I am, by all accounts, completely floored by how welcoming you were last week. It is so much fun to have you confirm the universality of it all, love, friendship, relationships, self-doubt. I was feeling so good about life yesterday, I decided to try out our new table saw and lo and behold…. I built the cutest little medicine cabinet. (I'm not much of a builder). Our last ancient table saw made me feel like I was going to lose a limb. There is nothing like a good tool to get you inspired.
The best tool I’ve ever come across is by far the placenta. I know, you’re like where in the heck is she going with this…. (While I tell you this little tale, I'm going to walk you through morning chores at the farm. I always have plenty of time to think up a blog post while doing chores. And there are plenty good tools involved in morning chores.)
In my years as a midwife, I spent some time in Lancaster County attending the home births of Amish and Old Order Mennonite women. 9 times out of 10 these women would go into labor at night and give birth before the sun rose. They always preferred if our cars were gone before the children woke and before the neighbors looked out their windows. Most of the time, this was accomplished. These were some of my most formative days. Being with families in the intimacy of their bedroom, on their bed, welcoming their newest soul meant the world to me. The trust they offered me and the honor of it all is still not lost. All those kiddos are teenagers now.
Part of what I loved about it was watching the hum of the family and farm life. I had always wanted to be a farmer but growing up as a suburban kid, farming was all romance, all Little House on the Prairie. During the labor, we midwives would be sitting around the farmhouse kitchen, charting vitals, labor progress and I would be noting just what makes a real farm kitchen. I balanced the work of labor support with hard core house voyeurism….the kind of voyeurism that draws me to look at house and design websites, except this felt like it was tailor made for me, an aspiring farmwife. How do they organize their bulk goods? What are they doing with that baby lamb by the woodstove? Did they build that drying rack? I loved their homes.
The men would move in and out of the house during labor. They would busy themselves in the barn, checking on the livestock, feeding the baby lamb by the wood stove who had been rejected by its mother. They were doing the things men do to putter away their unease about the unknown. They were doing the prayer work of everyday farm life.
When the time came for the birth, all of us, husband included, would circle around the mother and wait for her to help her new baby into the world. And then, the placenta would come. I always inspected the placenta closely to make sure it was intact and normal. Baby’s first home, created by all mammals, is pretty interesting to examine, if you’re a scientifically curious person. Once mom and baby were all tucked in and nursing away, we would send dad outside to bury the placenta. This burying the placenta ritual, completed 1000 times over all around the world with a variety of meanings attached, is how everyone present played their part.
Fast forward 7 years and I was having my second baby. I now had a farm of my own and a farm kitchen too, complete with my very own puttering farmer husband. On the first birthday of our daughter, we decided to pull the placenta out of the freezer and bury it to celebrate her. It was stored in the freezer because when she was born, we were between farms and we did not want to leave her placenta behind. (we also brought along an urn of dog ashes but that’s an aside). John was intent on planting an elm tree over the buried placenta. A special, new variety of elm resistant to Dutch elm disease. We headed off together to the local nursery. All of the elm trees were a little out of our league, financially. We were strapped for cash often in those early farm start up days. The nurseryman, a neighbor, CSA member and friend offered us a year old seedling he had been tending in the greenhouse. He commented that he wasn't really sure why he'd held on to it but then realized at that moment that it was suppose to be for us. We were touched. We took it home, dug a hole, dropped the frozen placenta in and planted our new year-old elm sapling, a tree with the same vintage as our daughter. It all felt so right.
In the morning, the sapling was gone and there was the largest pile of dirt and a big hole right where we had planted the tree and buried the placenta. The dog had been in the barn all night with the livestock so we knew it was not her. Our family legend has it that it was a coyote. We like to think whenever Flora’s showing her wild side, which is quite often, it is because her spirit is running wild with the coyotes around Broadturn Farm. In the Hmong culture, it is believed that the location of the burial site for the placenta must be known because the soul returns to put the placenta on as a spiritual jacket necessary to get to the afterlife. Hmong traditionally bury it under the floor of their home. Hopefully, Flora won’t be stuck between worlds because some coyote is running around wearing her placental jacket.
While we still don’t have an elm, or know where Flora’s placenta ended up, or any of ours, for that matter, we have seen lots of them on the farm after the birth of calves and lambs. I still hold that it is the best tool we have, the one we mothers make, the sustainer of life before breath. And, what I am most amazed by, is that we grow it, with our strong bodies, our healthy diets and our love. Can’t get that on Amazon.com.
Happy week to you all-