Saturday, September 24, 2011

How I Got on National Television With A Placenta Preparer

No, really I did.

It was a fluke really. And only because I had had my placenta encapsulated.

Yes, my placenta encapsulated.

(Before you judge, do you really know what you're consuming in that Diet Coke? That hot dog from the corner? Most processed foods that millions of Americans consume daily? )

This was really one of those things that I didn't think was any big deal because I have known so many other women that have done the same and reaped the benefits.

Except in New York, when I talked to my midwife about doing the same thing, she struggled to think of someone who encapsulated placentas. The woman she used to refer new mothers to had moved out of state. My midwife gave me the name of another woman, except she was still learning how to prepare placentas. Then I found myself calling people who were referred to me who might know of someone. I began to feel like I was looking for an abortion in the sixties as each reference was someone who might know of someone who knows of someone who could help. It was also another moment when I realized yet again how much different the East coast is from the West, or at least from the Liberal Recycling Portland of my childhood and the LA of my first home birth.

At the birth of my daughter, my midwife put the placenta in the freezer, for when the placenta preparer came over. Except that 8 weeks later, I was still trying to find someone who did such things in my Brooklyn neighborhood. Just as I was about to give up hope and considered contacting my midwife who did it for me in LA (and asking about the logistics of shipping a frozen placenta across the country - which I admit now that I think about it is a bit much to ask from the postal service). Then the answer was literally delivered to me in my mailbox - in New York magazine (the August 29th issue if you want to check it out) as it featured an article about placenta eaters. Once in the hands of mainstream media, the things I kind of take for granted as normal or "just how we do things because it works for us" do look pretty out there to the mainstream world. But New York magazine's article featured the Brooklyn based placenta preparer Jennifer Mayer. So I googled her so she could prepare my placenta too.

Jennifer Mayer it turns out was getting calls for follow up interviews, but she hadn't gotten any other calls from women who just happened to have a placenta in their freezer, so she was able to come over that week and prepare it for me. As we exchanged emails, she mentioned that she got a call from Anderson Cooper's show who wanted to do an interview with her and maybe ask a couple questions of someone who had such a thing done about why or what had them decide to do such a thing and so on and she asked if I'd be willing to talk to them. I said sure as long as I could bring my baby, not thinking much about it (just as a reminder, this was also the week my husband was out of town and New York City was battering down for a hurricane - so you know, with two kids I was a little distracted). Or that is, I didn't think much about it until in conversations with Jen, and Jesse, of Anderson Cooper's people, it dawned on me that the interview was with Anderson Cooper on national television. At which point I ran down to J. Crew and bought a pencil skirt.

Check out the clip from Anderson Cooper's website:

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(The photo is terrible. Note to self: Never laugh on national television again)

Anderson Cooper did his best to keep an open mind. And in talking with Jesse in the pre-interview, I did have to stop and think about it. Because when you stop to think about it, it is, well, something to think about.

My family spent a good chunk of my childhood vegetarian, and even though now I eat meat, I do get squeamish preparing it. So yes, when in my first pregnancy my midwife strongly recommended it, I did get a little squeamish. But I also really trusted my midwife, and she gave me her reasons: it prevented postpartum, helped the body recover from labor, and leveled out the hormones after giving birth.

I had had a bad run of depression in my twenties, and at the time, I had been told I had a 75% chance of developing postpartum depression because of having suffered from depression once before and having it run in my family (disclaimer: I don't know if this stat still holds true). I admit, Prozac saved my life once, but I have no wish to go on it again because of the side effects, and even though they say there are antidepressants that they say breastfeeding women can take, that too makes me squeamish. ( There's been too many times in history when it's been discovered something is dangerous after it's been given to thousands of breastfeeding or pregnant women that it makes me nervous). But the placenta? How could that have side effects?

