The placenta or Tree of life
The placenta is a true organ of the baby during his intra-uterine life. It is what keeps him alive and what transforms the body of his mother. Yet, we do not seem to really pay attention to it… What if it deserved to step out of the shadows and mystery?
“How can you know who you are if you do not know where your placenta is?!” is what a traditional Mexican mid-wife told me. It is one of the elements that sparked my interest for this often-overlooked organ.
Tree of life
I remember the day that I discovered the existence of the placenta. I was 18 years old, and I was assisting with a birth for the very first time, in a midwife clinic in Grasse with Madam Camillieri.
She showed me the placenta, even if I was slightly reluctant as I found it quite bloody and without too much interest after the child birth I had just witnessed and savoured. The mid-wife spread it out and inspected it with surprising care and attention. On one side, I saw a spongy and meaty mass which was quite clear-cut even if not smooth, and on the other side… What I saw was unexpected. I saw a tree with the umbilical cord as the trunk, branches and foliage. It was moulded in the membranes, which made it so smooth I wanted to touch it… It was so astonishing for me! The child had his own Tree of Life in his mother’s belly!
Madam Camilleri snapped me out of my day-dreaming with a simple sentence: « Always pay great attention to the inspection of the placenta! ». Being very shy at the time, I did not dare ask why…
I found my answers in the years that followed.
Delivery: a key step for the woman
I understood with time the importance of the expulsion of the placenta, which frees the mother and makes her available for what’s next for her: being a Woman or the mother to another child.
It is the most delicate phase for the woman herself, even if it is less spectacular than the childbirth itself. It is the only moment where the woman bleeds naturally, if the delivery did not physiologically alter tissue. When the placenta detaches, a hundred arteries bleed into her uterus, and if contractions are not present to tighten these vessels like the meshes of a net, the woman literally bleeds out. This explains the fear of the medical world.
I observed women with whom I had complicated childbirths in order to try to find whether they had something in common. Besides the cases where labour itself was difficult, I noticed that a majority of them had a tendency of letting go, of feeling depressed as if they had unconsciously decided not to bite into life. Others repeated a family scheme of death in childbirth. Others did not feel capable of raising this child, which was not always desired… Of course, others did not fit any of these descriptions.
This is when I turned my attention to the preparation of women to this step in childbirth that is often neglected. I realized that, for them, the birth of the child is only one step, as they have to expel the totality of the child’s aquatic body. This means that the mother had to bet on herself and chose to live. As a matter of fact, when delivery was complicated, the simple fact of having the mother consider that choice was sufficient to unlock the process.
But what about the baby, as this placenta is, in fact, a part of him?
Where does it come from?
In order to answer this question, I returned to my classes on embryogenesis to go back to the beginning. The dive into this microscopic world fascinated me…
As soon as fertilisation occurs, the cells multiply as they slide along the Fallopian tube towards the uterus. They form a wrapped egg, protected by a rather thick wall.
As soon as the egg arrives to the uterus, the protective wall breaks: it is the first birth of this cluster of cells, which will be the origin of a new being. The egg is then sheltered in the thick and nourishing mucosa of the uterus, which will protect it. The fertilized cells then begin their specification. The ones that will form the placenta regroup against the uterine mucosa, while others will become the umbilical cord, the membranes and the body of the baby.
All of these elements are part of what I call the “aquatic” body of the baby, with all elements coming from one single cell. During labour, the woman gives birth to all of that body.
When I started respecting this unity without cutting the cord, I allowed parents to see the aquatic body of their child in its entirety. It was very touching, as if they understood something fundamental which allowed everything to be in its place. The baby with his placenta and his mother.
I have learned that some cultures practice Lotus Birth, which consists of preserving the placenta and the cord (through specific care) as long as it did not detach itself spontaneously. The baby seemed calmer and more serene, and the cord would fall off rather quickly (2 to 3 days maximum).
This is when I realized that the role of the placenta was not confined to the intra-uterine life.
It contains a part of the baby’s blood
When I have read Michel Oldent, among others, I understood that the quick severance of the umbilical cord has been done for centuries in order to answer a need to separate the mother from her child, for reasons that differed according to the ages… It however always answered a fear that was unfounded: the fear that the child would drink the colostrum, which was allegedly harmful, or that he would bleed out…
Even today, there are beliefs that the child is at risk of bleeding out if placed on the mother’s belly (therefore above the placenta). In reality, the cord keeps pulsating a certain time after birth, transporting the blood from the placenta to the baby, whatever the position of one compared to the other. This allows the blood contained in the placenta (450 ml) to go back to its owner: the baby. Cutting the cord earlier therefore means that you deprive the child from having access to his own blood, as it is his blood that flows in the placenta and cord.
