Some might gag, but I devoured the whole concept of eating my placenta
Terrified by the thought of post-natal depression, Mary-Elaine Tynan decided to try an unorthodox remedy
I've been called many things as a mother: "hippie", "crusty", "mad" – but only recently a "cannibal", something I never imagined when I signed up to motherhood. Let me explain...
I gave birth to two children in two consecutive years.
"A brave move," some said. "Masochistic!" others commented. In reality, after having the first baby at 36, we needed to move swiftly on to the second – although we didn't think it would happen quite so quickly! It turns out you can get pregnant while breastfeeding, but that's another story...
The first was born after a 52-hour fear-filled, tear-filled labour. Thankfully my exhaustion was surpassed by the wonder and awe of becoming a mother. Sometimes in the following weeks that wonder was elusive as I battled emotional and physical fatigue.
Eighteen months later, I was facing the prospect of giving birth again, but this time in early winter: my personal nemesis. The endlessly dark, cold and wet winter months weigh me down every year, so the prospect of giving birth at this time really scared me. I'd be exhausted and possibly in pain after childbirth, and yet responsible for two fairly helpless individuals – not including The Husband and myself. In winter! I was really worried about post-natal depression.
I decided to do some online research. It has, on occasion, yielded some frighteningly inaccurate results. In both my pregnancies I diagnosed myself with a host of bizarre ailments, convincing myself and my unsuspecting husband that the baby had died in utero. He hadn't. Eventually Himself banned me from making online diagnoses.
My online research suggested that post-natal depression is rampant: one in 10 women suffer from it, according to www.pnd.ie, and yet the causes are "unclear". And even worse, there's little one can do to prepare for or prevent it.
Then I heard about placentophagia – eating your own placenta. Websites suggest that this may prevent post-natal depression, increase milk supply and help mothers gain their energy back more quickly. Interesting.
I'd only ever heard of people frying it up like a steak – a bit hardcore for me. Then I learnt there are lots of options available to the mother willing to give placentophagia a go. These days, somebody will pick up your placenta from your home or the hospital, and after steaming or dehydrating it, return it to you within days in capsules – aka placenta encapsulation.
January Jones did it, and she looks pretty good!
You can also have some of it in a smoothie, mixed with spring water and cleverly disguised in a host of fresh (red) fruit.
The theory made sense; after childbirth women experience a huge drop in their hormone levels, leaving them feeling very tired and often down. Eating the placenta allows a woman to reingest those hormones, thus preventing that enormous drop in energy and mood.
I mentioned my idea to a couple of people, but the response was less enthusiastic than I'd hope for.
"Gag!" said Eve. "Save me some – NOT," my sister wittily informed me.
"Isn't that cannibalism?" my mother wondered. Was it? My internet research had led me down a number of one-way streets characterised by mostly unsubstantiated information. I needed proper medical advice.
"It's an unregulated industry," the Master of the Rotunda cautioned me when I contacted him.
My own GP acknowledged that consuming my placenta could have possible benefits, like recycling iron, but he warned me about the risks of cross-contamination.
He did admit that while he wouldn't be keen to try it himself, he also wouldn't discourage his wife from doing so. This was more promising.
Finally I discovered some positive feedback about it when I met Martina O'Sullivan-Darcy, a midwife who lived in Canada for a number of years. Explaining that she's seen it work at least 60 or 70 times, she said it was very common in the Chinese community in Canada.
"[They] prepare the placenta in the kitchen ... dehydrate it much like we would steam vegetables here. [This] takes the moisture out of the placenta and dries it. Then they sprinkle it on food."
Martina also told me about a 'placenta party' she was invited to, where family and invited guests were treated to placenta pate. I couldn't see that happening in my house!
I was still worried about the lack of any medical evidence and the possible risks of cross-contamination, so I spoke to Dr William Murphy, a haematologist and the Medical Director of the Irish Blood Transfusion Service.
"When a woman delivers a baby she is by definition iron-
deficient or at very best iron-marginal, and the placenta represents an extraordinarily
good source of iron.
"In iron marginal societies it is probably a really important source of iron," Dr Murphy told me.
Good news – but what about the risk of infection?
"There's nothing in medical literature that suggests there is any medical risk in eating your or anybody else's human placenta," he reassured me. "It is almost certainly no different than drying fish, for example... the human gastrointestinal tract is extraordinarily resilient, otherwise we wouldn't be around."
I had decided I wanted to eat my placenta. I contacted Theresa Caton, an encapsulation specialist, who put me in touch with Hazel Mayger. Hazel would collect and encapsulate my placenta.
She offered me a range of other options – creams, balms, a smoothie – all for less than €250. I wondered if I was being incredibly naive but I decided I'd give it a go.
Did it work? I think so. Within 10 days of taking the tablets I felt renewed and re-energised. My milk supply was also excellent.
And my mood? My mother, honest to a fault and very cynical about the whole placenta "nonsense", admitted that my mood was far better than it had been after the birth of our first child. And if you can't trust your mother, who can you trust?
The Documentary On One: 'The Rough with the Smoothie', will air on RTE Radio 1 on Saturday June 14 at 2pm