Every year, there's a new placenta "trend" or talking point that takes the internet by storm. Placentas have become such a fetishized post-birth fascination -- especially since so many hospitals still won't allow women to bring their placenta home, forcing those who do to "smuggle" theirs out like spies -- that it can be difficult to keep up with all the ways new moms (and dads!) make use of the temporary organ most of us refer to as "medical waste." Since starting STFU, Parents, I've heard about various ways one can eat, preserve, and fashion hats out of placentas. Just kidding -- people don't make hats out of placentas! They make teddy bears. Cuddly, nightmarish teddy bears (with no eyes).
To be honest, my beef (so to speak) isn't with the oddball crafters of the world who enjoy sewing up pieces of organ tissue into teddy bears, nor is it with the folks who shove their meaty sacs into plastic bags that go in the back of the freezer until it's "time" to perform a ritualistic tree burial. (Some people do this on a baby's first birthday, some do it on the 5th birthday, and some just hold onto the placenta until it's frostbitten, decades-old, and completely unidentifiable.) No, my side-eye often gets cast in the direction of the placenta eaters and pill poppers. They're the demographic that's grown the most in the past five years, and their obsessive attitude has shown no signs of slowing down.
Of course, that's not to say you can't be both a crafter AND a placenta eater, depending on who you hire to do your pill encapsulation. Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram (just do a quick #placenta search) have all played a large role in the increasing popularity of the placenta craze, but the competition has risen specifically among the encapsulator set. These days, if you want to be the lucky Encapsulation Specialist someone calls after giving birth, you better bring your A game. I'm talking about cute jars with ribbons. I'm talking about customized gift tags with heart stencils. I'm talking about dream catchers made out of umbilical cords. You want a new mom's business? You best be earning it.
Who wouldn't want this keepsake dangling overhead whilst sleeping? Think about it: If dreamcatchers are supposed to "catch" your nightmares, why not make a dream catcher that's a total fucking nightmare in and of itself? Makes sense to me!
In all seriousness, though, placentas have gone from being quietly consumed behind closed doors to overtly celebrated on the internet, and pro-placentophagy parents and doulas have become as vocal as lactivists or VBAC proponents. Natural birth isn't even just about having a drug-free childbirth experience anymore; it's about having your baby at home, surrounded by strangers in a drum circle, prepared to slice into your placenta with vigor in order to "replace lost nutrients and fight postpartum depression" just as nature intended. You're not even supposed to admit that eating placenta sounds like a challenge on 'Fear Factor.' You're supposed to eat it and LOVE IT. This is the way of the placenta eater.
There are even fan pages on social media -- lots of them -- that are dedicated to the ancient practice (for wild animals in the woods) of chomping on your own placenta. Groups like "Team Placenta" exist for women to network, refer local encapsulators, acquire disgusting recipes, or weirdly compliment each other on how awesome their placentas are. Members even have their own special brand of humor, like this:
Heh. Funny, right?? It quacked me up! But really -- someone help Team Placenta member Valerie out here. She's doing her absolute best and it's like no one even cares.
Placentas are so in vogue, they've become a constant source of media fodder, even without any new scientific studies released. Just the harrowing fact that some women eat their placenta is enough for story after story to go viral online. (And let's not forget about the lotus birth trend, which spawned Etsy products like 'purple velvet placenta bags' for a woman to store her placenta as it sits in a bowl next to her on the couch.) So it shouldn't come as a huge surprise that the media jumped on the newly released study that claims there are absolutely no health benefits to eating placenta. This is a big moment in the placenta craze -- one at that asserts, at long last, that any supposed benefits are merely imagined, rather than "real" -- but at this point, does it really make a difference?
Women who believe in the powers of the placenta surely aren't going to stop now. If anything, this study will give them the momentum to press (or dehydrate) on with their mission. Those who have experienced positive effects after popping placenta pills, gnawing on a chunk of raw meat, or sipping on a blood orange smoothie will likely continue to espouse the benefits they've noticed, especially if they had postpartum depression in the past. As far as philosophies are concerned, I can't (and won't) argue with women who want to support their friends and attempt to prevent them from going through emotional turmoil. But as far as social media and sermonizing are concerned, I think it's fair to say that women can officially give their placenta preaching a rest now. There's scientific evidence that says human placentophagy is useless, and even if some women feel deeply that it's not, well...it is. At least until the next comprehensive study gets released that says otherwise. (Something tells me that study will come from www.placentasrulemyface.com.)
Let's check out some examples of placentophagy enthusiasts posting about something that is, according to several researchers, not worth consuming in any form whatsoever (and never really was):
1. Are There, Like, Laws And Stuff?
Danielle's first problem is asking this question on Facebook. Wouldn't her doctor be a better resource for this type of thing? Although, when you're essentially talking about a black market for consuming an organ, I suppose the first place one thinks to go is social media. I mean, duh. Except for the fact that the first two people who commented seem a bit skeptical and/or confused, which might not have the been the response Danielle was looking for. I feel confused, too. When is she planning to serve this baby placenta soup? When she's six months old? Also, let's all be grateful that it isn't easy to find 'placenta soup' in grocery stores (or even suuuuper artisanal stores in Brooklyn), and it probably never will be. The FDA permits a lot of crazy shit, but placenta-barley soup at Whole Foods isn't one of them.
