Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Placentophagy


When Tiffany asked me to spend the summer with her, she teasingly "sweetened the deal" by saying, “After the baby is born, you can help Malena encapsulate my placenta so I can eat it while breast feeding.” Turns out she was serious! It also turns out that most people around us (Mom, Pedro, Toby, etc) seem to find this whole thing horribly disgusting. Malena and I find it fascinating. What a cool experience!

Here is what we did, and what you can do to!

First, some background. The practice of eating placenta is called placentophagy. Almost all placental animals eat their placentas immediately after birth. The reason for this trend, however, is unclear. (For example, the mother animal might just want to remove “meat” from the vicinity of her young.)
Various cultures throughout human history have used placenta in various ways, hoping to achieve to various results. There is currently very little scientific research verifying benefits or clarifying risks. Whether placentophagy counts as cannibalism is under debate. Also, since placentophagy has only started to gain popularity in the modern world recently, there are basically no FDA regulations concerning the practice. So.... as of now, mothers can take their placentas with them from the hospital and do whatever they like.
Waste not, right? ;)
My sister decided to preserve and consumer her placenta in hopes that it would soften postpartum crankiness and fatigue. (Tiffany is bipolar and suffers a lot after giving birth because she cannot take her mood stabilizing medication while breast feeding.)

There are “professional” services which process placentas into pill form for $200-$300, but really, it can be done at home easily, if you have the stomach for it. (Literally!) Tiffany, Malena, and I watched a couple youtube tutorials and were all set.

Here is what you need:

A sterilized sink (in which to clean out the placenta)
A pot for steaming the placenta
A dehydrator (or you can use an oven)
A food processor (or mortar/pestle)
A pill encapsulator kit (or just the capsules, if you want to fill them by hand)

Since the placenta would need to dehydrate for 12 hours, we started the process in the evening and completed the project the next day.

Here are the steps:

1. Bring a cooler with you to the hospital and alert your nurse that you would like to take your placenta home with you. They will give it to you in a plastic tub which can be immediately frozen.
2. When you are ready to process the placenta (for us, several days after the birth,) thaw the placenta for cleaning. In our case, we put the frozen plastic container in a sink of warm water for several hours.

3. Sterilize your kitchen. Your placenta is basically the same as other raw meat, but you don't want any germs getting into it, since it will not be fully cooked before being dehydrated into jerky.
4. Clean the placenta. This is the first big test of your nerves (and stomach.) You need to remove as much blood as possible from both outside and inside the placenta. I thought this was the coolest thing. Tiffany wouldn't touch it and Pedro watched from the doorway. He said it was like a car crash... he just couldn't look away.
  
The placenta has two sides – the maternal side and the infant side. You want to rip off the remaining membranes from the amniotic sack. We also snipped off the umbilical chord and threw it away, but you can squeeze out the blood and dehydrate it along with the rest of the placenta.
The Chord
The "Maternal" Side


5. Steam the placenta.

We cooked it for about 10 minutes on each side, but really, that seemed more than enough. We were aiming for “lightly steamed” but ours ended up cooked all the way through. By the way, we were expecting the house to be filled with an “earthy aroma”, but the cooking placenta only smelled slightly, and that smell was exactly like when you boil chicken liver. (I admit, it looked so much like meat, I tried a bite. It tastes like liver too.)



6. Slice the steamed placenta thinly into strips and place in the dehydrator. Dry for 12-15 hours.
7. Place crispy, dry placenta chips in a food processor and grind as finely as possible. We found that our food processor could only go so far. We had to smash the final crumbs to powder with a hammer.

























8. Use the encapsulator to fill the pills with placenta powder.
 9. Store in a dry sealed container. We repurposed a Fish Oil pill jar to this end. Voila!
The whole process took several hours. About two hours on the front end, 13 hours to dry, and then three or four hours to fill the capsules (with two of us working together.) The adventure was a lot of fun, though I wouldn't enjoy doing it alone.

