Placenta musings…. By Jodie Miller Pregnant with my first, I read about placenta ceremonies and indigenous traditions with curiosity. I only mentioned it to my midwife once, but she never forgot. Following my sons empowering birth, she offered to put his placenta in a container in the fridge for us to take home. I thought, “Great!” and wondered if she knew how touched I was that she remembered! So it spent a few months in the freezer until the day came when I dug a hole and pitched it frozen solid into the earth under a potted lime tree.
Later I watched the leaves yellow slightly, then spring forth with bright lime green new growth. I knew the placenta had given out all its goodness. At the time, the tree planting had been more important to me than the placenta. However I enjoyed thinking about the tree and to express its significance I attached a small home-fired clay tablet, with my baby sons handprint on it. When I brought home my daughter’s placenta I’d already picked her mandarin tree and my husband prepared the hole soon after. I took the time to look over the organs membranes and observe the blood vessels this time; repulsed and fascinated at the same time. I avoided touching it or getting any blood on my fingers. Again the trees leaves yellowed with the excess nitrogen and then sprouted new growth. I felt good about contributing to the cycle of life.
I imagined my children nourished by the fruit grown on the tree that was nourished by the placenta, that nourished them in my womb. When I brought home my third child’s placenta, we new it would not be planted in the garden beside the others. We were planning for a new location and a move country-ward. I wondered what to do about the other two trees: would they survive being transplanted or should I just be practical and buy replacement trees to represent the original ones we would leave behind?
This time, I didn’t rush.
Properly thawed after its time in storage, I made tree-prints of the placenta and explored the side where it had been attached inside my womb. I took a photo, with enough membranes visible to imagine where it had contained our baby. I observed the length of the umbilical cord and the tangle of sinew and blood vessels that had made it my baby’s life line in the hypersleep of my womb. I can now understand the desire not to cut the cord; to leave it intact for a lotus baby. The cut end was clean as only a surgically sharp blade could cut. I mourned the severed end and the instant separation it represented.
This time, the tree planting was ceremonial, though I was alone in my ritual. I was emotionally open and moved by the awesome task this strange disembodied organ had achieved. I felt it was due more respect and I gave it. With a growing sense of fertility, I rubbed the black soil on my blood stained fingers; earthworms curled and twisted in the loosely packed earth, working their way down to transform the goodness below and make my sons orange tree strong and productive. I knew that transplanting the other trees would be a risk but sentimentality won in the end.
We now have a circle of citrus trees in the middle of our orchard, each with a clay table imprinted by a tiny hand or foot. The trees have thrived despite neglect and I know that our family will thrive in this new place too. Our new home! Since this time, a friend has contributed an avocado tree with her sons placenta to our orchard. Her most recent birth is to be celebrated soon with the addition of another avocado tree. Now our families share a symbolic link as we will gather together to share the fruit every avocado season. Long after the placenta that inspired the tree planting has become like the soil, the cycle of nourishment continues.