A guest post from Mia
For my first pregnancy in 2010 I donated my umbilical cord and cord blood to Women’s and Children’s Hospital research because I was aware of the value in stem cells.
I went on to gain a much greater appreciation for placentas during a Hypnobirthing course during my second pregnancy and was in awe of the fact that I grew an entire organ with the sole purpose of supporting the growth of my baby. This new found appreciation meant I couldn’t bear to just throw it away. I had become much more in tune with my body from what I’d learned during the course and had a clearer idea of what I wanted from my labours and births from that point on, especially considering my first was so traumatic and laden with intervention.
My second baby was blissfully water born at 42 weeks. Two days after the delivery I invited my midwife to our home to give my Aunty, Nanna and I an anatomy lesson- what an amazing experience! She helped me clean it and from there we made ‘Tree of Life’ prints with Nannas artistic help (she’s a watercolour artist and teacher). I went on to plant it under my tree (‘Mia’s Tree’, as it’s so lovingly called) in my parent’s garden. My views on parenting and motherhood and all things birth-y continued to become more natural and gentle, so when we discovered a third precious babe would be joining our family only 3 short years after our first arrived, I knew I wanted to do something more.
For me I had travelled from a place of wanting to help others by donating the cells, to paying tribute by making artwork and giving it back to the Earth by planting, right through completing a full circle by consuming it. It was the ritual of it all. Placentas are amazing and I just didn’t feel right throwing it away. I wanted to honour it, to pay tribute, to remember it.
I had struggled to breastfeed with my other babies, I got ‘the blues’ the first time round particularly, and in my research I discovered Placenta Encapsulation. I looked at all of the possibilities but decided I needed for it not to resemble a piece of meat. Although I was very willing to consume it, something about having to chew or cook or blend it bothered me. This was somewhere in the middle- I got the benefits without grossing myself out. Despite being know as the ‘Earth Mumma’ of the family, but even I couldn’t handle a warm, bloody, red smoothie!! I admit that at first I wasn’t sure how I felt about consuming a piece of myself, but the more I read the more I felt like it was worth a go!
Initially I decided that I’d do it myself. I found a few different techniques and because I already had a dehydrator and blender all I needed was the capsules, “easy!” I thought. I discussed my plans with my Mum and Husband and at first they were both very shocked, scared almost, especially about using the same machine that I do all of our dried fruit and fruit leather in, but I told them about all the benefits and they came as far as being supportive of my choice, although a little wary at the same time.
As I got closer to my due date I started to worry about having to find the time and energy to do it straight after the birth. I considered freezing it and then doing it later when I had the time, but I knew I’d lose nutrients in the process and also the benefit of being able to consume it immediately after the birth. We were short on money with my husband losing his job when I was about 30 weeks along and struggled with what decision to make. In the end He said that if I really wanted to do it then go for it! I think the main reason for me making to decision was my determination to make a success of breastfeeding this time and that I wanted to do everything in my power to increase my supply. And so I did! I booked in with Kelly and was excited to see it all come to fruition.
Despite another induction my labour went exactly how I had wanted. Unfortunately I haemorrhaged afterwards and was rushed straight to theatre for manual removal of my placenta. I remember yelling at the midwives to keep every piece of the cord (they cut, and recut it due to leaks). I was petrified they’d lose it during all of the panic. I had an amazing birth partner there who also photographed the birth. She came with me to surgery while my husband stayed with baby for skin on skin. She held my head and brushed my cheek and reassured me the whole time that I would be fine. I remember looking over at her once we were back in recovery to see her sitting in a big wooden rocking chair, her camera over her shoulder and a bucket on her lap. My placenta was in that bucket, she had also become my Placenta Minder amidst all of the chaos! It was in several pieces, along with a few pieces of cord. It didn’t look beautiful any more. It was torn and cut and looked like just a piece of meat.
Kelly was lovely enough to respond to my middle of the night texts, begging her to take photos for me. It was so emotional for me to see the pictures days later- I was devastated at the sight of it, but also so grateful that between us all that it had been kept! Kelly collected it on the morning after the birth and returned it the very next day. She also brought with her a box of freshly made lactation cookies, still warm and their smell filled my room. I hadn’t expected for things to turn out the way they did and it got worse- I required a blood transfusion in the wee hours of day 3 and ended up staying in hospital for 5 days. I declined a second transfusion but from the moment the placenta pills were delivered I took 2 a day. I ate my cookies (many more that I was supposed to actually- I read the instructions once I was home and apparently ‘a whole box’ for midnight snacks and morning snacks and afternoon snacks was probably a few too many, haha) but I fed and fed and fed baby. With antibiotics, iron supplements, my daughters complicated daily routine of medication and life with 3 kids 3 and under I lapsed a little after a week or so of being. I remember saying out aloud one day “Gosh, I’m so tired! and Hubby said “Are you taking your Happy Pills!?”. I’d forgotten all about them! From then on I made a big effort to take them every day. Occasionally I forget for a few days but it doesn’t take long for my energy to drop for me to remember again! I had another blood test about a fortnight after the birth and they were quite amazed at how well my iron had replenished. I was feeling great and my milk was going strong. Of course we had a bumpy ride getting it established but I didn’t have any depressive spells, no major supply issues and my energy was great (considering the epic workload at home!).
I’ve had mixed responses from people and to be honest most of them have been shocked, amazed, confused and “Gross, you’re eating a part of yourself!” or have never heard of it before, but for me it feels completely natural. I feel as though I’m completing the circle, that it’s replenishing my body, it’s the greatest gift I can give myself after all the hard work it did to create my baby!
I want my pills to last forever and so now they live in my freezer. I take them most days, but mainly when I’m starting to get a little flat or when my milk needs an extra boost. Our not so little Olive is 13 weeks old now and I’m amazed at just how quickly I’ve recovered. I rave to everyone about encapsulation and wish more women would give it a go!
I also have a beautiful keepsake for Olive’s baby records; a piece of the cord dried in the shape of a heart. It feels beautiful. When I hold it up to the light the blood vessels still shine bright red. I missed out on delayed cord clamping, the tummy crawl and skin on skin. Olive didn’t get her first feed for almost 4 hours either. I never saw my placenta or felt my pulsing cord. Having photos from Kelly, not to mention an actual piece of it to keep, and the pills to consume, I feel such closure. Without these things I would have been so upset, like I’d lost a part of me.
My name is Mia and I LOVE placentas x
Thank you so much to Mia for sharing her placenta encapsulation experience. I have loved watching your pregnancy and birth journey through the photos you shared with Billie and am honoured to have been a small part of it xx
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Kelly Harper is the owner of Elemental Beginnings Doula & Placenta Services in Adelaide. She provides placenta encapsulation and doula services to families during pregnancy, birth and in their fourth trimester.