babies born better than anyone else. Not because I’m a “hippie” and that’s what “we” do. Ugh. No. OB/GYNs are surgeons and if I had been planning a c-section, I would’ve been using one of those (and, to be fair, I had one as a backup, in case I did end up needing a c-section, and he was rad as hell). Did I plan for a water birth? Uh, yeah, because that makes labor hurt less and pain is annoying. Also, the sooner I could get clean from what I expected to be a fairly disgusting process, the better. Did I want to go drug-free? I mean, of course I did, but that’s because A) I'm really anxious about medication because I’m insane, and B) I’m super competitive and wanted to be hardcore and just do the damn thing.
The point is, no, I didn’t want to eat my placenta because I’m into flowing skirts and making my own deodorant. In fact, I almost (stupidly) dismissed the practice entirely because of the type of cliché person associated with it.
2. Because it sounded fun and tasty and cool!
Ugh. I didn’t like the sound of any of this. But I did like the sound of the potential benefits.
Those misgivings aside, I ultimately decided to go for it. Here’s why:
1. It’s fo’ free!
Well, that placenta is free. Hiring someone to actually turn it into consumable pills? Not so free. But still, waste not, want not, or whatever. I mean, it’s there. It’s just gonna get thrown out. Eating it would be like recycling and who recycles? Good people! I want to be a good person. Somewhere in here is some logic, I promise.
2. I’m not a pussy
What, you don’t think A GIRL can eat a raw-ass organ? I’ll do it. Dare me. I’ll eat the whole goddamn thing. I’ll eat yours too. Whatever. Bring it.
3. Because you and me, baby, ain't nothin' by mammals (I'm sorry)
Over 4,000 species of mammals practice maternal placentophagy (aka, “moms eating their own insides”) and yet, it’s relatively rare among humans. Probably because we have a lower “ick” threshold, which I’ll admit is something to consider. While we clearly have a great many differences, most mammals function reproductively in fairly similar ways. They’re eating their placentas for a reason, and it’s probably not just to intimidate us (although if that’s their goal, mission fucking accomplished).
4. It’s ~organic~
OK, the USDA might not be onboard with me putting that label on myself considering the amount of bourbon and wine I’ve consumed over the years, but you get my point. Your placenta, if nothing else, if far less adulterated than a lot of the stuff humans eat, so who are we to balk? One of the things my friends hate about me is that I stubbornly refuse to eat shitty non-food food. If it’s overly processed or full of weird preservatives, artificial ingredients, or science-y sounding stuff that doesn’t bear much resemblance to actual food, I’m really, truly, definitely not eating it. I feel lucky to be living in 2015 where having such strict, self-imposed dietary restrictions doesn’t mean I’m devoid of options. There are more natural and whole food choices available in more places than ever, which is great because I’m concerned about what I put in my body but I’m also extremely lazy. Like, I was very much made for these times. Anyway, the point is, you guys are all out there eating food-scented science projects, so maybe let’s save our judgment about consuming something that is as basic and real as it gets.
5. It gets people’s attention
You know that feeling when you’re making a presentation at work that you worked really hard on but you’re getting the feeling that your co-workers don’t give a sliver of a fuck and are already mentally picturing the tapas menu at happy hour, waiting for your ass to stop talking? Casually mentioning that time you ate your placenta will test who’s listening: “So, traffic was down in the 4th quarter of last year but it’s cool because I still have some of my encapsulated placenta in my freezer to take during menopause, so I think we’re going to recover nicely, guys.” This is the kind of life experience that will always make an impact in any social setting, and you can really never have enough of those up your sleeve.
6. It freaks out friends and family
In the weeks after my kid was born, during my prime placenta pill-poppin’ days, I would intentionally wait until I had visitors over before taking it. They would ask what it was, and I would tell them, and my entire world would be momentarily made bright and new and wonderful by the look on their face followed promptly by their frantic attempt to look “cool with it.” I mean, look, if you’re going to come into my home, interrupt my carefully regimented routine of pumping, feeding, napping, diaper-changing, and crippling, exhaustion-fueled, existential panic, then you were damn sure going to give me some entertainment in the form of being grossed out by my placenta pills. Honestly, the least you guys could do for coming to “see the baby,” aka, “make me play hostess during a time when I’m too tired to remember to put pants on.”