Furthermore, the placenta has allowed the child to establish himself, to create himself and to grow within his mother’s body.
The baby’s lawyer
I understood that the quality of the pregnancy greatly depended on the quality of the placenta, on which the exchanges between the mother and the child are based.
The placenta is a real organ of the child, which replaces numerous organs and physiological systems as long as the child is not autonomous.
In the “mother-child” couple, it acts like the baby’s lawyer. Indeed, it will do everything it can to “manipulate” the mother’s body (dilution of the blood, increase in the elasticity of muscles and tendons, lowering of the immune system, transformation of digestion and assimilation, change in cerebral function…), even if this puts the mother in danger (anaemia, diabetes, toxaemia of pregnancy…) in order to answer the child’s needs.
It is the guardian of the well-being of the child to be. To reach this goal, it does not mind upsetting the mother to the benefit of the child. It requests that the mother adapts, that she lets go and opens up… If she resists, it can really put her in danger.
A courier between two worlds
As much as the placenta helps the embryo implant itself in the uterine mucosa in order to create itself, it also supports the child in the first steps of his extra-uterine life.
When the cord is preserved after birth, it continues to pulsate as long as the baby is not autonomous. It therefore gives time to the child to adapt to life in the open.
It brings him oxygen, so that the child is able to learn how to breathe in his own pace, without danger.
It prepares its immune system to all the microbes that are familiar to his mother. This way, the child does not have to fear an infection as long as he is in this familiar environment, as the mother has developed protective antibodies that are transmitted to the child through the placenta.
It brings him nourishment in order to help the child regulate his temperature and adapt to the dryness of the air. It gives him the energy to start suckling on the colostrum.
Finally, it carries oxytocin, in which the mother is bathing in during the minutes following child birth (it is the highest peak of oxytocin secretion one will ever know).
This hormone favours the capacity to love (love yourself, love the people around you and your own environment) for the years to come. It favours the mother-child attachment, as well as it gives the impulse to the mother-placenta separation.
Once the child is autonomous, the cord stops beating and the placental detaches itself.
Once the placenta is useless, the cord detaches itself from the child.
What should you do with the placenta at that point?
What future for the placenta?
Some parents choose to keep the placenta of their child, and to bury it in the garden, or somewhere they love, and plant a tree on it.
This way, the child can answer the Mexican mid-wife’s question: he knows where his land is, he knows where he comes from as he knows where his placenta is.
Others take part of it in order to transform it into homeopathic dilutions that the mother and/or child will use.
What is important is to do whatever seems right to you, and which has a meaning.
The placenta is precious. It is part of the aquatic body of your child, which becomes useless once the child is on Earth. I find similarities between the end of the aquatic life of the baby and the end of our own terrestrial life. When someone close dies, we take great care in burying or cremating his body during a funeral ceremony; his body, his “early vessel” is not needed anymore. Therefore, what do you want to do with your child’s placenta?
How to protect the child and baby in these sensitive times?
I realized that, for the mother as well as for the child, the period of time between the birth of the child and the expulsion of the placenta is very sensitive and delicate for both of them. It is not easy to be protective during this period and to favour its progress, as if the woman is not physiologically connected (inside the archaic and instinctive part of her brain), there can be a pathology.
This is one of the reasons why I support physiological childbirth, as I know – and my experiences around the world confirmed that – that as long as the woman stays in that space, everything would be simple for her and her child. Yet, remains to precisely define what physiology is!
The best way to protect yourself and the child during this delicate time is to acknowledge and be present alongside the unity of the child with his placenta, even if the cord was severed, even if the child is separated from it, even if you don’t know what will happen to it.
If you fight to avoid this, you will miss out on what is important. You will miss this important presence alongside your child, your partner, your delivery… The facts are not important, it is the way you experience them that makes all the difference.
Everything can be repaired as long as you don’t fight against what was harmed or hurtful.
And you, do you know where your placenta is? If you knew where it was, how would you feel? Would it change anything within your body? Don’t think with your head, as this is not where you’ll find the answer!
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