Who knows if the pills will actually help Tiffany, but she is hopeful for an effect – if not placenta, then at least placebo ;)

What do you think? Does placentophagy count as cannibalism? Would you eat it? How about if it were proven to have health benefits? If you are willing to eat it, would you eat it as meat, or only as pills? Would you eat a placenta that was not your own?
Personally, I did not feel grossed out by handling an organ that came out of my sister. I was a little squeamish tasting it, but similar to how I felt eating fried crickets for the first time. To me, it seemed like any other kind of strange, gross meat. The possibility of "super" nutrition was tempting. Plus, I am always up for a good dare.

I've heard, however, that it is possible to catch blood born illnesses from through eating someone else's placenta; luckily Tiffany doesn't have any. That would've been the stupidest reason to catch a serious illness...

Personally, I doubt the placenta pills will have any tangible effect on Tiffany, especially since we cooked it. But who knows. There is no researched evidence to say one way or the other. If we ever do this again, however, I want to take things a step further and, according to ancient Chinese tradition, marinate the placenta in ginger, lemon, hot pepper, and white wine. Chinese tradition says that these ingredients enhance the benefits of the placenta, but I just think it sounds like fun. ;)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Baby Lucy


One big reason I decided to return to Virginia for the summer, rather than stay in California, was in to be involved in the birth of my sister's fourth child - Lucy. With three other children under the age of 4, Tiffany could definitely use an extra adult in the house before and after the birth. Scratch that, she NEEDED another adult. In addition to wanting to help Tiffany, however, I also was motivated to be present for my own sake. These are precious days, (for to children this age, days feel like years,) in the life of my nephews and niece(s).
Plus, I am really curious about this whole mysterious experience that affects so many women – CHILDBIRTH. We all went through it (originally) and many of us (me?) will go through it again. As currently childless, I look in at this whole experience from outside. It is foreign but exciting. It is like watching someone go down an epic water slide while I wait in line. :D
Tiffany's fourth baby was due Friday June 16th. As the day drew near, Tiffany kept reminding me and her husband Pedro to be ready at any moment. She wasn't fooling anyone, though, not even herself. Despite having three children, Tiffany has never once gone into labor without being induced (thank GOD she doesn't live in an earlier age without modern technology.) 

When Tiff went to the doctor for her 39 week check up, she hoped the doctor might be able to trigger labor by “stripping the membrane” (a procedure in which the doctor uses his finger to disrupt the connection between the amniotic sack and the uterine wall.) Unfortunately, her cervix was only one centimeter dilated, not wide enough for a finger. Tiffany came home disappointed but resigned to wait till induction at 41 weeks as usual.

Imagine my surprise, then, when, while I was out at a party Tuesday night, I got a call from Tiffany. “Either I just royally peed myself all over the kitchen and the living room, or my water broke. Come home!”

I was home within the hour. I arrived to find Tiffany calmly talking over options. Pedro had also been “caught off guard”. At the time of Tiff's liquid incident in the kitchen, Pedro had been in the living room hanging out with a couple friends, enjoying a little “liquid” refreshment. After seven drinks, he was about as excited (and helpful) as a huge, slobbery puppy.
True to form, Tiffany was not in “active labor” (no contractions.) We knew from Tiffany's last birth that, once the water barrier around the baby is lost, the baby is at risk of infection. If Tiff didn't go into labor naturally within a couple hours, she would need to be induced at once. Time to go to the hospital!

I was the designated driver, since Pedro was indisposed. As we drove, Tiffany calmly directed me to the hospital from the passenger seat (very unlike scenes from movies where a frantic woman screams in the back.)

Once we got to the hospital (around midnight) it was deserted AND reminded me of a challenge course designed to keep everyone OUT (except the most worthy.)

The front doors were locked.

We found another door that opened, but it led to a second layer of doors that needed to be pried open manually. (Pedro was very useful in this respect.)

Inside there were tons of empty information desks but no signs. While we walked around, Tiffany discovered that the Labor and Delivery phone number was not posted on the hospital website.

We eventually found the baby ward on the third floor, but it was also guarded with heavy, locked doors. Tiffy was about ready to give up and walk back to the car when Pedro said, “What does this button do...?” Before she could intervene, he was talking to someone through an intercom. “Yes, where does one go to have a baby?” The big double doors swung slowly open.

