The first time I heard about “placenta encapsulation” was more than a decade ago, when all the gossip columns and TV shows announced that Alicia Silverstone ate her placenta for health reasons. Like most of the world, my ick-o-meter blew off the charts. Ate her placenta?! It was by far the grossest thing I had ever heard.
When January Jones and Kim Kardashian more recently joined that list I sort of chalked it up as little more than a Hollywood trend that some of the “crunchy” moms around me were doing, for some sort of super-mother validation or to simply be edgy. I’m sure even some doctors would say, don’t give me that hippy midwife hooey. Like many other Western, educated, epidural-loving, suburban women I know, I was adamantly against it.
So what made me change my mind?
I am currently the mother of four children. I have two girls, aged seven and five, one boy, who is twenty-two months, and I recently gave birth to my fourth child, another girl. I experienced severe postpartum depression after my first child was born, very likely the combined result of working-mother stress and hormone imbalance. I took antidepressants for the year following my first child’s birth, and then went on them again after my second child was born in an effort to combat what I assumed was inevitable.
When my son was born, though I probably had a normal amount of mood swings and what they call “baby blues,” I did not experience full blown anxiety or depression like I had before. I was no longer a working mother and I figured this meant I was cured, which is why I was surprised and almost angered when about twelve weeks into my final pregnancy, I knew something was chemically wrong. Instead of postpartum depression, I was diagnosed with prenatal depression and put on Zoloft. The plan was to continue taking this SSRI throughout my pregnancy and postpartum period in order to basically prevent postpartum depression, which was, in all likelihood, exactly where I was headed once again.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against antidepressants. Now that I have actually needed them, I can say that they definitely work. That said, I hated being on them. It is hard to say which is more preferable: feelings of rage, insecurity, and the occasional impulse to consume my young, or a constant state of emotional nothingness. No appetite. No sex drive. No sadness. No extreme joy. Just a general state of blah, all the time. And, in addition to the blah, headaches, restless leg syndrome, and the ever-present fear of becoming dependent upon a drug that controls my moods.
Weighing these pros and cons, one afternoon, I found myself googling “natural remedies for postpartum depression.” Over and over, placenta encapsulation came up. I started reading personal stories and reviews, and noted immediately that they were overwhelmingly positive.
Most stories sounded a lot like mine. Women who had had multiple pregnancies and experienced postpartum depression. Everyone said basically the same thing: I wish I had known about this sooner; I wish I had done this after all my deliveries.
I admit it. I was desperate. And my desperation for a solution beyond antidepressants eventually outweighed the ick-factor. So I found someone in my area, Paypal’ed her the deposit, and tried to figure out just exactly how I was going to bring up this conversation with my doctor.
How It Works
After reading everything I could possibly read about it, then further discussing it with my doctor and my midwife, I decided not only to go ahead and try this, but planned to document the experience so I could share it with others if it worked.
It turns out, placenta encapsulation isn’t actually as rare as it would seem. I quickly found someone in my area whose business is busting at the seams. She is a certified placenta encapsulation specialist, which means she went through a standardized training course from the “oldest, largest, and most recognized placenta encapsulation organization in the world” (for what that’s worth). Her website is full of helpful information and personal experience stories.
For those, like me, wondering exactly how everything works, here’s a general breakdown of the order of events:
- Make the decision and sign up while you are still pregnant. I talked to my doctor, contacted the specialist via email, signed some legal paperwork, and paid the fee (which can be as low as $150 or as high as $400 depending on your area).
- Bring your placenta home from the hospital and refrigerate it as soon as possible. Yeah. Okay. I know how this sounds. Turns out, this wasn’t as big of a deal as I thought it would be, and here’s why. First, more people ask for their placenta after giving birth than you’d imagine. (God only knows why.) But the fact is, it is normal enough that many hospitals have a protocol for it and some even have a special box for you to take the thing home in. (As it was, mine was double-biohazard-bagged and my husband carried it in a cooler to the beer fridge in our garage.) Second, by doing this, your placenta never leaves your immediate control, and you know that it is definitely the same placenta that came out of you that is being made into pills for you, and not someone else’s. I mean, on the scale of gross, someone else’s placenta is by far even grosser than mine.
- Contact your specialist when you go into labor or shortly after delivery and arrange for her to come to your house within three days of being home from the hospital. The entire process* takes places inside your own kitchen over the course of two mornings or afternoons. This is a benefit. Unsurprisingly, there are no governmentally regulated facilities in the US that allow for the preparation of placenta pills, and again, when the process happens in your own home, you get to be there to make sure it is your placenta that is being made into magic pills.
