Friday, March 30, 2012

Human Placentophagy - Seriously?

Warning: this blog is not for squeamish or humorless folk.

Actress January Jones has recently publicly discussed the benefits of eating her own placenta after the birth of her son, putting a face on an increasingly popular fad in America. Although pictures of January Jones depict her looking marvelous post-partum, I think her appearance has more to do with genetics, a personal trainer and Photoshop rather than a placenta. Apparently, there are placenta recipes and placenta encapsulation specialists who formulate the organ into capsules taken like a vitamin. The placenta handling and encapsulation business is booming.

The arguments in support of the practice of human placentophagy (placenta consumption) stem mainly around the idea that since all mammals and a few reptiles eat the placentas of their newborn babies, it is natural and therefore better for you, right? The nutrition one gains from a placenta supposedly helps the mother recover more quickly and wards off post-partum depression. Joel Stein wrote a very entertaining article, Afterbirth: It's What's For Dinnner about his wife's personal experience with placentophagia after the birth of their child. Nancy Redd, a writer for the New York Times, reported that she experienced very negative side effects after trying her placenta.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I was in awe of the ability of a woman’s body to create an organ that would support her fetus. The placenta is the link between the mother and child, filtering nutrition and excrement (yes, that too) until it is time for him to leave the womb and live as an independent being. I was curious after my baby was born to see what a placenta actually looked like and was shown a bloody organ about the size of a large steak.  Not once did I feel an overwhelming urge to try it, not even with A-1 Sauce.

Now that I’ve delivered countless Maine Coon kittens and one foal, I look at the birthing process more pragmatically. I know some cat breeders who don’t allow the mother cat to eat the placenta for fear of it making her (the cat) sick. Others believe that eating the placenta provides the mother with extra nutrition and stimulates milk production.

I’ve noticed a few things over the years which relate to cats so I’ll just liberally generalize based upon my personal area of expertise. One is, not all cats and their placentas are equal. Some queens (a breeding female cat) will swallow the placenta like an oyster. Some placentas are tough, requiring the mother to gnaw on it endlessly while the wet kitten is ignored. Some new moms prefer to just lick the placenta clean, then leave it.

A couple of things to keep in mind with cats and other animals that deliver multiples; usually one birth quickly follows another so clean up has to be efficient. If the placenta isn’t taken care of before the next baby arrives, it’ll just have to wait. After delivering several kittens and consuming a placenta for each one, a queen gets full and very tired. She welcomes help cleaning up and drying her kittens. I usually follow the mother’s lead. If too much time is spent on the placenta or she shows no interest in it, I’ll start removing them for her so she’ll focus on her kitten.  I normally dispose of placentas along with the used bedding in the trash, but I've been known to flush them down the toilet too.

I think the instinct to eat a placenta is not only for a carnivore’s easy food source, but for hygiene. Herd animals whose babies are up and running within hours may have less of a need to consume their placenta, but animals whose young are helpless at birth must stay near the nest for protection and warmth.

Most domestic cats don’t like to leave their new kittens at all, so I usually put food and water in the birthing cage to make it easier for the mother. Likewise, if the mother cat has a choice, she will not use a litter box anywhere near her brood. Birth and all the fluids that go with it have a certain odor that is bound to attract predators. By cleaning up all signs of birth and kitten excrement, the new babies have a better chance of survival. That’s also why many cats move their kittens, to get them away from the birth aroma. I’ve seen new moms fastidiously lick the wet bedding in an effort to clean up the evidence. She is relieved when I remove the wet, disposable puppy pads and replace them with clean cotton bedding. Cleanliness is survival in the wild, an instinct the domestic animal still possesses.

A Maine Coon cat’s placenta is about the size of a large McNugget and looks like a piece of raw meat. I’ve often joked about breading and sautéing placentas, but I don’t eat red meat. I suppose if I were more enterprising, I could use my feline source and market my own magic placenta pills.

So with all the Hollywood hoopla about doing the natural thing and eating one’s own placenta, I have to say, this is just gross. Having the placenta steamed, dried and put into capsules may look more appetizing than grilling out, but it all seems like a scam to me. If you have a healthy diet, a placenta pill isn’t going to really make a difference. Post-partum depression?  See your doctor, please.  Even in third world countries, they’re not so hungry that placentophagy is an option and just bury it. The practice is not as common in most cultures as some would have you believe, but it has been promoted by Chinese medicine. Hey, don’t the Chinese also eat goat genitalia, monkey brains, dogs and cats? I found a huge assortment of exotic (read "disgusting") food sources native to China on the internet, so it must be true.