7. It might help your body and brain recover from birth
I don’t know if anyone ever told you guys this, but having a baby is hard. You end up pretty severely drained when it’s all said and done, at which point you have a brand new, needy, floppy, helpless, useless, unformed human to tend to round the clock. The placenta is what keeps your fetus-friend alive and nourished while it’s baking in your womb. Naturally, it’s incredibly nutrient-dense. It’s like a giant, bloody Power Bar. These are some of the fancy perks that are said to be gained from eating your placenta:
Helps recover from birth more quickly
Helps avoid or diminish postpartum depression
Promotes better milk supply and eases breastfeeding
Gives you more energy!
Gives you more iron / less anemia!
Gives you the power to turn anything you touch into Nutella!
(OK, one of those is not true.)
So yeah, those are some pretty solid reasons if you ask me.
I know your Twitter fingers are already itching to come at me with a bunch of links about how there might not be any real benefit at all to eating one’s placenta, so let’s just deal with that now and save ourselves the embarrassment of me ignoring your smug-tweet. A thing about me is that I know how to read (I know, you’re almost too impressed right now) so I’m aware that a lot of medical experts have challenged whether or not the proclaimed benefits of consuming your placenta are valid. Cool, of course they are. There are very few medical choices a person could make in their life that don’t carry with them a range of differing, often directly contradictory, opinions and studies from various parts of the scientific community. That’s just how modern medicine works. I’m fine with that.
Here’s what I know for sure about eating my placenta:
I forgot to start taking the placenta pills for about 3 days after giving birth. I was, ya know, a little busy. And tired. And I forgot.
I woke up on the 4th day after giving birth and felt...a weight. Some heavy, anxious weight in my chest that almost made me panic. It was like every good feeling and every ounce of energy had been sucked the fuck out of me, and I was staring into some dark place I hadn’t realized was hovering nearby. I mean, I had just endured a 71-hour labor, followed by several days of tending to a baby in the NICU, so it wasn’t exactly shocking that I was a bit depleted in almost every imaginable way. But that weight. I had felt good until then, able to hang on to the considerable rush of euphoria and happy hormones that come immediately following birth. On that 4th morning, all semblance of that was gone, and what I felt in its absence was monumentally scary. And then I remembered my pills.
Within a few hours of taking the first one, I started feeling a little better. A little more energy, a little more emotionally balanced. Just better. And I kept taking them and I stayed good and nothing ever got bad or scary or dark again. I had also been struggling a lot with breastfeeding (huge baby + meager milk supply = self-doubt and extremely sore nips) and that got better too.
Here’s what I admittedly do not know for sure:
That taking the placenta pills did anything to reverse my descent into what felt very much like how I had heard postpartum depression described.
That taking the placenta pills did anything to help my body feel more energized, nourished, and able to produce more milk.
As much as I enthusiastically tell people, especially pregnancy people (only the ones who ask; I’m not a pushy monster with a “birth like I birthed or you’re birthing wrong” agenda), how much my experience with placenta encapsulation was fantastic and well worth the ick-factor and cost, I’m a reasonable person. All science considered, I allow for the possibility that what I experienced was all a glorious placebo effect. But you know what? Who gives a shit? Seriously, if popping those rancid little capsules tricked my easily manipulated brain out of depression and anxiety; if they made me imagine that I felt stronger, more balanced, more rested, and wonderfully restored after a massively draining labor experience; If all of it was nothing more than my mind and body manifesting the help it needed during a time when not getting that help would’ve been insurmountably damaging to my and my baby’s well-being, then fuck it. Whatever. Because here’s the last thing I know for sure: Eating my placenta didn’t hurt a damn thing, even if it didn’t help anything either (which I still think it did, but hey, who knows).
Hey, those are the actual pills made from my actual placenta. I think we're done here.