- Take the pills over the course of the next six weeks or so, until they are gone. According to Jereka, my placenta specialist, an average sized placenta makes about a hundred pills. Mine made a hundred and fifteen. A “dose” is two pills, and the prescription, if you will, is three doses a day for four days, two doses a day for four days, and then one dose a day until the pills are gone.
Okay. So did it work? I say yes. In the last six weeks or so, I’ve tried to jot down a few notes about how I was feeling.
After Just One Week…
As per Jereka’s suggestion, I went cold-turkey and stopped taking Zoloft and my prescription iron pill as soon as I got home from the hospital, despite my doctor’s warning to stay on both for at least six weeks. I have been notoriously anemic in all my pregnancies and actually experienced severe hemorrhaging with the birth of my son, and a prenatal hemorrhage early in my fourth pregnancy. Because these pills are high in iron, I take my first dose with lunch instead of breakfast, to eliminate the combination of iron and calcium. I take my second dose with dinner and my final dose before bed.
Despite the lack of and irregular sleep that comes with newborns, I do not feel at all like a zombie. I have energy. I have mental clarity. All of my extra grandparent help left several days ago. Even so, I have not had any feelings of being stressed out or overwhelmed even though I am taking care of four kids during the day. Also, I have not cried yet. Not even once, which is weird for me anytime, but especially in the days and weeks after giving birth.
I am breastfeeding this baby and I have an abundance of milk, though, I cannot speak to any kind of change in my milk in the last seven days or any major difference from previous babies. And finally, even at the risk of TMI, I’m going to admit that I have had to poop within an hour of taking my first dose every single day this week. All postpartum mothers know such a feat is amazing.
After Four Weeks…
My husband commented about two weeks ago that I am like a different person this time than any other time I’ve delivered a baby. His exact words were, “I don’t know what it is, but I think those pills are working. You are happy. You are actually pleasant to be around. And I know you are different because you are laughing at my stupid jokes that you would normally not laugh about when your hormones are all messed up.”
I still feel great. Physically, my body has gone through the normal healing process that comes with a vaginal delivery. I have been sore and fatigued, but again, not overwhelmingly so. I seem to have an abundance of patience with my children, which, like the lack of crying, is weird for me. My husband has been super stressed out with work in the last few weeks, and even talking to him, I can’t empathize with his stress. I just keep telling him to chill out and not worry about things. It is like I’m on some weird happy-juice that doesn’t allow me to freak out about anything (and I love it!).
I have only cried once, and it was when I received a list of people who would be preparing dinner for my family every other day for six weeks. Tears of joy hardly seem like a bad thing.
Nothing else has changed in my postpartum routine from this baby to the others. I lost all my pregnancy weight in about two weeks (normal for me) and I’m ravenously hungry from breastfeeding. I’m basically eating anything I can get my hands on, which often includes coffee, donuts, cake, and beer. Baby is only waking up once per night, so though it is broken up, I’m still getting seven hours of sleep a day. I have an afternoon slump at about 2 o’clock every day, but again, I still feel productive and pleasant.
And my bowels are still completely regular. Bonus.
After Six Weeks…
My six-week postpartum check up went well, and I had nothing but good things to report to my ever curious doctor. It might be helpful to note that while I’ve been given the go-ahead for sex and exercise, I can’t say that I am terribly interested in either at this point. Hah. Jereka mentioned that many women speak of their libido returning to normal (or better) within a couple of weeks while on their pills. This has not been my experience.
My blood work revealed my progesterone levels to be completely normal for a lactating woman. That is to say, they are low. My hemoglobin level, however, was up. A normal hemoglobin value for adult women is between 11 and 16 g/dL. With all my pregnancies, mine hovered around 9. While still in the hospital after this birth, mine was as low as 8. Right now, it is at 12.6.
I’m a Believer
I never would have taken the time to sit down and write about this experience if I was not convinced that it was worth everything from the price to the potential social ramifications that come with admitting to consuming one of my own organs.
I am convinced.
And I’m not keeping this a secret.
I know I’m not speaking to the entire population when I talk about postpartum difficulty, but for the mamas who have experienced the kind of rock bottom desperation that I have experienced, I cannot encourage you enough to consider this alternate approach to feeling normal again. I am enjoying my newborn. I am enjoying the rest of my large family, and the adjustments we are all making together. I don’t even hate my husband and haven’t once screamed You did this to me! while covered in poop and holding a screaming baby.
If you have any questions or a personal experience to share, please leave a comment below.
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