The other week, we finally planted Cedar’s placenta. What? Yes. It’s been in our freezer wrapped in a bread bag for almost two and a half years. I had planned to plant it right after his birth, under a young tree or plant, to mark the occasion, to join a part of our bodies with the earth, then watch the plant grow bigger each year. But, as you might imagine, other things took priority right after he was born—like nursing and sleeping and recovering from surgery-- and so it has sat, frozen in waiting.
Our friend, Amy, who was at the birth, gave us a small lilac plant in the weeks that followed. We’d wanted something that puts out fragrant blossoms in the spring around late March, when Cedar was born. Lilacs bloom a bit later, more like the end of April, but whatever, that’s close enough. Matthew and I both love their scent.
The lilac was tiny and we weren’t sure it would make it, so we kept it in a pot on our deck and watered it for the last two years, while the placenta receded further into the back of our freezer. (Is that a flank steak? A block of raspberries?) Then last week, since we were sticking around all day doing house projects, and it was a beautiful, sunny, early fall day, it struck me as the perfect opportunity to plant it. By now, I didn’t need the planting to be done on some particularly auspicious day—like Cedar’s first, second, or third birthday. At this point I just wanted it out of our freezer and the lilac in the ground before it died without ever even having the chance to flower.
A giant cedar tree had come down about a year ago, opening up a big exposed hole between our yard and the neighbors’, so we had a perfect spot for the lilac which may eventually grow quite large. First I let the placenta defrost--just a bit-- in the sink. Somehow it struck me that it should not be rock hard frozen, that I wanted to see its juices touch the soft dirt. Then I began to dig the hole. Matthew helped me make it deeper, then cut out some roots and filled it with homemade compost. Cedar then dropped in a couple small trowel’s full of fertilizer (his usual job when helping me plant flowers), and I cut open the bread bag, gently shaking loose the placenta while trying not to touch it.
Despite the fact that you may already think I’m weird for keeping it in the first place, I was not exactly eager to touch or smell the placenta. Still partially frozen, I didn’t readily detect any odor—and nor did I sniff it to try to locate one. Yet the blood had begun to seep onto the plastic and the hard, dark red mass was indeed revealing itself for what it was: a bodily organ. This is why the hospital was required to label it ‘hazardous waste’ when they gave it to me, sealed in a white plastic bucket. And this is why the whole process struck me as both slightly disgusting yet profoundly cool.
After I dropped the placenta into the hole, Matthew shook the root-bound lilac out of its pot and shoveled more dirt around its edges. How strange, I thought, that I could still see and touch the actual blood of my body, blood of our birth. I go through each day now so tightly bound to my son, 24-7, in touch with his rhythms, listening for his calls, responding to his needs. We are as connected as ever, morning till night, eating the same foods, running the same errands, going on walks, playing in parks, befriending sets of mothers and sons. But the memory of Cedar’s actual birth has grown faint, usurped by the constant forward momentum of our lives, our growth, our balancing acts, lessons, and needs.
So now, two and a half years later, to spontaneously decide to unfreeze, unwrap, touch and plant the very organ that once physically connected us, that gave him life while he was in my womb, felt beautiful in a quiet and unassuming kind of way. It wasn’t an overwrought ritual. We were just planting another plant, something we’ve done all summer long. But in other ways, of course, this was a very special plant indeed.
My sister and her baby, Avery, a mere two months old, happened to be here to witness our planting and snap a few photos. She asked if we were going to explain to Cedar anything. “He won’t understand,” my husband shook his head. “Maybe, we’ll see,” I said, wanting to leave it up to the moment. In the end, all I said as I shook out the dark red form from the bag was, “This is very special fertilizer.” And then: “This is a lilac plant. It will grow purple flowers in the spring. It is Cedar’s special plant.”
This felt like enough.
This felt like enough.