Jerry Chan’s Baby Blog — Chapter 3
I have just eaten, perhaps, the strangest thing I have ever ingested in my life: three gel capsules filled with bits of my wife/baby’s dried, ground-up placenta. Why, you may ask, would I do such an utterly bizarre thing? To be honest, I’m not sure, but allow me to explain why I figure it wouldn’t hurt.
The night of our baby’s birth, as I was filling out all the procedural forms to help prep my wife for her C-section, the doctor asked me an unexpected question: “Do you want to keep the placenta?” (tai pan 胎盘 in Chinese). Not having any idea what she was talking about, I figured it would be best to follow my mother-in-law’s cue and nod accordingly.
It was only later after the baby was born that I would find out – or rather, see for myself – what, exactly, she was referring to when a nurse walked into our room with a plastic bag containing an alarmingly bloody, membrane-y looking thing that resembled leftovers from a butcher shop. “Here’s your tai pan,” she said handing me the blood-filled bag. “Great!” beamed my mother-in-law as I stared at the slimy mess. What she said next, however, caught me completely off-guard: “Now you guys can eat it!” A bit too dazed to process what was happening, my still-half-sedated wife and I shot each other befuddled looks as we reflexively nodded an “Uh … okay.”
Animals, you might know, often ingest their offspring’s placenta and umbilical cord after giving birth – just watch any mother cat’s tongue at work after she gives birth to kittens. But it was only after doing some research online that I realized that some humans eat placenta as well. Associated Content explains that “Placentophagia – the pratice of eating the placenta – has been observed throughout history in many parts of the world,” and everyone’s favorite wacked-out celebrity Tom Cruise even joked in GQ magazine about eating wife Katie Holmes’ placenta after giving birth. A quick Google search also reveals sites (Placenta recipes, eating your placenta) for placenta recipes, including lasagna, spaghetti bolognese and even a cocktail recipe, along with a ton of literature arguing for the alleged pros (“helps curb postpartum depression, replenish nutrients, increase milk production, and slow postpartum hemorrhage”) and apparent “con” (many Western doctors claim that eating placenta does absolutely nothing whatsoever) of placentophagia. Some more New-Agey types have even adapted a practice of burying the placenta in the ground in a ceremony in which a tree is planted in the same spot a year later. Of course here in Beijing’s dusty concrete jungle, this approach would probably be a bit unfeasible, but it all seems suitably granola enough.
Placentophagia is, as you would guess, also practiced here in China, albeit with a more palatable approach: About.com explains that “in Chinese Medicine, the placenta is known as a great life force and is highly respected in terms of its medicinal value (The Amazing Placenta). However it is not cooked, but rather usually dried. To dry a placenta you would simply dehydrate it in the oven, then using a mortar and pestle grind it up. From there you can mix it with food or ingest it within capsules.”
And this is exactly what we – or my in-laws, to be exact – have insisted on doing for us, explaining the entire gory process over lunch today (“We didn’t dare use scissors or a knife to cut it up, lest we get it dirty. We ripped it apart entirely by hand”). They had spent all night before slowly pan-drying the thing out over a flame until it had completely desiccated into a dry, powdery substance, which they then painstakingly partitioned into little gel caps for my wife and me to ingest.
Thus far I have not read anything that purports any known benefit of having the father ingest placenta (save for Tom Cruise’s little episode), but I gather that some Chinese hospitals in the past were even known to sell leftover placentas to “extreme epicureans” eager for their alleged health benefits. All the same, I have decided to indulge my in-laws on their insistence – more for the moral support of my wife than anything else. Also because the powder and gel-cap combo renders the concoction utterly tasteless. In any case, I certainly don’t see the harm in it – after all, just as I know when I look at my new daughter, I figure: “What the hell, it all more or less comes from our own bodies.”