Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Placenta...with some Fava Beans and a Nice Chianti...

"She lived in Portland, and ate her placenta, with some fava beans and a nice Chianti...szz-szz-szz-szz!"

Sounds even more disgusting than eating her liver with the same accompaniments. But wait, this is not cannibalism, it's...reality! The State of Oregon has actually passed a law that explicitly approves mothers' taking their fresh placentas with them when they leave the hospital.  Oregon Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer introduced the notion in HB 2612, which passed 56-0 and took effect January 1.

Now you can do what you want with your placenta, and Portland doula Raeben Nolan's company, Tree of Life Placenta Services, will happily transform the meaty organ into tortilla soup, lasagna or, when dried and ground, little placenta pills. An article from the Los Angeles Times shows Amanda Englund, "who prepares women's placentas for consumption" and also makes them into wall art.

Raeben Nolan at work on a placenta
Beth Plymale, who paid Tree of Life $250 for a package of services including supplements made in her kitchen from her son's placenta, appears in a Portland news video swallowing a capsule with a healthy swig of water from a mason jar. For her money she also got some Tincture of Placenta for use "later in life, maybe menopause, when she feels the need for a hormone boost." As an $80 option, Nolan will make you some Miyeok Guk Soup, traditional Korean post-partum fare, though usually made with seaweed.

Only one study, in anthropology from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 2013, researched benefits, side-effects or drawbacks from "placentophagy," the term for consuming placenta. Most of the study's 189 "overwhelmingly white, married, college-educated" mothers had their steamed placentas made into pills, after home-births. Seventy-six percent of the survey respondents had a "very positive" experience, though 57% reported negative side-effects, mainly lack of appeal, unpleasant burping and headaches. The researchers now hope to document placenta nutritional contents and their effects.

Placentophagy is fast becoming cool. Las Vegas reality star Holly Madison blogged that she
planned to encapsulate her placenta so she might optimize her recovery. Mad Men's January Jones gobbled her own placenta pills, saying, "it's not witch-crafty or anything! I suggest it to all moms!" Kim Kardashian, before the arrival of little North West, considered whether to consume her placenta to gasps and cheers at a family dinner with the Jenners (on ETOnline video).  Raeben Nolan thinks eating her own placenta after her daughter's birth prevented the post-partum depression that followed her previous delivery, but New York Times blogger Nancy Redd found her placenta capsules caused "tabloid-worthy meltdown" that disappeared when she quit eating them.

Placentas have a rich history in folklore. Cambodians bury them to protect the child's soul. The Navajo and Maori of New Zealand also bury them, while The Kwakiutyl tribe of the Northwest would put a girl's placenta near the tide line so she'll be good at digging clams. Boys' placentas were left out to be eaten by crows, which they thought brought foresight and wisdom.

Amanda Englund with a placenta print suitable for framing
I will confess: I was a placental explorer. Giving birth to my third child in 1992 in Los Angeles, I requested that my placenta be available, and my obstetrician gave me a tour of it, if you will. While my son was being weighed and all the other stuff hospitals do, she explained its wondrous functions as we examined it. That's how I know that its inside is magically pearlescent, offering an unseen rainbow of metallic colors to the developing baby. The side facing the mother's body is a dark-red color, plain and steak-like. My husband grimaced at my interest and wouldn't watch, but when seeing it I was filled with awe and gratitude, already overcome by the miracle of my child's entry into the world and now doubly amazed at the astounding home that sheltered him. I declined the obstetrician's offer to take it home.

I had no inclination to eat, bury or plant my son's placenta, and I'm skeptical of a state law that explicitly authorizes hospitals to send mothers off with them. Given absence of data supporting ingesting placenta, and the circumstances of its removal and then subsequent transport, I doubt the wisdom of encouraging placentophagy. Certainly this is something that might be addressed on a case-by-case basis; there's enough controversy about the benefits of supplements of all sorts to warrant screening of vulnerable new moms who would blithely seethe their placentas for soup in expectation of health benefits.

But now in Oregon, as one blogger noted, your doula might well ask, "And would you like placenta with that?"

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