After the birth of my son, I didn't get postpartum depression. I didn't even get the baby blues kind of weepy. I nursed. I napped. I fell in love with my baby and with my husband all over again. When I received my placenta pills (or my encapsulated placenta) I put them in the freezer thinking maybe I wasted 300 dollars having them made and then I forgot about them.

Until my in-laws visited. My mother-in-law visited first, for a week. She had said she was coming to help and hold the baby. Upon her arrival, I handed her my baby. She held him five seconds, then put him down, clapped her hands andasked, "What's next?" like Jed Bartlet on the West Wing. "What are we doing? Where are we going?"

I picked up my baby, explained how we were raising our baby and that we held him. We didn't put him down and just leave him around the house as if he was a potted plant.

"Well, rules are meant to be broken," she said. "What did you say we were doing?"

The entire week went like this. She'd do the dinner dishes, but the meal planning, shopping, cooking, cleaning, baby care as well as itinerary and entertainment planning once it became clear there needed to be things to see and do? Oy veh. Throw in the advice and criticism that older generations feel entitled to bestow upon the young or that when she got in the car she'd yell, "Pray for your life Fyo! Your mother's driving!" and it wasn't long before I was calling my lactation consultant begging her to please say it was okay for a breastfeeding new mother to have a martini.

Then I remembered the placenta pills in the freezer, and while they didn't replenish my nerves or give me the strength of someone who just lets things roll off her, they did boost my mood and energy and show me the light at the end of the in-law visitation tunnel. And three months later, when I visited the in-laws and my mother-in-law talked about how her daughter was struggling with her children and fatigue and how she needed a break and how my mother-in-law had compassion for her because she remembered what it was like to be a new mom, I can say those placenta pills prevented me from reaching over and strangling her.

I can also say that when I took one daily until I got my strength back the difference was noticeable; one that I could even compare to the feeling of when an anti-depressant kicked in or waking up from a good night's sleep. It was enough of a difference to make a believer out of me and to know I wanted them for after the birth of my second child.

My in-laws haven't visited since the birth of my daughter. We all now know better and needless to say, when anyone says they're coming to visit I have them clarify what they mean by the word "help."

(My in-laws have also improved immensely. They no longer offer criticism or advice and they compliment my cooking - they might even respect my parenting.) But I am thankful I have the placenta pills anyway. I have an energetic toddler who still requires a lot of my attention. Life still happens. I'm still recovering. This time around I have felt some of the weepiness and moodiness that women report feeling after they give birth. Even the days I feel great, I still know that it's a good number of months that my energy will ebb and flow and that I'll still feel sensitive or vulnerable.

And sure, the research on placenta encapsulation is still only anecdotal, but of the twenty or so women I know who have ingested their own placenta, I have yet to hear of any negative effects. It's also used in traditional Chinese medicine (which I also find squeamish if only because of the smell of the herbs, but it is rather effective). The cost is also reasonable (especially compared to the cost of most pharmaceutical drugs). Jennifer Mayer charged me $250 for the entire process that yielded 120 capsules (some placentas can yield up to 200). Jen is also a doula and does in-home massage. She in herself is a New Mom resource. She's also one of those people who is easily approachable, even though she possesses a daunting amount of knowledge.

Women get a lot of information about the ups and downs of pregnancy, but after the birth of my son, I felt blind sighted by the ups and downs of recovery from labor and birth. Some studies show it can take some women up to a year before they feel fully themselves after giving birth (take note; ration those pills!) and I didn't remember anyone telling me what it would be like, or how I should take care of myself emotionally. Sure, I had a heads up about the first six weeks. But I had no idea that two months later I'd have the potential to sob to my husband about why didn't his mother want to hold my baby longer than five seconds. So while Anderson Cooper was clearly squeamish about ingesting placentas (though he could get that when it's in a capsule, you can pretend it's like any other supplement), but he tried to stay open minded and if anything, I applaud his approaching the topic on his show and giving Jen and I the chance to say that as a new mom, you need all the help you can get.

Finally, a picture of Anderson with my baby girl:


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