Postpartum depression is real. I know postpartum depression first hand – but not in the way you might think.
May 14 – We left Fay and Andy’s house at 9:30. It was a sad parting. Fay feels unable to cope with the baby’s care. I hope she snaps out of it when we are gone.
May 15 – Had bad news from St. Paul. Fay was taken to Mounds Park Hospital again. I feel just awful about this. Poor dear little Sarah has to be taken care of by a stranger.
These words were recorded by my grandmother in her diary, shortly after I was born. Teetering on the edge of mental health already, my mother – overwhelmed by hormones, exhaustion, the challenges of having a newborn and toddler at home along with a strained marriage – completely broke down.
Yes, like so many others, I am a child of postpartum depression.
After somehow managing with me at home for about three weeks, my father arranged for me to stay with Grandma until my mom recovered enough to come home from the hospital.
July 30 – Sarah, Fay and Andy left at 10:15. It was hard to see Sarah go – how I miss her. I hope she is resting well in her room in St. Paul. Fay looks so well now.
What a blessing it was to have been cared for by my dear grandmother! As a child, I always thought it was interesting that she and her sister had so many stories about me when I was a baby. I suspected that I was extra special to Grandma, but it wasn’t until I was much older when I discovered the reason why.
Still, there are consequences from a child being separated from his or her mother at such a young age. Research suggests that prolonged separation of infant from mother it can result in struggles with anxiety and in developing secure attachments with others later in life. Sounds about right. Once I learned the story of how my life began, it was a comfort to know there was a reason behind some of the challenges I have faced in life.
Fast forward to six years ago. When I found out I was pregnant, my joy was soon tempered by concerns about postpartum depression. Would it happen to me? What could I do to prevent it? I was terrified that postpartum depression was my destiny because my mom had suffered so severely from it.
Fear turned quickly to determination. I was going to do all I could to protect myself, and my baby, from postpartum depression. I worked to stay healthy, both physically and mentally, throughout my pregnancy. I ate well, exercised and did not allow myself to become overly stressed about anything. Which was no easy feat. During this time, my husband and I sold a house and had to re-finance our current mortgage at our expense due to a banker error. I also developed severe lower back and sciatica pain. And, just a few short months before my daughter was born, my father passed away.
One day, while visiting my chiropractor, I mentioned my fears of postpartum depression. She told me she had just heard of an alternative therapy that involves ingesting one’s placenta after delivery.
Oh…that’s what I thought you said.
Ok, I know what you’re thinking…and you can put that mental fork and knife back into the drawer now, thank you.
Its called “Placenta Encapsulation,” and it involves processing the placenta, sometimes with various herbs, dehydrating it, grinding it into a powder and putting the powder into gelatin capsules. Typically performed by a doula or midwife, this treatment option is as simple as swallowing a pill. With a slight aftertaste.
The philosophy behind ingesting one’s placenta, known as maternal placentophagia, is that a lot of the vitamins, hormones and everything else that goes into growing that precious baby is stored in the placenta. Once the baby is born and the placenta is outside the mother’s body, she might experience strong physiological effects from losing those nutrients and hormones. Ingesting the placenta is thought to return these essentials to the mother’s body, countering effects of postpartum depression and actually helping boost the mother’s energy and breast milk production. It is also thought to help the uterus return to its original size. These effects are largely anecdotal; there is little scientific research to support the validity of these claims.
When I heard about maternal placentophagia, I had a rush of emotions. Hope. Disgust. Curiosity. Hesitancy. Disbelief. Courage. Determination. I considered the alternatives: Postpartum depression? No, not interested. Antidepressants? Most of the information I found on the internet stated the risks to baby from maternal depression far outweigh the risks from ingesting breastmilk from a mom taking an antidepressant. Still, as a person who chooses to take as few pharmaceuticals as possible, I was hesitant to take a chance on thinking a drug was safe only to discover later it had an adverse affect on my baby. And, I reasoned, there doesn’t seem to be any drawbacks to…um, ingesting my ground-up dehydrated placenta and if it didn’t prevent postpartum depression, I could always work with my doctor to find an appropriate antidepressant. After a few weeks of hemming and hawing, I decided to pick up the phone and call the number given to me by my chiropractor.
The doula I talked to was wonderful. In her calm, gentle and reassuring manner, she explained the process very thoroughly. After talking with her, it seemed (almost) reasonable and quite natural to ingest my ground-up dehydrated placenta.
Ok, I was sold. Now comes the hard part. Telling people about it.
I don’t know what the deal was but I just could not bring myself to tell anyone about this. Except, of course, my husband. I wish I could have taken a picture. His expression was classic: A mixture of confusion, horror and disgust all rolled into one. And mentioning it once was quite enough for him. He’s got the most sensitive gag reflex I have ever seen. Just the mere thought of something gross gets his gagger going.
So, that was it. Until now, my husband was the only person I told about this, outside of the hospital staff, who took the request to save my placenta in stride.
Though there is a lot of awareness now about postpartum depression, its symptoms and treatment options, there is still a pretty big stigma connected to placentophagia. At least I think there is. I guess I don’t really know because I have never talked with anyone about it. It certainly isn’t something you hear about in the general course of going about having a baby.
So, I am going to break the chain and speak out. I am going to shout it from the rooftops and tell the world that I ATE MY PLACENTA, and I loved how it made me feel and I did not get postpartum depression!