Mayer then cleans the kitchen, packs her belongings, and leaves the placenta to dry overnight. She will return the next day for the second part of the process.
In 2005, an acupuncturist told pregnant Jodi Selander that placenta-eating could stave off postpartum depression. Selander then read up about the placenta’s nutritional and hormonal profile in mothering and pregnancy magazines and examined small-scale studies in which women reported better moods, higher energy levels, and less trouble breast-feeding after consuming their placenta in capsule form. When her daughter was born, Selander decided to give it a try. According to her, it worked so well that she made it her mission to spread the word.
She has since built an afterbirth empire. She coined the term placenta encapsulation and standardized the method of transforming afterbirth into pills. In 2006, she began selling encapsulation kits and instructional pamphlets, which ship worldwide, through her website, placentabenefits.info. She also sells I LOVE PLACENTA T-shirts for mothers and babies, and keeps a Twitter account, @placentalady, where she solicits birth stories from her followers.
Selander started encapsulating placentas in her local community—she has completed more than 500 to date—but it was not until the summer of 2007 that her proselytizing came into the spotlight. One of her clients, Anne Swanson, gave birth at Nevada’s Sunrise Hospital and requested to take her placenta home, but the hospital refused to hand it over.
Selander was so incensed that she organized a rally outside the hospital’s main entrance. “They thought I was crazy,” she says. “When I told them why we wanted the placenta, they reported me to the authorities, and the FDA investigated.
“I give talks at a local health-food store,” she adds. “And I was asked to cancel one day when men in suits turned up there and prowled the aisles—they thought I was harvesting and selling them!”
Until 2006, there were no laws regulating a patient’s access to her placenta. The state of Hawaii was the first to explicitly require that hospitals allow women to take placentas home, and New York and Nevada have since enacted their own guidelines. Still, many states have no regulations, and hospitals continue to remain squeamish. Citing “hospital policy,” two New York hospitals refused to return placentas to Mayer’s last two clients.
“Sometimes you just have to smuggle it,” Mayer jokes.
“It’s a good idea to bring your own food-safe container,” advises Alexa Beckham.
For Swanson, it was too late for negotiations: Her placenta was in a vat with countless others. The hospital demanded a court order for its release, and Selander and Swanson obtained one. Three months after Swanson gave birth, Sunrise gave up a placenta from their supply.
“It was the saddest little placenta I’d ever seen in my life,” Selander recalls. “It was half-decomposed.”
Selander and Swanson buried it as a tribute.
Over the next year, four additional clients were refused their placentas, and Selander picketed Sunrise on behalf of another customer who wanted to fight the hospital’s policy. She posted notices on the Internet warning women not to give birth at Sunrise, issued press releases about her rally, wrote articles for parenting journals, and appeared on local TV extolling the benefits of placenta consumption. It became a women’s-rights issue: my placenta, my choice.
Her hard work paid off. Sunrise changed its policy, and hundreds of miles away from Las Vegas, the victory sealed her reputation as the high priestess of the modern placentophagia movement. Lisa Fortin, another placenta provider (whose sister took Selander’s course), attributes the attention the practice has received—even from skeptics—to Selander.
Ayshah Kassamali-Fox, a mother of two who lives on Long Island, ate pieces of her placenta in smoothie form for a week after she gave birth. Stana Weisburd of Park Slope had her husband cut up and dehydrate hers. She ate some, and keeps the leftovers in her pantry. Time columnist Joel Stein wrote about his wife popping placenta pills. London King says there has been an uptick in requests in the past ten months, and in Greenpoint, Beckham and her friend Adriane Stare plan to host an information session in Stare’s high-end babywear shop. “Anyone with any great placenta recipes?” posted one mother on urbanbaby.com last August. “I love spices, so nothing too bland.”
A few years ago, a group of mothers organized a placenta picnic in Prospect Park where they compared placenta-eating experiences, and considered performing a mass burial of leftover parts they had kept. Loretta Jordan, a Bronx-based doula who organized the picnic, would go on to drink a piece of her daughter’s placenta in a “top-shelf Bloody Mary.”
Back in Hughes’s kitchen, Mayer takes the placenta she dehydrated the day before and grinds it up in a Magic Bullet blender. Wearing a surgical mask, she says, joking, “I don’t want to breathe in placenta.” She then pours the nutmeg-colored powder into a pill-making kit and seals the capsules, several dozen at a time. The entire batch will take her just over an hour and produce about 150 pills.