By Kyle McCarthy from SLN — One of many True Story blogs on SmartLivingNetwork.com
(Disclaimer: I am a man. In no way do I pretend to understand the awesome responsibility of carrying a child or being a mother. Nor do I have any personal conception of the intense hormonal fluctuations that many pre- and post-natal mothers experience. I respect and honor a woman’s right to choose in all manners relating to her body. I’m merely interested in the social motivations behind our actions.)
For those of you unfamiliar with the cultural dynamo that is Mad Men, the Emmy nominated January Jones plays Betty Draper Francis, a character noted for her wretched parenting. It seems as though Ms. Jones takes her role as a mother much more seriously away from the camera. After giving birth to her son, Xander, in September of 2011, she began taking a regimen of placenta capsules meant to increase her overall health and wellness. Of her decision, Jones told People Magazine, “Your placenta gets dehydrated and made into vitamins. It’s something I was very hesitant about, but we’re the only mammals who don’t ingest our own placentas.” (This last comment is about 99% true. There are a few notable exceptions other than humans, such as domesticated and marine mammals.)
The gestation, birthing, and post-natal portions of a pregnancy are grueling and lengthy processes that can take their toll on a mother’s health and wellness. The purpose of placentophagy is to combat nutrient deficiency in women who have recently undergone childbirth to stave off some Post-Partum health issues. Some of the perceived benefits of this practice include:
So January Jones ate her placenta. Not because it seemed like an appealing midnight snack, but because there’s a growing trend among post-natal mothers to ingest their afterbirth to absorb the multitude of vitamins and nutrients hidden inside. The widespread performance of this ritual among mammals would seem to suggest that placentophagy is a natural act. Why then do the majority of human mothers abstain from this practice?
Studies conducted over the past 40 years have shown that there exists no conclusive evidence to verify the health benefit claims of the pro-placentophagy camp. Lacking any documented empirical evidence that credits placentophagy as anything more than a pseudo-science, it seems as though this recent trend might be accounted for by our culture’s obsession with all things “natural.” Over the past decade, the very word “organic” has traveled from the esoteric jargon of chemists and farmers into nearly every household in America. There has been a swell in the general attitude that what is natural is necessarily good. I’m all for building healthier minds and bodies naturally, but the motivations behind living an organic life should be examined first.
The first part of the 21st century has been marked by a perverse obsession with celebrity. We allow them to influence our choices on a daily basis. Our favorite musicians, actors, and athletes encourage us to buy products and invest in philosophies that we might not have considered without their endorsement. (I am certainly not exempt from this celebrity worship. While grocery shopping with my girlfriend last week, I purchased a box of “Fastball Flakes” solely because Detroit Tigers’ pitching ace Justin Verlander is prominently featured on the box.)
Take, for instance, January Jones’ above statement. Implicit in her comments, is a belief that human beings should mimic the actions of animals because that would make us more natural. Why should it matter that nearly every other mammal engages in placentophagy? Why is Alicia Silverstone mouth-feeding her son? Since when do we need to mimic birds in order to be healthier? What does any of this have to do with being human? The fact that we share certain basic biological tendencies with other animals shouldn’t erase our humanity.
There have been many hypotheses formulated about why 99% of mammals practice placentophagy. Some have speculated that they do so in order to prevent their young from predators who may be drawn by the scent of the afterbirth, while others have theorized that female mammals eat their afterbirth simply because they are hungry after the difficult birthing process. But we live in a (somewhat) civilized society where we generally don’t fear other predators directly after giving birth. Nor do we allow women to sit in a hospital delivery room starving and exhausted post-natal.
So, if we operate on the premise that human beings are the most advanced species on Earth, then why do feel the need to emulate other animals in everything they do? There are two distinct differences between human beings and the rest of the animal community. We have large, complex brains, and we are deeply invested in creating a vast labyrinth of social bonds. Sure, other animals engage in social behavior, but there are no chimpanzee bowling leagues or antelope speed-dating seminars (that I’m aware of).
The reason for this is that human beings navigate the world on a significantly higher plane than our fellow mammals. We have the ability to abstract, to separate the conceptual from the instinctual, thus creating a sense of cognition and awareness, which breeds the ability to make conscious choices, fully aware of the benefits and consequences.
Humans are more than the sum of our instincts, regardless of how “natural” they might be. We’re also more than the mindless mimicry of our favorite celebrities. We can appreciate their art, their talent, and their achievements without the compulsion to pantomime their every action… Can’t we?
If someday the mother of my as-of-yet-unborn child wishes to eat her placenta, I certainly won’t stop her, as there exists a large compendium of anecdotal evidence which suggests that there could be benefits to the practice. I just hope that she doesn’t do so because she read in People Magazine that the lovely, talented, and successful January Jones did!
Discuss this blog and find related content at: