Those of you who were following my insta stories the other week would have seen that I finally planted and buried my daughter's placenta!
I knew even before I was pregnant again that I would want to do something special with the placenta, because I really felt I'd been robbed of that chance with my first daughter's birth and hers going to medical waste without me even getting to see it (and not even thinking to ask to). Planting the placenta seemed like the perfect option.
I wanted to do it with a potted plant, as I'm not certain that were we are living will be our forever home. I think had I actually birthed her at home, I wouldn't have minded the plant going in the ground on that land, because it would have been where she was born. Because that wasn't the case, though, it just didn't feel right for me.
So, I decided that I would take a small piece of the placenta in a pot, and then bury the bulk of it in the garden. This seemed like a good compromise - putting a whole placenta in a pot can completely overwhelm and overload the plant, so I didn't want to risk killing my special placenta plant by putting the whole thing in there! And now that Stella has grown some, it feels more okay that part of her will always live here, because she has experienced the start of life here, really.
I had a lot of trouble deciding what plant I would want - I thought about it all pregnancy and nothing seemed like the right fit. Stella is the Italian word for star, so I had been thinking something with a star shaped flower. But then I wondered if I should just go with something simply and hardy, like a lemon. Finally, one day, I heard someone talking about having chosen a plant that flowered in season with their child's birthday and I thought yes! That's exactly what I want. I also really wanted something native, as symbolic for her roots, and so I got searching for native plants that flowered in December. When I saw Christmas Bush pop up I knew it was what I'd been searching for. It was perfect, even down to its star-shaped flowers.
Then Stella was born, at hospital via surgery as opposed to at home, and I once again missed out getting a good look at my placenta. In hindsight, I should have asked for a placenta tour and to be shown it, but we were all so tired and I hadn't written down a caesarean plan or properly mapped my birth for us to refer to and remember all the important things. Thankfully, I remembered most things that mattered to me, including remembering to ask them to keep my placenta, though.
My husband picked it up, took it home, and put it in the freezer while I was still recovering in hospital, and it sat in there for over 18 months. I've since done doula education and lots of other short courses and birth education, and I realised how much I grieved having that time to look at it and marvel at it. So rather than just getting it out frozen and planting it such, I decided to go about it a slightly strange way. I took it out a few days prior to when I was going to plant it, and I let it slowly defrost in the fridge in its plastic hospital bucket.
I wasn't really sure if it was going to work like I'd hoped, but I figured, we do the same with meat all the time *shrug*
I was really hoping I'd be able to take prints from it, so I went and bought some nice, thick, watercolour art paper in A3 size. I figured I could only try!
I also wanted to make a bit more of a ceremony of the moment than just an obscure hour of gardening. So, I asked my dear friend, Aimee, who had also been my doula at Stella's birth, whether she would be happy to come and do it with me. My husband is incredibly tolerant and tries his best to understand, but really never got why this matter so much to me - so as much as he would have helped me had I asked him, it felt right to ask Aimee instead. Someone who really did understand why this was important.
So the morning of, I cleaned and tidied my kitchen, and laid an old towel over the stove and bench. On top of that, I laid a long piece of baking paper. I got the placenta bucket out of the fridge and opened it carefully. Like a big ice cream container, it had one of those plastic seals to break on the lid in order to open it, which felt surprisingly significant. I opened it up and peaked in.
The smell surprised me, which it really shouldn't have had I spent any time considered it. It is human tissue, at the end of the day. So if you're sensitive to smells of raw meat, be warned. I've never noticed a smell from the placenta after births I've attended when women are being shown them, but I'm not usually as close I guess, and it is probably a bit different when it's straight out of your body.
I was also surprised by how much blood there was, and pleased because I thought I would definitely be able to take the prints in some way. I suppose because of how it was birthed, it would have been placed straight into the plastic bag and bucket, and not been rinsed or even spent any time sitting on a bluey to soak any up. Plus, Stella only ended up with one minute of delayed cord clamping (which again, was an oversight of not having mapped that birth and considering that different places and people would have different definitions for delayed cord clamping). So there would have been a bit of blood in there that didn't get a chance to transfer.
Given all the blood, I probably could have done with a bluey or puppy pad to lay it out on as well, but I hadn't expected it and by this stage, I was committed to placing it down on the baking paper.
It was a beautiful, thick, luscious placenta. I marvelled, as I explored with un-gloved hands, lifting the membranes and peeking inside what was my baby's first home. I absolutely loved seeing how plump and meaty it was - no wonder my baby grew to 4.5kgs in there! She was incredibly well nourished from this beautiful, magical organ.
It wasn't defrosted all the way through, but it was enough for me to be able to manoeuvre it without pieces just breaking. I turned it over a few times, traced the length of the cord and felt the squishy twists within it - that luscious cord that I vividly remember in my first impressions of this juicy baby girl being pulled out of me and placed on my chest.
Once I felt I'd had enough time exploring, I arranged it the way I best thought would produce a print, and then washed and dried my hands. I grabbed my first piece of paper and laid it carefully on the top. I held it in position with one hand, and with the other, I gently, but firmly, pressed the paper into the placenta and cord - enough that I was sure it would have left an imprint. I repeated the process with a second piece of paper, just so I had a backup... But I was really thrilled with how they turned out!
After I'd done the prints, I carefully cut off a small section of the membranes and placenta that I would use for the pot, and then placed it all back into the bucket. Aimee arrived not long after that - perfectly timed.
The Christmas after Stella was born, when she was only a few weeks old, someone gave us a Christmas bush plant as a gift. Talk about serendipity! I wondered whether I should purchase one intentionally for Stella's placenta plant, but I decided that I liked that this one had arrived to us. So that plant had sat by our front steps in its plastic pot that it first arrived in for a solid 18 months before it was finally moved into its new home.
I put a small layer of soil on the bottom of the pot and then added the cut portions of the placenta. Lots more soil onto of that, then the plant, then covered the rest in more soil. Finally, some mulch over the top. Aimee took photos for me, and helped me up-end the bag of soil to dump the contents out! I gave it a good drenching and then Aimee helped me move it into position - sitting next to my 30th birthday olive tree. The milestone plant collection.
The potted plant was very much the easy part, because next I wanted to bury the rest of the placenta in my front yard where we have a baby food forest. Sounds straightforward, but our soil is intensely clay heavy and when dry (as it was) it's like trying to dig through solid rock. We took turns using a spade and a mattock to break up the clay and dig it out until we were satisfied the hole was deep enough. I didn't want the placenta to be dug up by rats, cats or dogs - the latter we were most concerned about as far as the depth! So far, nothing has dug it up, so I think we've been safe.
I chose a spot between a few different fruit trees that was at least a good metre from each, so that it didn't feed too much nitrogen too close to any of them. We put the whole placenta in the hole and cover it back up, jumping on top of the loose soil to try and compact it down again.
With our job done, we packed the tools away, washed our grubby hands and boiled the kettle. We sat down with a cup of tea and talked about Stella's birth and my labour with her and reflected on different parts of it that maybe I'd approach differently today.
It was such a beautiful and nourishing way to honour her placenta and even just her birth journey.
I follow this placenta burial with a Closing the Bones ceremony led by another gorgeous friend of mine, Claire, two weeks later (although I may well have done this already by the time this blog post is published). I've done such major processing and emotional work after Stella's birth that it felt it needed a symbolic closing for me to happily put it down now. It's not to say that I feel like I'll never go back to it or that things won't still come up around it, but it's more just that I am ready to step into the next chapter, and start thinking ahead to opening my heart and womb to another baby - not immediately, but in the near future.
If you have kept your placenta and have thought about how and when to bury it, I'd definitely encourage you to give that moment reverence and consider how you'd like it to look and feel. You might be so ready to put that placenta in the ground and move on, or you might want to go gently and make a ceremony of the occasion.
In either case, I hope my little story here has given you some ideas about what you'd like to do with your placenta(s).
My name is Katelyn Commerford and I am a birth and postpartum doula, and birth after caesarean guide, located in Western Sydney. If you want to know more about what I do and how I can help you, please visit my website (where you can also get your free cheat sheet of my favourite VBAC resources), or find me on instagram @katelyn.doulaandnbac where I answer commonly asked questions about planning the next birth after caesarean and share loads pregnancy, birth, postpartum and parenting content.
Katelyn Commerford - Doula and NBAC Guide
Phone: 0431 369 352