On the occasion of the birth of my daughter’s second child, I was reminded of one of the strangest medical conversations I’ve ever had. It occurred during the birth of my daughter, our second child.
I was on the staff of Shands Hospital and University of Florida School of Medicine, Gainesville, FL. My wife was pregnant with our second child. As a professional courtesy, the Chief of the OB/Gyn department had promised he would personally deliver our baby, regardless of when the time came.
When the time did come, in the middle of the night of course, I observed the baby’s head delivered but with the umbilical cord wrapped tightly around the baby’s neck. “Nuchal cord x2” is what the medical record later read. The only part of the baby I could see at that point in the delivery, the head, was a stunning blue color.
The color blue works well on Smurfs, but at that time Smurfs had not yet been discovered. So seeing our baby arriving with that color was a tad disconcerting.
With the confidence of thirty or forty years’ experience with deliveries of all grades of difficulty, the muscular gray-haired physician grabbed the loops of umbilical cord and attempted to slip them off the baby’s neck and over its head. But birth is by nature a well lubricated process, and those strangling loops were slippery enough to slip from his hands.
I think time slowed for me just a bit as I saw the blue baby and the experienced master of his craft thwarted by bodily fluids. It was, to use the medical vernacular, concerning, at least to me. However, time had not slowed for the obstetrician. Within another second he had repeated his attempt, and this time was successful.
As the baby pinked up and revealed herself to be a girl, my level of concern returned to normal, along with my heart rate.
Shortly thereafter, this kindly physician was attending to the second birth, the “after-birth” or the mother’s expulsion of the placenta. I remarked on the event often missed, or at least unappreciated, by the layman. I commented on what a wonderful yet transient organ the placenta is.
That was when he responded with the phrase in the title of this posting. “Sometimes I think we should keep the placenta and throw away the baby.”
It was a remarkable thing he said. Yet it was not intended, and I did not take it, as a comment about the inherent worth of babies. But rather it was a shared appreciation for the miracle of pregnancy and birth, and all the structures and systems the female body creates to nurture and sustain new life. Of course we share this miracle of the placenta with most mammals, such as rabbits, dogs, cats, and yes, even rats, but that does not make it less amazing.
From an engineering standpoint it is incredible to think that the connection between mother and child, a wonderfully and intricately designed anatomical throw-away, should in fact be discarded so unceremoniously.
Of course, non-human mammals eat the placenta, recycling some of the energy invested in that organ. But modern day humans usually discard it.
Usually; meaning the Internet abounds with suggested ways to prepare and eat the placenta. Well, like chocolate covered grubs, some tastes have to be acquired, I suppose. And then there is some element of cannibalism, the eating of human flesh, associated with this practice that thoroughly grosses this writer out. If it’s your thing, part of the ritual celebration of the creation of life, well, then it’s your thing. To each his own, as they say.
But the point is, at that moment, that physician and I both felt a sense of awe at what the human body sacrificed to bring a new human being into the world.
When the excitement of birth is over and the credits roll on the screen for the theater of life, don’t fail to notice the name of the Placenta as it goes by. Arguably, it’s every bit as important as the “gaffer” or the “grip” to the success of any theatrical event.
Without it, we would not be placental mammals. We would be, well, kangaroo type mammals, but without the tail. Children would develop and be suckled in pouches.
Interesting imagery there.