Healthcare

Many New Moms Are Eating Their Placentas. Baylor Wants Them Off the Menu.

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She describes herself as a Republican who before becoming pregnant had the type of career that requires a degree and the ability to sell very expensive things to cultured people (she was also fearful of having her field identified). In other words, she was not the stereotypical image of a New Age woman, and her interest in alternative medicine came by chance. She'd woken up from several surgeries in the past suffering all-out anxiety attacks in reaction to anesthesia. So for her child's birth, she sought hospitals that wouldn't try to pressure her into getting an epidural shot or cesarean section. "These are all the things I wanted, that are more in line with a natural, non-intervention birth," she says.

In almost every way, Baylor University Medical Center near her East Dallas home seemed like the best choice. Hospitals in the Baylor system are known for their mother-friendly labor and delivery units, with spacious rooms, iPod docking stations and plentiful baths. "Baylor Dallas has made a really good reputation for being really natural-birth friendly," says Melissa Espey-Mueller, a former child-birth instructor at Baylor who now works in Dallas as a doula, a woman hired to assist women as they give birth.

Placenta-consumption was supposed to be just another routine part of the natural birth experience for this unnamed mother. Worried about suffering from postpartum depression, she'd heard anecdotes that the nutrients in her placenta could return her post-baby body and hormones back to normal. "I'm not interested in being on pharmaceuticals. That was something I wanted to avoid at all costs," she says.

As have other women intent on eating their placentas, she'd mistakenly assumed that getting her placenta out of Baylor would be fairly simple. But at some point in the past few years, Baylor's placenta policy changed. Baylor does not want moms eating their placentas and has been strict about not letting her and others like her have them.

"Baylor's position on this issue is in compliance with Texas law," a Baylor spokesman says, though other hospitals have different interpretations of that same law.

The most Baylor will do is release the placenta to a funeral home at a mother's request. But even then, Baylor's policy dictates that the placenta must stay with the funeral home. It's a policy that's been easily bent in the past -- word got around with mothers, doulas and placenta encapsulators that one funeral home is happy to take placentas off of Baylor's hands and then let mothers walk off with them later. All an expectant mother had to do was inform Baylor that her religion requires the placenta be buried or cremated, as this woman had done.

"We believe the placenta is absolutely sacred," she wrote to the hospital.

But as she approached her due date, she heard a rumor -- not an uncommon occurrence in the rumor-swamped world of placenta-consumption enthusiasts. Some other woman, she'd heard, never got her placenta from the funeral home where it was supposed to go."Between the labor and delivery room and the morgue, the placenta got quote-unquote lost. She feels like they destroyed it, because the nurse at the time was very critical of her decision to take her placenta," says the anesthesia-averse mother, though she didn't hear the story firsthand and has no idea if it's true.

Regardless, she wrote emails to the nursing staff, politely asking for some kind of promise, in writing, that her placenta would be safe. "Who is the person who I hold accountable for this?" she remembers wanting to know. "Because if something happens to my placenta, I'm going to be pissed."

A nurse replied that her placenta could probably go to the funeral home, but it was ultimately up to the hospital's legal team. "We can accommodate your request as long as your placenta goes to the funeral home for final disposition," the nurse explained. There were no promises, but there was a warning.

"If knowledge is obtained that the placenta is to be released outside of a funeral home," the hospital told the prospective mother, "release may not occur due to violation of the Texas Health and Safety Code."

It was not a comforting message.

So, the day she went into labor, she came with her husband, a doula and a cooler filled with ice and hoped for the best.

After her husband did whatever thing he did to get the placenta into the cooler, she texted her encapsulator -- the person who promised to turn the placenta into hundreds of digestible pills. The encapsulator agreed to meet the husband in the parking lot, where he passed the cooler.

Compared with other Baylor patients, her story was a success.

She's secretive about many details because if she has more children, she might want to give birth at Baylor again, she explains. Her experience giving birth there was great, other than having to sneak her own placenta out of the building in an ice chest. "It's completely ridiculous that it has to be like that," she says.


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Amy Martyn
Contact: Amy Martyn