Last week, I opened my freezer to look for a long-lost salmon filet and found myself nose-to-nose with my daughter’s frozen placenta. It had been waiting patiently for over a year for someone (anyone!) to do something (anything!) to it. Instead of trying to forget I’d seen it, this time I pulled it out and sighed. It was the day before Mother’s Day. It would be a great time to “deal” with the placenta. I groaned and then left it on the counter to thaw.
I had been contemplating the question of what to do with the placenta—later renamed, that god-damned placenta!—since conception. I always liked the idea of planting a tree with it. But where? Our family doesn’t own any land where Ayla could watch it grow. Public parks are governed by strict rules for tree cultivation. In a moment of desperation, I hatched a plan to illegally plant a tree (and placenta) in the middle of the night. I eventually came to my senses and let go of that plan.
Although I am a tree lover, a few years ago I switched from being a “forest-person” to an “ocean-person.” I can’t pinpoint exactly when or where it happened, but I gradually stopped craving long hikes in the woods and started salivating over the prospect of taking long walks on the beach. Mother Ocean had cast a spell over me and now I felt the urge to walk along her soft edges and feel her water wash over me. I finally decided that I would find a way to return the placenta to a body of water. But since Mother’s Day was less then 24 hours away and since I live nowhere near an ocean, I settled on Lake Ontario.
Having decided on a final resting place was only half the battle. I couldn’t dig a hole in the lake or just toss it in. I vaguely remembered a doula telling me that you could dehydrate a placenta in the oven and then grind it up into a fine powder. But recipes for dehydrating a placenta were hard to come by. So I impulsively greased a pan and preheated the oven to 450 degrees. A few minutes after the placenta was placed inside, the entire house smelled of cooked blood. For a family of vegetarians, it is a strange thing to smell blood—especially your own blood—for hours on end. During those hours, I was alternately attracted to the oven and repulsed by it. My placenta was a fighter—it took almost seven hours to cook it to a crispy finish.
I’d like to spare you the details of the grinding phase except to say that halfway through it I realized that I should have left it in the oven overnight. Instead of placenta ashes, I ended up with liver-colored soup. As I poured the mixture into a yogurt container (my makeshift urn), I wondered if I was committing some kind of bio-hazardous crime.
I decided that I should focus on my intention, rather than the outcome of this strange exercise. Bidding farewell to my placenta was a means to say "Thank You" to the Universe. To this day, my entire body tingles when I think about the miracle of conception, and childbirth. And this strange organ I was about to dispose of had made it all possible.
When I finally bid my placenta farewell, it was not the magical moment I hoped it would be. Instead of sprinkling crimson fairy dust upon Mama Ocean, chunks of placenta stew plopped into Lake Ontario. The wind nearly blew me over as I recited a prayer. Even though I tried to find stillness, I was constantly looking over my shoulder for cops or marine biologists. I finally had to accept that not every ritual or ceremony turns out the way we imagine it.
After packing up the stroller, I scooped Ayla into my arms and held her close. Together we stared out at the white-capped waves, lost in thought. As we walked away, Ayla waved furiously towards the lake. “Bah-bah,” she shouted. I joined in, “Bye-bye, placenta.”
Ayla, as always, had the last word. “Bah.” And so my placenta returned to Mother Earth.