You’re guessing it's the beautiful baby (yes, so blessed!) and the amazing freebirth experience (wouldn’t trade it for the world) as the source of my maximum oxytocin dose after my last 2 births.
Yes to those lovely gifts, but also to one that most women never get to experience, never get to see, feel or share about. The birth of my baby’s placenta.
Now before you think it’s the newest fad of placenta consumption (which really isn’t new at all anyway), I really have to tell you my complete story. Of how I found myself, my true being in this life as Woman, as a result of what happens AFTER the baby comes.
Let’s backtrack over 12 years ago. I birthed my first baby in the hospital; had no idea what a placenta was and (sadly) never, ever got a glimpse of hers. Her “twin”, that nourished her from conception to birth. Pretty typical story, really. Most women, at least here in the United States, have no regard for their placentas and are happy for the hospital to dispose of them as “medical waste”. Safe to say that many people have no idea what the function of the placenta is anyway, and think it’s weird and disgusting. Nothing could be farther from this Truth I would discover….
Next birth. First home birth. Pinnacle moment in my life, as we welcomed our first son into the world in water. At the time it seemed crazy in a sense, but yet so perfect. We were new to the world of home birthing, and without any better understanding of “third stage” than we had had last birth. I remember the water in the birth pool being really hot. My son had some help from the midwife in getting out and I recall sitting in the pool holding this stunned baby, bleeding. More than being hot, or bleeding, I recall the feeling in the room. It was too much blood, too fast. I consented to an injection of Pitocin and was helped out of the tub. As I reflected on my birth days and months later, I became fearful. What had happened? Why did I bleed? Why did I need medication? The details were hazy (as they often are when you are the birthing woman!) but the FEELING is one that stayed with me.
The FEELING of placentas and after baby and bleeding and birth pools scared me. Several months later I began a home birth midwifery apprenticeship, and my fears were not eased but intensified. What was this mysterious part of birth? I believed in babies to be born. But I could not rectify this sense of “not belonging” when it came to the placenta needing to be born as well. So often, panic and anxiety infused the room at this stage and I went on to see many women “bleed” and need to be rescued. Wow, I thought. This part of being a midwife sucks!! At the same time, I strongly identified with many of these women who had beautiful births and then had to deal with the (real or imagined) UGLY face of postpartum hemorrhage.
Onto my third birth. Perfect birth of another perfect baby. And blood filled the pool. The physical sensations I remember well, and that has been part of my healing. I felt FINE. I felt GREAT and "with it". But the color of the pool disturbed me, it was almost embarrassing. The midwives exchanged worried glances and the fear in the room was palpable. Once again I asked myself what I had done “wrong”. Till this day, I have no memory of her placenta birth. Sadly, it was so unimportant to me (or SO important, subconsciously?) that I actually disposed of her beautiful organ. I had had enough of placentas, and enough of afterbirth. And at least I hadn’t needed drugs.
In the interim before my fourth baby was born, I worked with a different midwife, but it was same tune, different singer. I didn’t see tons of hemorrhages, but a lot of Pitocin use and really was just confounded. If women needed these drugs all the time what were we doing wrong? What were they doing wrong? How would I ever be a midwife and not be scared of this part? How could I ever be a midwife that couldn’t or didn’t carry hemorrhage medication? As I grew in knowledge and responsibility as an apprentice, I assisted MANY women with the birth of their placentas. It was always odd and uncomfortable. Why did these women that could birth babies with little to no help need so much help with this part? Why did they seem to be disconnected? Would that fear in the room EVER leave?
And so my fourth birth changed me.
My fourth baby was born in water (as the other 2 before him had been) and then decided to take his time transitioning to this earthly plane. THAT is a story for another time, but the key point here is that as I was resuscitating him and totally focused on him, and my “third stage” got pushed to the back burner. Literally with one hand on him, my other hand held the cord that hung out of me and without any intellectual thought, I birthed my placenta into a bowl. I needed to go with him to the hospital and I needed to be here. Stable. Now. I can still recall the ease in which the placenta part transpired. I felt pressure on my tailbone, I felt figurative pressure to just be with him, and the placenta detached and slid out as easily as can be. No excess bleeding. Completely whole and perfect. Minutes after birth. I had, unknowingly, received an Initiation into something. Power that cannot be described, that which comes from inside deep within all of us as an instinctive knowing. (And on a clinical note, important to point out that we tend to think that women are are MORE risk for PPH when their babies are compromised. In my case it was the exact opposite. I knew I needed to be “free and clear” to be able to help my baby.)
So, my attitude about placentas and bleeding were transformed after that birth. I went into my next 3 births (the last 2 being freebirths) with a sort of confidence and knowing that I had never had before. I knew I would birth the baby, but I also knew that my body knew exactly what to do after that. Why would I bleed more than I should? I was healthy and strong and totally connected. That in NO WAY was going to happen. I realized how I had allowed my power to be taken with each previous birth. I saw how I had written off responsibility, and assumed someone else knew better about me.
I realized I probably had NEVER hemorrhaged, even with that first home birth. But I saw too that with my first three births, there were so many interruptions and interferences after that baby had come. Whether it was the panicked glances of the midwives, the feeling of fear in the room, or the throwing on of towels and a hat on my baby. I realized that all had short circuited my body (and later learned how it indeed had interrupted the chemical, hormonal flow) and that I was more than capable. Birthing a placenta was nothing to be afraid of; in fact, I have taken to embracing it and loving it in a way that I never imagined.
With my last birth (#7), I held my sweet 2 minute old daughter, and with the other hand birthed my placenta into a bowl. I was present, clear, strong and empowered. I didn’t need the words or eyes of anyone to tell me how that should go, anymore than I needed anyone to tell me how to birth my baby. I will never forget feeling that power; security, and knowledge of all kinds and levels. Letting my body speak to me. Watching it complete TWO miraculous tasks, and with barely more than a couple drops of blood as my placenta went from inside my body, to outside, still connected to my baby. Complete.
My own experience has shaped how I support women today. I feel an urgency to encourage women to birth their placentas on their own terms. We talk about it all the time with birthing a baby, but then someone else is supposed to “take over”? I have so much passion for talking about this before birth, during pregnancy. I believe that if I can just plant the seed in someone’s ear, they will be that much more likely to take ownership of this amazing part of the birth process. Birthing a placenta is one of those “details” that has become unimportant (or conversely, TOO important as it raises fear in many about hemorrhage) for so many reasons. Yes, birth is about a baby. But it’s also about birthing US as unbelievable powerful women, and I see the role of the placenta as unnegotiable.
It is my vision to bring this potential of power to all birthing women. If you think about it, the symbolism is fairly simple. We could not grow a baby, birth a healthy baby WITHOUT the placenta. Honor her, cherish her, and bring her earthside with confidence, power and dignity. She (and you) deserve nothing less.