Monday, December 26, 2005

Placenta

First, for budding manufacturer-enterpreneurs out there: what I need is someone to design one of those semi circular
nursing pillows, but with a raised extension out in front for the computer. The writing mother's nursing pillow, anyone?

When I write or talk about motherhood, I feel like there's often a choice about holding back. Do I want to be the cheerleader? Do I want to tell it all? (or better, do I want to tell it all to close friends, say, or want to broadcast it all over the internet?). These decisions about honesty are complicated for me. I am a very private person, even as I'm dedicated to writing about motherhood and parenting in a warts-and-all kind of way. I'm even more committed to protecting the privacy of my husband and daughters (and how fun it is now to write about my daughters in the plural!). They didn't choose to have an author for a wife or mother. All this can make it hard to figure out the boundaries, to learn how to write about family life in ways that don't undermine my own family.

There's something else, too, which is not about my own family, but about that vague sense of what's appropriate. We mothers and fathers can be very concerned with being appropriate, with staying inside the bounds of convention. I think a good part of motherhood is about conformity--it's about getting along at the playground, about not standing out. And that makes it hard, say, to be political about motherhood, to take a stand that you know might distinguish you from the other moms around. I hear this from mothers who have become politically active; they feel that separation, and it's hard. It's hard for me, I admit that. There's a cameraderie in all the easy chit-chat that is much needed and can too easily disappear. But if we are going to take control of our situations as mothers, if we are going to assert leadership over social issues and workplace-and-parenting issues, we must face this fear head on. We must use all our charisma to guard against those feelings of staying within middle-class conventionality.

I have two topics that I want to approach, and I'll take on the one here. The first is that after the birth-from-hell was over, and after I'd stopped shaking (see the other blog... click on the sidebar....for the birth story), and after I'd held the baby and she latched on, and after Rob had held her for a long time, and after an hour or so when the nursery nurse had taken her to be bathed and checked, the midwife pulled out a plastic bag of something dark. She opened it and it plopped out onto another piece of plastic on the hospital table.

Yes, I want to say the word placenta in public. I'm helped in this by a recent email from a friend who's had numerous types of cancers, and recovered from them all. She sends out updates about her situation. The latest monitors the follow up after the last cancer. She goes into great gynecological detail. Near the beginning of her email she warns us that she will use explicit detail, and that it's important to do so, so that everyone understands what women's bodies really do. And believe me, this friend is no women's-health-care radical. Just a woman and a mom who's been through some awful times. I was touched by her insistence that we read about her innards. After all, she's the one living with it day by day, and we're the ones always saying, how can we help?

Now, you should know I'm not the type to say the word Placenta in public nor be automatically bowled over by a look at my placenta. Several years back I learned about a friend who'd had a ritual to bury her placenta in the backyard. She'd invited everyone over to take part. My response was a mixture of respect--how lovely and in touch she must be to do that--and a shudder--ick, there's no way I'd be there. Once while teaching a course years back on women and religion, one of my students brought in some natural menstrual sponges. Again, not my type of think to pass around the room. I didn't want to stop her. In fact, I half-admired her pluck to make the usually invisible more visible. And there was some connection between the pass-around and her report for the day. I kept my cool, but it did make me uncomfortable. I guess I'm just not a placenta type of woman.

I must say, though, I was amazed as the midwife put the placenta on the table, and showed me how and where the umbilical cord had been attached, and then pulled the remains of my amniotic sacs over the whole thing. It blew my mind. The darkness of it. The midwife kept saying, "doesn't it look like a tree of life?" In that moment of seeing how my body produced this, this thing, this thing that could sustain my baby for nine months, this incredibly complex system for taking my body's nutrients and sending them deep inside to the developing child, I understood some of what it means to use a midwife. Even if she made some mistakes, even if the birth was more painful than it should or could have been, I understood what it meant to take a woman's body seriously, to not flinch from it, to not just sweep the placenta away into the waiting medical waste bag (as I'm sure happened the first time around; you can bet that my Atlanta obstetrician wasn't going to spend his time demonstrating my placenta to me).

I still wouldn't call myself a placenta type of gal. But seeing it was incredibly powerful in a most surprising and unsuspecting sort of way.

7 comments:

Andi said...

My daughter's Placenta went to pathology along with her cord blood. Her APGAR scores were 1 & 4 and the OB wanted to know what had gone wrong. I'm not sure how things would have been different with a Midwife instead of the hospital delivery. I can't shake the fear that Mica would have been lost to us. And, really, my OB let me do what felt right until it was obvious that there were problems. 36 hours of labor ended in an emergency C-section.

Sarah said...

I, too, had a midwife led birth and was shown the placenta and it was a really amazing thing to see after the birth...not that I would want placenta soup but I understand the desire to consume that primal power...

Jeanette said...

(Hi, other Andi!)

Miriam, this was beautiful. Just beautiful!

Devra said...

My mother is a placenta person. She swears she saw "rainbows" in hers. Having grown up with the "Tale of the Raibow Placenta" it had the direct opposite effect on me. No I don't want to see it and no, please don't think about showing it to me. But like on Seinfeld, "Not that there's anything wrong with THAT." We all have our comfort zones. Placentas, and clowns, are not in my zone. Mazel Tov on the birth of Amelia J!

MojoMom said...

When Baby T. was born, the midwife said "The delivery isn't over until the fat lady sings...and the fat lady's name is placenta."

That was one part of delivery I hadn't really thought through. Not painful at all, but an unexpected coda. I was glad to have the midwife's direction to avoid a "what, we aren't done here yet?" feeling.

MojoMom said...

When Baby T. was born, the midwife said "Labor isnt' over until the fat lady sings, and the fat lady's name is placenta."

I was half grossed out, half awed to see this amazing organ. I hadn't thought at all about this part of labor. It wasn't painful, just an unexpected coda. I was glad to have the midwife's direction to avoid a "wait, aren't we finished here?" feeling.

Best wishes to you and baby Amelia!

MojoMom said...

When Baby T. was born, the midwife said "Labor isnt' over until the fat lady sings, and the fat lady's name is placenta."

I was half grossed out, half awed to see this amazing organ. I hadn't thought at all about this part of labor. It wasn't painful, just an unexpected coda. I was glad to have the midwife's direction to avoid a "wait, aren't we finished here?" feeling.

Best wishes to you and baby Amelia!