If a human mom really wants to emulate nature by eating her placenta, I think she should take it the rest of the way. Mother cats also eat the excrement of their newborn babies. It’s just another way of recycling really. Go for it Mrs. Jones.

Olivia with her Oscar Litter at one day old

Monday, March 26, 2012

Wilson and Willy

Ben is seven-years-old, the youngest of three, very active and needs something constructive to do or there will be trouble. He and his ten-year-old sister Amanda come over one or two times a week while their mother is at work or nursing school. “Technically, they are my step-grandchildren,” I respond when people hear them calling me Grandma Sharon and question how it’s possible, either because I look so young or because they know my kids are 20 and 16 and wonder if one of them “got in trouble.”

As Ben was recently frustrated with our flat basketball and had been taking an interest in sports, I picked up a new basketball and a football for small hands prior to his next sleepover. The balls did not become objects for sport as much as they were adopted by Ben as his new playmates. I told Ben about the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away and how his character had only Wilson the soccer ball to talk to while stranded on the island. Ben was inspired by my story and named his basketball “Wilson” and the football “Willy.” After all, they were also Wilson Sporting Goods products and had their names on them.
Ben's artistic rendering of Wilson and Willy

Wilson and Willy played on the swing with Ben, jumped on the trampoline with him, had conversations and disagreements, sat at the dinner table with us, got wiped off when they got dirty; just like they were dolls. He even took Wilson and Willy to bed with him and kept the boxes his new friends came in so they could be perched without rolling. My daughter Kelsey rolled her eyes when Ben brought the balls to the table and carefully placed them in the chair beside him, insinuating that Ben was a little crazy. “Doesn’t he remind you of someone else when she was little?” I asked her, “You used to have conversations with your spoon and fork at the table, your crayons got in fights with each other then kissed and made up. Pretending the balls are people isn’t really that much of a stretch.”

What a great age to be able to lose yourself in your imagination and create personalities for inanimate objects. How incredibly cute!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Major Bad Hair Day

When my son Tyler comes home from college, he’s way overdue for a haircut. Tyler attends school at the University of South Carolina so homecoming is at Christmas, spring break and summer. He claims the barber on campus does chop jobs and won’t go there anymore.

At Christmas, Tyler simply borrowed his friend Chad’s clipper set, complete with several attachments to dummy-proof the length of hair clipped. The clippers I have for my cats has just one blade length and God forbid my child use a tool on his beautiful head that had touched cat hair. I clipped Tyler’s hair at Christmas with Chad’s clippers and had very positive results, both of us happy that we’d saved money too.

The evening before Tyler was scheduled to take the Greyhound back to South Carolina, he borrowed Chad’s clippers again. However this time, the clippers made a sporadic ear-splitting noise at somewhere around 90 decibels. Occasionally, the cacophony would suddenly switch to the healthy low-pitched buzzing and we’d sigh with relief. Then, it would start back up again. I experimented with different settings and blades to see if I could fix the clippers, but nothing worked for more than a few seconds.

Tyler and I resigned ourselves to just trying to get his overgrown locks trimmed quickly in spite of the distracting dissonance. After trimming the bulk of his thick, brunette hair, I blame the raucous clippers for what happened next. I folded down Tyler's ear in order to clip the hairs behind it. I had taken the attachment off so I could trim closely. A demon possessed the instrument of evil and touched the side of his head in two areas, leaving parallel stripes about a half inch in width, three inches long. Tyler said he knew it was serious when I dropped the F-bomb.

I was horrified; Tyler was too…initially. I apologized profusely, memories of the time I convinced my mother to let me cut her bangs coming back to haunt me. Back when I was a teen, and probably now too, bangs weren’t normally worn only one inch down from the hairline.  

Thank goodness Tyler has the ability to forgive and see humor even at his own expense. His sister Kelsey couldn't stop laughing and promised that if I’d messed up her hair like that, she’d hate me forever. I suggested he wear a hat until it grew back out and offered to take Tyler to a hair stylist for a fixer-upper. He didn’t think my mistake could be covered up and came up with a solution of his own; I had to give him a Mohawk and make it look like an intentional new doo. A Mohawk was on his bucket list anyway, or so he says.

Tyler took the clippers and got his Mohawk started. I finished it up and did the back. My son looks pretty good considering; kind of like the character Puck from Glee. He’s been told he looks “badass”, but cautioned not to complete his new look with gauge earrings or tattoos. Tyler says he still loves his mother, although I’m sure he will use this little incident against me for years to come.

Kelsey and Tyler