Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What I Learned from My Placenta

Yes, I'm serious. A couple of days ago, I uploaded some photos of my placenta to share on a message board. While I was eating. I'll be honest. I'd seen the photos before, of course, but it had been a while, and my first reaction was a little bit of shock. If you've never seen a placenta before, they can be pretty graphic. Definitely bloody, and slimy, and very organ-like. A placenta is an organ, after all.

But then I started to question myself(a good habit I've gotten into lately)- why was that my first reaction? Why was my first impulse to think of my placenta as gross? Is it because that's all I've ever heard about them? I've heard placenta jokes, heard that they're disgusting, heard people say that they don't even want to catch a glimpse of their placenta when it comes out. But why? Placentas are actually really, really cool. Think about it- in the course of 9 months, your body not only grows a baby, but an entire ORGAN that nourishes your baby while it's inside you. A temporary organ- we only use it during pregnancy! It's amazing the way the blood vessels connect to mom, and also to the baby via the umbilical cord. The baby doesn't even have to breathe in utero- all the oxygen and nourishment that it needs passes from the placenta, through the umbilical cord, and to the baby. The placenta is an amazing, life giving organ.

So why all the placenta hate? Is there something strange about the placenta that causes people to be repulsed by it? I don't think the problem is with the placenta. As I pondered these questions, I began to see that the aversion to the placenta is just a symptom of a bigger problem. As a society, we've become detached from reality. We're so detached from the basics of what it means to be human. We're so constantly surrounded by fakes, by artificial images and concepts, that when we do get a chance to see the real thing we're repulsed by it.

How often can we turn on the tv, or open a magazine, or even drive down the road without seeing "perfect" images of perfect people? We feel guilty because we haven't been able to attain that level of beauty. But this is not what real women look like. Real women aren't photoshopped to perfection each morning. Real women have stretch marks, cellulite, and flaws. These are usually the things that make us most beautiful! But every time we see an artificial image of a perfect woman, in our mind we start to believe that there really are women out there that look like that. Our perception of beauty is skewed. We become disconnected from reality.

We go to the grocery store and buy food out of boxes and bags and cartons. We'll even get produce, meat, and eggs. But do we really know where these foods come from? How many of us have ever milked a cow? When was the last time you dug in the dirt and harvested something you grew yourself? Have you ever slaughtered an animal to feed yourself? I certainly haven't. Do we even think about these things as we walk the brightly lit aisles of our local grocery store? Everything is packaged just right- the right colors, the right sizes, the right words, and the right location in the store. All these things are designed to appeal to our senses as much as possible, so that we'll buy more and more of the products. But we don't grow these things ourselves anymore. We don't truly have a concept of where our food comes from. We're disconnected from reality.

We've become so disconnected now that we don't even remember the natural way to feed our children. We've taken the most basic reality of a babe at the breast and replaced it with a bottle and powdered milk. We've taken the first act of nurturing love between a mother and child and said that it's unimportant. We have a whole generation of adults that grew up without even once seeing a child being nursed. We've made the artificial into the normal, and we've made the true normal into something shameful and to be hidden. We're disconnected from reality.

As new moms, we're told that we have to follow certain rules with our children. Feed them only at certain times. Don't hold them too much or you'll spoil them. Don't pick them up every time they cry or they'll become dependent on you. These "rules" go against the very nature of what it means to mother! We've learned to read books instead of our children. We're told to ignore our very God-given instincts and follow a specific parenting path. At the most basic level, we've become disconnected from reality.

We've taken childbirth- an empowering moment, a rite of passage, the most intense bonding moment in all of the human experience, and we've made it into something to be numbed away. We've taken the precious first hours that a mother and her child share together, and we've put babies into nurseries, as if they were just a warm body to fill a cot. We've taken the wonder of the placenta, the organ that's given life for 9 months, the incredible tree of life, and we've told mothers that it's disgusting and they don't want to see it. We've whisked it away as quickly as possible. We're disconnected from reality.

So wake up! Don't be deceived by the facades and the replicas of the truth. Open your eyes and see the beauty that's in the world! The beauty of the sun, the sky, and the soil. The beauty of a mother who's heavy with child and the mother who nurtures her child at her breast. And yes, the beauty of an organ that comes and goes in a matter of months, and whose only purpose is to sustain an infant life. Dig your hands into the earth; embrace your child at your breast. Open your mind and your heart to love. Embrace reality.

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