My doctor always asked how I would prepare it, the placenta. Powdered and encapsulated for my Yuki—two, three, four or more a day depending on my level of sadness and how much I believed the vitamins and hormones within the tissue would make me whole again. Pan fried and stuffed into dumplings for Toru. A smoothie and two yakitori for Keiko. But my doctor remains silent this morning, collapses into the deepest bow, and offers the plastic container as I get situated in a wheelchair. Somewhere in the building Ayu’s tiny body, caught in the strained expression of her first and last cry, rests in drawer, waiting for someone to fetch her.
When we get home from the hospital, I put the placenta in the freezer. Recipes and tips for preparation cover the fridge. The children, young as they are, know enough to keep their distance, to remain silent, and move slowly through the house like ghosts. I hear their footsteps outside my door. I hear my husband whispering to them. I flip through a legal pad in bed covered with notes about ancient Chinese methods for dehydrating the placenta—Zi He Che—(steamed with ginger to shrink the organ before heating in the stove), variations of herbal blends for tea. My husband has created a fort of pillows and blankets around me. He says:
“We don’t have to do it this time—just because we have it.”
“We should do it because we have it,” I say. I write down daal and naan. I write cumin and cardamom. But I’m not sure if I want to do Indian. “I need to do something.”
Despite being regarded as unusual, eating the placenta (placentophagy), can help women restore hormonal balance after labor and provide much needed vitamins and nutrients: Iron, B6, B12, Estrogen, Progesterone. Before I had Yuki, I was determined to do everything possible to ensure that I would be okay, that motherhood would not leave me. Most mammals in the animal kingdom eat their placenta to solidify the bond with their offspring, to ease pain, and encourage lactation. Ingesting what has given life in order to connect to life and ensure survival. I once watched a lioness in a documentary lap at her placenta, licking it clean of blood before consuming it in a couple of bites. I admired the instinct, envied it.
The Baganda of Uganda believe the placenta is a spirit double and plant the organ beneath a fruit tree. When the fruit is ripe, the family has a big feast after which the parents make love, delivering the copy of their child’s spirit into the mother. In Iceland, the placenta is called fylgia, which means guardian angel. Placed beneath the floor of the mother’s bed, the guardian angel would be protected and grow into an ox, a bear, a wolf, or whatever guide best suited a child. These traditions brought me comfort with my other children. But I am not a lioness. We do not have a yard or a tree to plant (and I cannot wait). And if there was a guardian angel somewhere inside the purple membrane inside our freezer, a cub, a wolf pup, an eaglet, she failed to do her job.
Later, in the kitchen, my husband stands behind me as I slice my placenta into jerky-like strips, running my fingers over the thick tangle of veins that streamed life to my daughter for the past several months. I do not know what I am going to make, but I turn around and ask my husband to get the olive oil, as I take down our largest frying pan and turn on the stove.
I pick up a piece of placenta and instead of placing it on the pan, I hold it in my hand for a while, its cold, jellyfish-like consistency between my fingers—a leech, a sea slug, the flat worms my Yuki said he dissected in school that could duplicate itself if you cut it. I pour a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau for myself and my husband and pop a slice in my mouth, barely chewing, letting it slide down my throat. My husband stares at me, his mouth agape. I grab two more slices and give him one. He examines it, sniffs it. I hold his free hand and tell him, “On three.” And we swallow. And we sit across from each other at our dining table with the tray of placenta between us. And we will stay there until everything that connected me to my daughter, all that allowed her to be for the span of a breath, is taken back from the world and absorbed inside us.
Sequoia Nagamatu‘s work has appeared or is forthcoming in ZYZZYVA, Conjunctions, West Branch Wired, Redivider, Puerto Del Sol, Bat City Review, and The Fairy Tale Review, among others. He is the managing editor of Psychopomp Magazine and a visiting assistant professor at The College of Idaho.