Looks like we were worthy. ;)

Tiffany was admitted at once and had the entire night staff at her disposal. If she didn't go into labor, they would induce her in the morning. Tiff decided to send me home with Pedro – he could come back when he was sober enough to drive and I would stay with the three other children till a babysitter could arrive in the morning. (Baby sitting is another novel experience I've become acquainted with recently.)
I managed to get back to Tiffany at the hospital before noon the next day. She was up and about, pushing her dangling, dripping IV bag as she walked around the room. She was on an ever increasing dose of pitocin, the drug that induces contractions. Pregnant as ever, but she was beginning to feel some cramping.
 
For a couple hours we hung out. We took a constitutional around the baby ward and got a picture with all the nurses. We went back to her room and she bounced on a birthing ball while I reclined on the hospital bed and read aloud.
Throughout the morning, visitors came and went. Corrie, a friend from church who is also late in her pregnancy and happens to be a nurse at that very hospital. Malena, another friend from church (not pregnant) came to see Tiffany straight from work, still in her ultrasound tech scrubs
It was a fun, party atmosphere; meanwhile Tiffany's contractions got stronger and faster. Incrementally, Tiffany called the nurse for the next stage of pain killers. First laughing gas, which took the edge off as she breathed through a contraction. As things got worse, the nurse turned on an IV drip of narcotics. When the little red line on the screen jumped up, Tiffany would grimace and reach for Pedro's hand (to have something to dig her nails into.) Between contractions she told us that we couldn't possibly imagine how uncomfortable she was. “The pain radiates everywhere.” She informed us cheerfully. “Its like being sawed open at the vag while the rest of your body is set on fire!”
We were just going to play charades when Tiffany buzzed for the nurse again. Time for an epidural. The nurse agreed, but said all the guests had to wait outside momentarily.

That is when things started getting upsetting.

From the hall I heard Tiffany start to groan and cry out. Mom and I looked at each other worriedly. Tiffany had had terrible experiences with epidurals in the past. As Tiffany's shouts escalated to screams, a nurse asked us to leave the baby ward and wait in the visitor center.

Malena, Corrie, my Mom, my Dad and I waited. Waited, and waited... Corrie went to ask what was taking so long, but the nurse on duty would only say, “I assure you, Tiffany is fine. Just give her a couple more minutes.” After about half an hour, Pedro finally appeared. “Sorry about that,” he said wearily. “Tiffany was just freaking out there for a minute. Its all good now. You can come back.”

We walked into the room to find Tiffany seated serenely, as expected, in the hospital bed. On her chest an UNEXPECTED little figure, no bigger than a doll. “Surprise” Tiffany said weakly. “Say hello to Lucy....”
“It just happened so fast,” Pedro explained sheepishly. “We thought she was only a couple centimeters dilated, but when they were putting in the epidural she was actually already in transition.” (Transition is the third stage of labor, usually the most painful, immediately before the “pushing” phase.)

“I thought about sending Pedro to get you,” Tiffany added, “But I was afraid if he went away, even just to send a text message, he would miss it!”
It took me a moment to get over the disappointment of having missed the actual birth, but it can't be helped. I am glad the process was quick and smooth, even if I didn't get to see it. I suppose, for me, childbirth shall have to remain veiled in mystery a bit longer.

I quickly forgot about the (missed) birth, because the baby herself was so wonderous. Unlike most newborns, she was not squished and red. She looked like a baby from a magazine. Tiny and perfect. A full head of dark hair. Though she had just come out, she seemed remarkably clean. Her eyes open. She seemed alert and calm. Her face round and sweet. 19 centimeter, 7 pounds, born at 5pm June 13th 2017.
So that is most of the story. Tiffany stayed in the hospital before bringing Lucy home to the rest of the family. There is one other thing I should mention. The story of her name. Throughout the pregnancy Tiffany planned to name the baby Lucy Rae. Lucy means “light” and Rae sounds like “ray”, as in ray of sunshine. Three year old Jackson, however, was having none of it. Month after month he persisted, “Her name is Lucy Belle. I like Lucy Belle!”

