Saturday, September 18, 2010

Placenta Playdate

Unless you plan to encapsulate or otherwise consume your placenta shortly after birth (pun so intended), chances are, if you're a homebirther, this amazing, miraculous, life-sustaining yet disposable organ is liable to spend a good amount of time in your freezer, awaiting the day the parents get their act together enough to do something meaningful with it. I believe there's even a t-shirt out there to that effect. Let's see . . .


WARNING: The rest of this post is not for the faint of heart, if you're not an avowed birthnerd, this is liable to squick you out in a serious way. Ok, read on:

Up until yesterday, Lily's placenta had been residing in the deep recesses of my freezer for just shy of 2 and a half years, awaiting symbolic closure. I figured I would eventually bury it, but had yet to find a suitable final resting place for this incredible organ which had both caused me so much anxiety during pregnancy (it was a persistent previa, not cleared for delivery until week 34) and also sustained my precious baby, passing along the good and filtering out the bad, acting as the gateway between our bodies - maybe even our souls. I couldn't bring myself to leave it somewhere random.

Obviously the time has long since passed to encapsulate it, though I fully plan to do so next time (and had I known more about encapsulation, I definitely would have done so - it may have done a lot to help me cope with my postpartum period). I figured all I could really do with it is eventually find a burial spot - but it turns out that there was one thing that I definitely could still do with it.

I was thrilled to learn that my friend Justine had defrosted her daughter's at about 18 months and it was still in good enough shape to make placenta prints! I had assumed the tissue wouldn't hold up to being frozen that long, but I was wrong! So we set up a date for the most organic crafting activity ever, and I transferred it from the freezer to the fridge. Once it had a chance to defrost almost completely, I took it out to lay it a little flatter and lay some towels beneath it, as it would be giving of a lot of excess moisture, in preparation for the big day. I found it wrapped in several layers, even within the outer layer of heavy-duty freezer bag:

Then, there were several plastic bags, and finally, the original Chux pad it had been laid in. I then opened it up (and shall spare you the picture, though there is one) to find there was a plastic glove and a piece of gauze from the big day. It definitely makes me an official weirdo to admit this, but the Chux pad, the gauze and the glove all made me feel overwhelmed with nostalgia. Anyway, here it is, the specimen itself:

This is the maternal side you're looking at, the side that attaches directly to the uterine wall. It would be the opposite side we'd be dealing with, with its lovely, branch-like veining patterns. Here's Justine getting things set up for me, her daughter Tillie looking on:

We initially did just a 'blood print', using just the blood rather than any paints. This is a nice thing to do if you have a fresh placenta, but once frozen, it'll be pretty faint, as there isn't much blood left. We also tried using a watercolor first, but acrylics are definitely the way to go. Here I am painting Lily's first apartment, with former resident Lily standing by:

Once painted, you gently lay the paper or canvas over the placenta and GENTLY smooth your hand over the surface.

Then you slowly . . .

. . . sloooooooowly peel the paper back . . .

. . . et voila!

The tree of life.

We made a whole bunch of prints on construction paper, and chose the best color combinations for the three canvas boards I picked up.

Behold: Art!

Once we were done, I rinsed it clean of the paint (mostly), and had one last look.

I don't care what it says about me, I think this is just beautiful. And I now have three finished canvases - one for me and one for Lily, which I hope she will keep with her always. The fate of the third is yet to be determined, perhaps I'll just hang it somewhere as well. I'd like to send one of the paper prints to my midwife, and maybe one to my unofficial doula, Patty.

As for what I'm doing with the placenta, now that I've had my moment of artistic closure? You can probably guess.

Yep, it's back in the freezer. I just couldn't let it go. I KNOW, I KNOW, eventually it's gotta happen. And I will bury it, probably soon, before the ground freezes. But for now, I could still wear the t-shirt with pride.


  1. What a brilliant & creative idea!!

    Genius. Genius.

    I am so glad that you are the type of person that would not only think of this... but ACTUALLY do it!

    Don't throw any away! If you've got any extra, put it on backorder for Neil & I!!!!

  2. Thanks Kate! But I cannot take credit for the concept itself. And I'd be happy to give you guys one, of course!

  3. I so wish I had heard about encapsulation and/or prints before burying both of mine beneath a tree on the kids first birthdays! I love the prints!

  4. Good to know it will work 2 and a half years later! I have an almost 2.5 year placenta that needs printing! Must do this!

  5. Instead of tossing or just burying, have you thought about getting a large planter and using it at the base of a rosebush, fruit tree, or some other long-lived bush? That way you can always have something beautiful/useful that grew from that special connection between you and your child. You could even give her a cutting when she marries or is pregnant with her first. Rosebushes live for decades if well taken care of and if properly trimmed even a usually large tree will stay small enough to fit inside a large pot.

  6. Bury it and make a Lily garden over it! Tiger lilies, daylilies, lily-of-the-valley, etc. Get one of those cement stepping stone kits and have your daughter make hand/foot prints with her name on it. I love theme gardens!

  7. jespren, I would love to do exactly that! When I say burying, I was originally hoping for a fruit tree, but alas, I'm STILL not in anything resembling a permanent or even semi-permanent spot (I have a major move coming up in January). I have to decide whether to try and transport it cross-country, which seems a little extreme. MAN, I would love to, though.

    HEY! Instead of trying in vain to keep it frozen, maybe I should encapsulate it for practice only, then transport it that way, completely dried, and THEN I can bury it/fertilize something with it. (have I really gone off the deep end now? You can tell me.)

    Teresa, I really love the idea of a Lily garden! If I have no fruit tree, then that's what I'd like to go for, definitely! I have a bit of a black thumb, to say the least - day lilies are pretty hardy, though, aren't they?

  8. I love this post! Thank you so much for sharing. I let embarrassment stop me from doing a print at my youngest daughter’s birth and I so regret it. Just the other day my older three children were giving me a hard time about still having Elle's placenta but I just have not been able to part with it. Can you imagine my kids faces when I not only pull it out of the freezer but make prints from it?! It will be a funny, wonderful project. Thank you!!!

  9. I cannot think of placentas without recalling the funniest moment of my daughter's birth (because humor really is everywhere). I'd just come out of an emergency section (after 40 hrs of labor and 3 hrs of pushing) and was groggy in the recovery room trying to wrap my head around this motherhood thing when a nurse on the other side of the room called out, loudly, "Whose placenta is this!?"

  10. You got some really great prints! Our best placenta-in-the-freezer moment was when we couldn't decide which bag in the freezer was squirrel and which was placenta...we decided this was the ultimate, "you know you are a birth redneck when..."