2. 'The Next Best Thing' (A Rom-Com About Eating Placentas)
Well, Sherri, you tried. You tried hard. And it turns out that a woman who refers to herself as "Kismit" ain't buyin' it. She's going to get that local, organic, seasonally-flavored sheep's placenta from New Zeland [sic] and eat the crap out of those sheepy bits. No one can stop her! This is ORGANIC sheep's placenta, okay? It's from another country. It's exotic, and it's perfectly safe. Don't tell Kismit what she can and can't put into her body like some kind of patriarchal government organization designed to keep women down. The hospital totally screwed her on bringing her placenta home in its own wicker carrier, and now she's doing The Next Best Thing (coming to theaters near you on Thanksgiving). She's mid-placenta fiasco, and what she really needs during this difficult time is love, sympathy, and sheepy bits.
3. Talking The Talk, Educating The Masses
The first half of a thread among lady friends about eating placenta typically starts like this before it devolves into madness. One woman will pose the idea: MAYBE it's not such a bad thing to indulge in a little organ noshing, MAYBE it does wonderful things for PPD, MAYBE it's total bullshit, or MAYBE it's not? Then someone like Lindsey pipes in and says something along the lines of, "I'm thinking of taking the pills, because I heard they're easier to swallow than chunks of raw meat that came from my insides," and that's the cue for the crazy comments to come in. For instance, let's take a look further down-thread to see how this conversation continued:
We've got placenta printing -- which I said was "having a moment" a couple years ago, and still is -- but more interestingly, we've got a comment about how to "shoot" placenta. I've never heard of placenta shooters until this moment, and I certainly haven't heard of this "slather in honey and swallow" method, but it sounds disgusting and bizarre. Why wouldn't a person chew it? It won't break down in your system very easily unless you do, right? Also, the comment "Don't chew ;)" is so ominous and icky, I'm hoping Tori knew what was good for her and defriended all of these women immediately. But we all know what really happened: Several ladies got together, each wearing a different shade of yoga pants, and braided each other's hair while watching 'The Notebook,' complete with placenta shooters. Every time Ryan Gosling looked like this, they shot back another slathered piece o' honey-drizzled placenta. Girls' Night In looks a little different after you're a MOM!
4. Trivia Game: Play 'Douchebag Or Reasoned Asshole?'
Sorry for the blurry text in this submission, but I think it well-illustrates the overarching point of this column. Yes, Green is being kind of a dickhead about this whole placenta-eating thing, and yes, he probably believes, based on the "100x the criticism" comment, that men are judged more harshly than women, which -- no. But that superior attitude aside, he makes a lot of points that resonate with me. What WOULD the general public say if men were suddenly lapping up or taking shots of their own semen, just because they heard it was good for them? Granted, the entire purpose of eating placenta is that a woman has just given birth, and there are hormonal effects that can greatly impact her psychological well-being, not to mention her already-impacted physical well-being, but I still think Green's point is valid. Would I want to go on a date with him, or have him father my baby? Meh. I'll pass. But I don't disagree with what he's said, and I'm guessing after that study came out last week, his first thought was "BOOYAH BITCHESSSSS!!!!" I *almost* hate that his suspicions were justified, but not really.
5. Orange You Glad I Waited Until The Fifth Example To Post This?
Normally I cover a person's whole face, but in this case, I want Orange's enthusiasm to be visible to all. She is fucking STOKED to help her sister encapsulate her placenta, and what better way to commemorate that opportunity than with a close-up of the veiny slab of membranes and tissue sitting on the counter by her smiling face? Who doesn't log in to Facebook hoping to see that?? She's a loud and proud birth junkie, y'all!
Now, I know you readers must think I'm a horrible person for posting this, but A) You haven't seen the final sanctimommy example in the column yet, and B) I actually spared you guys the individual large scale photos of this woman and this placenta. Between the two of them, I honestly don't know what's more horrifying.
I don't know about you, but I think I hate this person. Her sassy comment, punctuated by this bloody (yet softened around the edges, Instagram-style) photo, makes me nauseous. There's nothing more annoying than realizing your friend is someone who posts shit like this on social media. It's submissions like this that make me acutely aware of how few women who participate in placentophagy will stop now that it's been proven that it's of no nutritional benefit. You think Ashley is going to quit metaphorically holding her placenta over her head a la Mufasa and Simba now that some stupid study came out of Northwestern University? As if. This girl is pro-placenta for LIFE. Mainstream schamestream. She's probably marinating one for dinner right now. You got a problem with that? It’s delicious.