Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Defrosting the Placenta

Placenta Prints

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.


  1. LOVE that!
    We planted our sons placenta in the spring of 2010, when he was one week old, under a small Hebe plant. For the first few months I made sure the plant was watered with his bath water (total earth mama!) But in the following months into summer, as much as I thought about watering it, and pestered my husband to give it a drink, it never happened and the poor plant dried up and withered away by fall.
    This spring, 2012, after my daughter was born, we planted her placenta under a tiny lavender bush where the Hebe plant would have been. I've tried to be much better this time around (still using her bath water, AND tap water), but I'm very surprised the lavender is still there after much neglect and our extremely dry summer. I think I better go fill up a bucket and give it a drink right now!
    You should be glad you waited til the fall, if it ever rains. And so smart to freeze it, wish I would have thought of that!
    Not many people know about our placenta planting, I don't think many people 'understand'. And those that do, just think it's gross.
    Blessed to know another like minded Mama!
    Happy GROWING!!!

    1. Thanks, Betsy! Watering with bath water- you are a true earth mama indeed! May the lavender thrive and grow strong.

  2. Absolutely thank you for this. My daughter's placenta has been in the back of the freezer for 21 months. The original plan was to plant a tree but every time we tried it just didn't feel right or there wasn't a perfect enough place. So it's been waiting for the perfect place since those first few tries. However, now I'm forced to do something because our time in the Military is coming to a rapid end in the next 12 days. We are moving across country and surprisingly we're having a hard time trying to figure out what to do. We will probably never return to this state and it's very upsetting to think we'd be leaving something so precious behind. My idea is to take it (still sealed in its container) and place it into a large planter and cover it in cement. (We've even bought the cement) as the future plan is to have a statue added to it later. But now I'm finding myself pausing again. It is so..difficult to explain to other people how hard this decision is to make. I was raised complete and total earth child and have graduated to complete earth mama, so this experience is both exciting and very sad. I have also contemplated moving across country with it and just keeping it stocked in a cooler with lots of ice. I would like to still plant it but after two years I've been told the nutrients are now gone. And if i'm honest, we're a little concerned on how bad it will smell! Well. We have 12 days to decide what we're going to do but I had to share this with you before your story has really touched me and is helping me to cope with this unavoidable choice! :) I hope your lilac will flourish!!

    - Rue

    1. Thanks for sharing your story, Rue. I hope you find an option that resonates with you inside. For me there was something very powerful in just revisiting the placenta, and in the ritual itself. Our lilac has still not bloomed (I think we need some more store-bought fertilizer :), but the ritual of burying it was still important. Maybe, if you did decide to bury it in the state you are in now, it could become more about the ritual of that day and moment (and the memory of the ritual), than about the actual placenta and its nutrients itself. Just a thought... You could document the ritual through photos and writing. Thanks again for sharing and reading. xo, Anne



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