noun af·ter·birth \ˈaf-tər-ˌbərth\
the placenta and fetal membranes that are expelled after delivery—called also secundines
I have met two broader groups of people in my time as a birthworker. Those who want nothing to do with their placentas, don't want to look at them, see them, talking about them, and certainly do not want to do anything with them after they are expelled. And those who are curious about their placentas, excited about being shown their placentas, in awe of their function, beauty and significance. A subset of that group tend to take a step further and honour their placenta in some way, by having artwork done with the placenta (like prints), having photos done, having the placenta encapsulated or burying it in the ground alongside the planting of a tree - to name just a few (there are many other rituals and practices, all around the world)
I have always been fascinated by the placenta. And not just the organ itself, but the birth of the placenta. The process. It isn't an easy process sometimes. In fact, some women describe the birthing of their placenta to be harder and more painful than the birthing of their baby. Sometimes the process of expelling the placenta requires some manual help from the caregiver, like fundal pressure - when the caregiver applies pressure at the top of the uterus (by pushing down on the belly) which is often a very uncomfortable experience. Some caregivers give the umbilical cord a gentle tug to help ease the organ out. Sometimes, the caregiver urges the birther to cough a few times, which sometimes creates the right kind of contraction and release that needs to happen in the uterus to let the placenta go. There are other methods as well. This blog post is not meant to be a medical resource. It is simply an account of my experience, and a sharing of my thoughts and feelings on this subject.
So, according to the dictionary, the afterbirth is an afterthought... an explusion that happens after the baby arrives - effectively after the climax of the story has taken place. And in many cases, the placenta is put away and discarded pretty much immediately without a second thought. To me, it has always been more. And with the birth that I last documented, I was able to really capture the power and beauty behind my feelings about the birth of the placenta. When I looked over these images, I was finally able to put words to my feelings - which is yet another reason why photography and visual documentation is so important, especially in a birth space where everything happens quickly, in a blur, in not always the best lit conditions, with pain and intense emotions in the mix, and in some cases, many people in the room all busy doing things, taking up the focus.
When I look at these images, I see a flower blooming. The vulva flower peels back its petals, and releases this seed of epic proportions. That seed, if planted in the ground, disintegrates and releases nutrients and minerals so rich.... That which sustained life in-utero continues to give life. I am then reminded of the vasculature of the placenta and how its structure resembles the root structure of a common earthly tree. Not only that, but it also resembles the branch structure of the tree above ground. It really is no exaggeration or sappy poetry to say that placentas are LIFE. They really are the embodiment of life. And when the placenta is birthed, it is a powerful experience, and a powerful thing to witness.
I love placentas, like I love trees - in their beauty, their function, their symbolism for life on earth. I also love the beauty and the uniqueness of the vulva. How every single one is different, and equally beautiful in its own deeply personal way....and yet.... collectively, how absolutely powerful and incredible vulvas are in how they connect so many human beings together across this globe... either by anatomy, by attraction through sexuality, or by the very process by which so many humans are walking and breathing and living at all - by BIRTH itself. It's really something pretty darn big, in my humble opinion. And I celebrate vulvas, vaginas, the uterus and everything related - including the immense (life-giving) power and meaning embedded within this incredible, complex, awe-inspiring biological system within the corporeal body.
On this important day, International Women's Day, I take special note of this aspect of being a woman, and I take special personal pride in knowing that I am a woman and a mother of girls, and I celebrate all women. I stand with women all arond the world, and will push forth for their right to freedom, to equality, to control of their own bodies and lives, to pursue their dreams and aspirations, to have access to education and health care and employment, and to live a life free of harrassment and danger. I dream of a day when, no matter where one is on this planet, a baby girl is born with the exact same rights and privileges as the baby boy in the photo below.
If you want more information on placenta encapsulation, click here and here
I am a passionate Professonal Birth Photographer and Doula in Winnipeg, Mb, Canada and would love to hear from you if you would like to get in touch.