Adventures in Lotus Birth

When I first read about lotus birth—which is the term people use for not cutting the cord but instead letting the placenta detach naturally from the baby—I thought it sounded … kind of gross.

I was dismayed with myself for having such a close-minded reaction. I decided I should challenge my own assumptions and find out more about why some people choose to do it.

One local midwife’s said it’s done for “spiritual reasons.” She mentioned that people usually salt the placenta and put herbs like lavender and rosemary on it to speed the drying process and keep it from smelling.

As I read more, I came to understand that one idea behind lotus birth is to help you slow down during the baby’s first days of life.

There’s no real reason to hurry to cut the cord. In fact, the longer you wait, the more likely the baby is to get back all its valuable blood and nutrients from the placenta.

It’s hard for me to do anything slowly. I’m from Boston where people talk fast, walk fast, eat fast, and live fast. We took our firstborn out when she was two days old (to buy a changing table and a crib) and I was bicycling to the bagel shop a day later (“baby and stitches be damned,” my friend Sue said.) Then my body forced me to slow down when I got a bad breast infection.

I know it’s better to be in a quieter space and I strive to find that space, so the more I read about lotus birth, the more the idea appealed to me.

Most mammals (even ruminants) eat the placenta but, apparently, some chimpanzees practice lotus birth, carrying the placenta with the baby chimp until it falls off naturally.

James and I agreed we’d try it. We wouldn’t cut the cord. Instead, we would clean the placenta, wrap it, and keep it with the baby. Maybe until it naturally severed (another name for lotus birth is nonseverance) or maybe just for awhile.

I was surprised how big the placenta was! And how interesting it looked!It wasn’t until more than an hour after the baby was born that I delivered the placenta. I sat up, holding the baby, and squatted by the side of the bed over a bowl. The placenta slithered out with a gushing plopping noise.

The cord surprised me too—it was so thick and white, it felt cool and gel-like to touch. I’d never given much thought to an umbilical cord before but I found it fascinating, all twisted and white with dots of clotted blood that looked like brown beans inside it. Who knew that’s what the shriveled black stumps actually looked like once?!

James brought a bowl of warm salt water to soak the placenta, then we wrapped it in two cloth diapers and put it in a plastic bag and then inside a pillow case. The plastic bag part didn’t seem right somehow but we weren’t sure what else to do: Sue had promised to bring a cloth bag for it but she couldn’t come down for the birth so this makeshift contraption was the best we could do.

The only problem with all this was I felt worried about hurting the baby by accidentally pulling on the cord. But everything else about it felt right.

Doing it this way made me wonder why in the hospital and even at most home births there’s this almost urgent rush to separate the baby from the placenta. Keeping the cord and the placenta attached made me feel like the baby and I were still connected in a visceral way, since the organ that had grown inside my body was still attached to her.

We left the placenta on until the next afternoon. It had started to smell like roasted coffee (we forgot to actually salt and put herbs on it) and the long twisty white cord had started to blacken and dry up. Though I stopped worrying so much about it, I did find it a bit cumbersome. I tucked the pillow-cased placenta under or over the baby when I was holding her but it felt a bit awkward.

James and I were both glad we left it on for so long, and we also both felt ready to cut it off when we did.

We cut the cord with a sterile razor. We didn’t need to tie it because it was already dry and almost brittle. Then we cut it close to the placenta so we’d have a nice long piece of cord as a … keepsake?

“It’s mine,” my 6-year-old son shouted. “I want it! I want it! I call it!!”

The cut length of umbilical cord is still on the dresser. It looks like something from a different planet and in a way it is—it’s from a time when the baby and I were still living in the same body, sharing oxygen and nutrients, growing together and keeping each other company. Looking at the dried cord fills me with a strange nostalgia.

In the meantime, the placenta’s in our freezer. We’ll plant it in the spring. Maybe under the raspberry bushes.

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