"What do you want to do with the placenta?" the midwife asks.
I’m not sure.
So my husband puts it in a Tupperware container and sticks it into the tiny freezer compartment in our pretty-tiny fridge in our not-so spacious flat. We forget about it until 2 months later, when we say goodbye to the flat and the city and put most of our belongings into storage. The rest goes into our tiny car, which my husband drives across the country, while I take the baby and toddler on the train.
“What's this?” my husband says. He's clearing out the fridge before we leave. Pulling the Tupperware out of the freezer and screwing up his eyes to peer through the lid.
Oh yeah. The placenta.
“What do you want to do with it?” he says.
I'm not sure.
“Pack it with the rest of the food I guess...”
He does and it moves into another freezer for a month, another for a year, and yet another, where it stays for over a year and a half until I needed to clean out the freezer to store all of our lock-down frozen goods.
What should I do with the placenta?
I could throw it away, which would seem weird and somehow disrespectful and render the previous freezer transfers somewhat pointless.
I could donate it to train sniffer dogs to track down missing people. But I'm not sure how the various freezer moves affect the quality of the sample for these purposes.
Too late for consumption, encapsulation, frying up and eating, smoothie making.. even if I wanted to.
What’s left is to find a spot in the garden, dig a hole and plant the thing. We had originally thought of planting a tree, back when we lived in the flat and had two houseplants to our name, the only bit of greenery around.
Now we have our own garden, and already more trees and shrubs than we know what to do with. Trees and plants threaten to engulf our house if we stop paying attention for more than a week (or my husband stops paying attention. I plant the vegetables and he tackles the trees.)
A hot day, nowhere to go now, no visitors allowed now. In the morning, I take the placenta Tupperware (will it always now be the placenta Tupperware?) and set it on the counter to thaw out.
While the little one sleeps, I remove the placenta and spread it out on the lawn.
This, my friends is what a placenta looks like.
I'm struck by the clamp still on the umbilical cord. I don't have an image in my head of when that cord was cut, but I'm transported back to the moments just prior to his birth. The strangest feeling in the world, him moving his head, half in the world, half out, before a final surge and he's there, on the floor of our bedroom, caught by the midwife's hands.
Later then, on my bed, while he suckles for milk, the placenta is birthed. This placenta laid out on the grass.
Struck by the blood, the rawness of it. This thing that grew inside of my body. The primal beauty of it.
I give the older boy, a lesson in what a placenta is. Its job. I point out the umbilical cord, tell him its relationship to the bellybutton. He is curious. "Did I have a placenta too mommy?"
He doesn’t ask why we want to bury it. I don’t have a clear answer for that- at least nothing that I can easily articulate to him.
Because it’s sacred? Because it grew in my body and helped my child to grow? Because it’s part of the birth story. The afterbirth.
My sister was with us for the birth. Later she tells me- she watched the midwives lay the placenta out, examining it to ensure it was intact. Hushed voices on a summer evening, a cosy home above city streets. We (midwives included) ate chocolate cake and drank tea. Big brother (still a little thing himself) insisted on a candle for the baby's birthday cake.
I lay the placenta out again on this grass, our grass, cover it in pink petals from a Camelia plant. I Invite elder son to join me in decorating and digging. He adds some dandelions. I wake the little one from his nap and carry him outside.
We dig the hole in a favourite spot. Under the rhododendron trees. A spot for meditating and tea drinking and being on my own at the end of the day. "Your relaxing spot Mommy".
I place the placenta into the earth, and my son, my baby, guided by his Dad, throws some soil over. Helped along by his brother, he shovels earth until the hole is almost full. I do the finishing touches. I transfer a small plant that has been almost forgotten about in a planter at the side of the house. I hope this spot will nourish it back to full health . I hope to plant flowers around it once all of this is over, perennials, freesia maybe, if they will take.
The others finish up and move on to other things. I sit in my relaxing spot for a while and contemplate birth. The thrill of it, the pain of it. The joy and the tears of it.
Some time later, placentas are still on the older one's mind. He's watched a programme where doctors explain various bodily processes. The placenta features. I'm proud that he has been getting a biology lesson from me too. It goes some way towards reducing the guilt associated with all that extra screen time.
“Did I have a placenta too Mommy?”
Yes my boy.
“What happened to it?”
I’m sorry my boy. At the hospital nobody asked me what I wanted to do with it. I could’ve asked to keep it, but there would have been no planting, we had no ground, no earth to call our own, living on the third floor of a city centre block. More true though is- that after a hope for a homebirth, a slow labour at home, a reluctant but necessary transfer to hospital, and a still slow labour in hospital- once you were born and in my arms, I didn't have energy to demand anything out of the ordinary.
When you have a baby in the hospital, I say, the hospital usually keeps the placenta (we should have given it to the sniffer dogs I think).
That's enough for him though. A few weeks later, a neighbour visits, now that visiting, with strict limitations, is again allowed. He gives her a tour of the garden and shows her where the placenta is buried, tells her all about what it does.
"We gave my placenta to the hospital" he tells her proudly.
What did you do with the placenta? Did you know there were various options? Did you give it any thought? Let me know!