Updated: Dec 3, 2019
I could write a whole, long story (or three) about birthing my children. They each came earth-side in their own harrowing way. If I told you the stories, and you also know them as people, you might say, yea that sounds like something they would do.
To me, a birth story tells you everything you need to know about the essence of the child: early, late, upside down or backwards. Whether they are cut out, pushed out or pulled out by their feet, when their post-birth personality starts to shine through, how they got here starts to make a whole lotta sense.
After my first birth, it left me wondering why we don’t parade every new mom through the streets, high above our shoulders—with confetti and ticker-tape and all the street food and maybe even some shots of tequila—in honor of the amazing thing she just did.
Growing a baby and then birthing that baby is the craziest sh*t there is, for real. It’s this experience whereby you do the sexy thing, and then from there all you have to do is carry on eating and sleeping and drinking lots of water. As you do, a little cluster of cells in your belly grows a heart, limbs, little fingers and toes and a frontal lobe that makes it possible to do calculus, drive a car and put a man on the moon.
And when that cluster of cells wants to be born, momma’s body bends and morphs, stretches and contracts. She opens, opens and impossibly opens some more and a baby that is too large to pass, does indeed, pass anyway. Somehow, a woman’s body doesn’t just rip in two in the process. The C-section doesn’t disembowel her permanently and everyone survives it, pretty much all the time. It’s kinda god-like. Is there anything a woman can’t do? #Mindblown
As for my three births, we are in all the clubs. Sophia was a 21 hour home-birth that culminated in a week of us rapidly growing grey hair in the NICU. Cooper was a hospital birth, with a fairly easy and natural six-hour labor, followed by a pushing phase that went so fast the doctor missed it by twenty minutes. And Mason finished off the pack with a breech position that had his umbilical cord wrapped twice, so off to the c-section table we went.
Home-birth with NICU, natural hospital birth, C-section. Check, check and check.
They all made it here in their own way, with all of the crazy, skin-of-our-teeth drama we never could have imagined or possibly prepared for - kind of like the perfect set up to parenting itself.
Since we started with a home-birth, Sophia’s placenta was carefully wrapped and put in the freezer by our midwives, so naturally, we followed suit with the boys’ placentas.. There are a few things you can do with a placenta once it’s home. Some earth mamas whip it up in the blender and drink it as an aid for healing. Others carefully cut off the umbilical cord, dry it in the sun like a piece of jerky and frame it on the wall.
I’m friends with women who did both, but since I couldn’t quite stomach either option, we thought maybe our best plan would be to plant the placentas, out of sight, under a tree. It’s the dead fish principle that the native Americans taught the starving pilgrims: decaying protein = heathy plants and crops. And in our case, trees.
Gross right? That’s exactly what my kids thought when we pulled those suckers out of the freezer after 11, 9 and 4 years respectively and threw them in a hole like bloody pieces of chicken. I’m not at all into revenge, or even most kinds of punishment, but admittedly there was something a little sweet about having birthed these three in ways that might have broke me a little, and then have them suffer just a wee bit at the sight of the organ that made their life in the womb possible.
Yep, your Mama grew that thing - and you - and then all of you were birthed into the world through the deepest form of surrender I could muster. Take that!
Their reactions to this “fertilizing” plan were as individual as their births. Sophia was like, gross....but fascinated. “That was in you?”, she asked. You could see the wheels turning.
Cooper, on the other hand, struggled to keep down his lunch, and was moved to wretch over the very idea that this thing looks like blood, and is indeed full of blood. “And we kept it in the freezer, NEXT TO OUR FOOD?” One guess as to who's not going to be the doctor in the family. The look on his face is everything here.
And lastly, Mason. Gloves on, down in the dirt, trying to actually crawl in the hole with the frozen, bloody things, trying to get a closer look at the umbilical cord. “Look at the BIG WORM, Mom!” He was all in, totally fascinated and wanting more, more, more just like always.
And there we were in the front yard, placing the tree over these used organs, pushing dirt around the roots and adding water to our newest, and now most precious Japanese Maple.
In the same way my belly and the placenta gave life to my babes, now these placentas will give greater life to this tree, and all we have to do is add water.
Sure the tree will grow just fine without those things in the hole, but finally doing this feels full circle in a way that honors our birth process. A process that starts at conception and ends with a baby.
As a culture, we don’t mourn the end of pregnancy, but rather celebrate the life it gives. But pregnancy and birth does require a woman to die to her old self, in significant ways, in order to be reborn as a mother that keeps her baby alive at all cost. Sleep? Flat abs? A phone call with no interruption? To all of that we moms have to say, ashes to ashes and dust to dust.
These organs we placed in the ground as a family are indeed the ashes and dust that moved me deeper and deeper into my own phases of mothering. They carried me through the death and rebirth of parts of me that I can no longer name because the new version of me feels like it’s been here all along.
I placed these precious things deep, and covered them with dirt. I buried them, and with them the parts of my former self that passed out of me with the after-birth.
Every spring when this tree buds anew, and in the summer when the leaves turn blood red, and in the fall when the leaves shed, it will remind me of my own transformation. The conception of my babies, the birth of my motherhood and the death of that person I could no longer be in the face of raising healthy children.
I imagine that watching this process might bring a mix of emotion. But ultimately, it will feel like a celebration. That for all the better and all the worse, every day is my Mothers Day.