Tiffany always laughed when he said that. “Lucy Belle sounds like such a country girl name!” But looking down at this baby, so dark and lovely, I was reminded of a line from Beauty and the Beast, “Now it's no wonder that her name means beauty....” Lucy Belle.... Beautiful Light.... We all looked at each other. Tiffany smiled haplessly as the nurse rewrote the name on the whiteboard. “We will need to edit all the announcements on Facebook..." she added, "but Jackson will be so happy.”

Welcome to the world, Lucy Belle.
And welcome to the family.

 

Friday, May 19, 2017

"Good"bye


What a day....

My current housemates, Laura and Jazmen, and I did our (last?) Roomie outing this morning. We got Northtown "shroom" coffee and drove up the twisty mountain road to the Top of the World view point.

What a pleasure to have such beautiful friendships in such a beautiful place. The drive and the view and the general feeling of holiday all reminded me of Japan. Some of my favorite moments of this particular outing were: 1. The car mysteriously dying half way up the mountain while we were slowing down to look at goats. (Thank God it started again.) 2. Watching Laura carefully holding her coffee cup, while gingerly squeezing between bushes, trying to keep her shoes off the muddy path. 3. Finding a gold (costume jewelry) ring in the mud and keeping it as a "gift from God". 4. Taking tons of silly photos. 5. Lying on the warm rocks, spending a few moments in individual silence with God. That was the sweetest of all.
We got back home just in time for Lucy to arrive to drop some things off. Last minute decision, I jumped in her car to tag along for her final afternoon of errands rather than stay home and do...whatever I would've done otherwise.

Only during the couple hours of post office, bank, water company, power company, property management office etc did I realize, this is my last time with Lucy before she leaves for China early early tomorrow morning. So this was goodbye (for who knows how long.)
I was already feeling misty eyed (pangs of melancholy welling up when looking at “I miss you” cards in the post office.) When the moment of goodbye came (just now) we took a couple final photos together and I noticed that I am wearing the shirt that Lica gave me – the shirt I wore the day I left Japan. As I hugged Lucy goodbye, what would you know but my internet radio started to play Andrea Bocelli “Time to say goodbye....”

As Lucy hurried out my door (urgent errands to complete before business hours end,) I smiled and waved and promised to keep in touch. The moment the door closed behind her, however, tears immediately filled my eyes. I turned to the large mirror above our couch. Alone with my reflection. Another goodbye....
This reminds me of the Little Prince's fox,
looking up at the stars that somewhere hide a rose
Ethan (a newish friend of mine who, like me, has changed communities several times in his life,) says that some people are better than others at saying goodbye. I say that a “good” bye is one that hurts... at least a little.

Lucy really has been my comfort and my joy this past year. One of the first people I met through the BSSD Facebook group. Someone I kept hoping I'd get to live with. One of the most unshakingly faithful, generous, sincere, considerate (not to mention beautiful) friends I've ever had. She has been half kindred spirit, half guardian angel. She is the kind of friend everyone is looking for. I still can't believe I have been so lucky. <3
Any minute now I will be picked up by Tom, the husband of Karin, the Norwegian woman with whom I connected so powerfully (and so instantly) at the Leif Hetland conference. She attended my graduation a couple weeks ago and tonight (our “one more time” dinner,) I will give her a mother's day card enclosing my thank you note.

After dinner, I will meet up with Jeremiah for an "at long last" drink. Jeremiah has been a part of many of my favorite memories this past year. The Christmas Caroling party. Exploring the Ma-Le'l dunes. Going to see the Nutcracker ballet. Worship night at Lucy's house. Several game nights. The Nabe party (which also doubled as Jeremiah's birthday dinner.) Several times, however, we were not able to do certain activities together because alcohol was present (and he, as a second year student, had agreed not to drink with first year students.) Now that we are both graduated, we will have a drink together at last.
Over the past couple weeks since BSSD graduation I have been using my sudden influx of free time to connect with precious people and check items off my summer Humbodt bucket list. One big project I've also been working on is rereading my journal entries (since moving to CA) and turning them into blog post drafts. I'm realistically hoping to publish 15-20 posts in quick succession, documenting and sharing the past year. In the meantime, however, I thought I'd share this snapshot of “present day”.

Onward to the next “good” bye.
Lucy and Jeremiah