Just after Heather’s* daughter Sarah was born, Heather felt an overwhelming desire to clean her. This might not seem unusual, but Heather’s desire was reminiscent of nature documentaries where you see lionesses licking their cubs straight after birth. “It’s a bit weird to admit, but I felt an uncontrollable urge to lick my daughter clean, just like you see animals do in the wild,” Heather says.
To her regret, Heather didn’t give in to her maternal instinct, and instead just gave her young daughter kisses. “Sarah is now three years old and I still wonder why I didn’t just listen to my instincts,” Heather says. “I guess I thought if people found out that I had licked my newborn baby they would think I was totally crazy, so I didn’t do it. But I still regret that I didn’t.”
Parenthood is a time of enormous change, and in the process of becoming mothers and fathers some of us do things that may seem a little left of centre. In fact, some cultures have rituals and traditions that are quite different from what might be considered every day occurrences after the birth of a child in Australia.
In Japan for instance, mothers are presented with small wooden boxes when leaving hospital. And in the box? Their child’s umbilical cord. And in countries like Jamaica, Cambodia, and Turkey, burying the placenta is a common ritual, as a way of ‘earthing’ a child and maintaining their connection to the world or warding off evil spirits.
Closer to home, John Broadbent celebrated the birth of his son in a unique way. “We had a home water birth and kept our newborn son in our room where he was born,” John says. “Every day we bathed him in his birthing pool with the water refreshed.”
The couple had pre-arranged friends and family to come over and bring food. For three weeks, John, his partner, and their son stayed in the room. “It was the middle of winter and we kept the room at summer temperatures so we could connect,” John says. “We kept the lights dimmed, played soft meditative music and took this opportunity to bond. It was just the three of us, without outside influences.”
John describes this time as magical, and believes his son still carries his early experiences with him. “Our son turned 12 years old last week, and receives glowing reports from teachers and sports coaches about his sense of self and quiet leadership,” says John. “I’m sure it started with his gentle and connected post-birth experience.”
Memories of her third child’s birth are strong for midwife Amy McGlade, who decided she wanted to create a keepsake to remind her of “the most sacred times” of her life. After growing up in a crafty and creative home, Amy decided she wanted to make jewellery from her breast milk and placenta.
“I started experimenting with different ways to preserve breast milk and a baby’s placenta,” Amy says. “My first creation was a breast milk pendant and a pair of placenta ‘gem’ earrings.” She now makes between three and 10 ‘placenta gems’ a week, and says the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Most women order a gem as a keepsake and reminder of their child’s birth,” says Amy. “But some mothers want a keepsake from a dearly loved baby who passed away.” In this way, Amy says, all the gems, like the women she makes them for, have a story. And surely that is worth holding onto.
*Names have been changed