Posted by: emjb | August 6, 2005

Placentas are Amazing, Parenting Magazines Less So

When Matt and I got engaged, I was a little jazzed that I suddenly had an excuse to buy bridal magazines, which is to many women as buying Porsche Monthly is to many men. While not a girly girl in many ways, I did have a weakness for fantasies of white satin trains and veils and being Queen for a Day.

The excitement wore off after a few issues, when I realized that bridal mags were all the same, and sold all the same, mostly overpriced, mostly tacky, crap. And no one ever reads them for the articles, which mostly consist of telling you how not to get lipstick on your veil, and how to spend $10,000 on your Fiji honeymoon. None of them ever talk about making all your own decorations and how to honeymoon on the cheap; they all assume you want your Dynasty big-hair, pearl-encrusted, expensively-catered wedding.

Anyway, I feel much the same while perusing parenting magazines of various stripes at the local bookstore. Most of them are just glorified Good Housekeeping or Redbook clones, the kind of magazines that take a breathless interest in Katie Couric’s career and assume that even if you’re working, (you being the woman) you still have the primary responsibility for baby care unless you can occasionally nag your man into changing a diaper. There are articles on playground bullies and growing stages, but mostly lots and lots and lots of ads for everything ever made by Gerber or Johnson & Johnson. And Martha-Stewarty articles about making gourmet cupcakes for little Montana’s birthday parties.

Then there are alternative mags, like Brain, Child . I was initially enthused by it, until I picked up an issue and discovered it was, in its own way, as insular as the mainstream magazines. You were assumed to be a white, college-educated, and upper middle class female. There was nothing for dads*, and instead of articles on cupcake baking, there were essays on the vicissitudes of motherhood from a white, upper middle class female, college-educated perspective, which all tended to blend into each other. And you know, it serves its audience well; unfortunately, it’s an audience that’s pretty well-served already, and it’s one that doesn’t always include me, and doesn’t include my husband at all. Pass.

Then I picked up Mothering, a sort of Parenting for the upper-middle-class-white mom who is WAY into organics, brown rice, and cloth diapers. Again, this is no crime, though it does prove that enlightenment about planet-saving doth not lead to enlightenment about bringing dads into the parenting sphere. But it is called Mothering, after all. In between light and fluffy articles about kid parties that raise self-esteem, the wonders of kale**, and the virtues of non-religious-crazy homeschooling, was an article called “The Amazing Placenta.”

Now, I was kind of interested in this. Surprisingly little is ever said about the placenta in pregnancy books, except to warn you how it can go wrong. Delivering the placenta is the last thing you do in birth, but it’s anticlimactic, rather like the marching band that follows Santa in the Macy’s parade. Still, it’s a strange and nifty little organ, one of Nature’s better inventions. I wouldn’t mind reading an article about how it does what it does.

Instead, I got an author who had an unsettling way of describing the placenta’s functions as they had personally applied to her and her baby Jacob, which made it all seem a little…icky:

…Jacob’s villi were anchoring his developing placenta, acting as his roots in the firm soil of my womb-garden, and his body stalk–the tissue that would later become his umblilical cord–was keeping his embryonic body alive…


As the article continued, so did the author’s unsettling anthropomorphisation of the placenta, which was treated not as a body organ operating under the direction of hormones and DNA, but as something that did what it did out of love and concern for the fetus. You would get descriptions of the bodily processes–tissue growth, hormone production–but all mixed up with a sort of weird pseudo-spiritual oogly-oogliness that was really offputting, mostly because she assumed her audience was already inclined to think that way. It was a bit like having your regular science teacher replaced by a creationist who felt compelled to remind you that photosynthesis involved sunlight, chemicals, and the secret ingredient, God’s unbounded love.

She ended by advocating for lotus-birthing, which was a new concept for me, and (other than making sure the cord isn’t cut too soon) seems to be mainly a way for upper-middle-class white women to create a pseudo-mystical process out of the drying up of the placenta and umbilical cord. Which is fine and all, but not all that useful to those of us who find the spirituality of birth simpler and less contrived. Reviving old superstitions–or inventing new ones–isn’t really progress, if you think about it. The reality of what the human body is and can do in birth seems plenty miraculous to me without any made-up mumbo jumbo. The placenta doesn’t need to be treated like a minor deity to be appreciated.* **

Anyway, if you’re looking for really good writing and practical advice on parenting, I highly recommend the “parenting” links on the right of my blog here. There’s a lot of dads there, too. One Good Thing, under the “Feminism” banner, also deserves a mention, because she talks about parenting her kids quite a lot as well. And she’s hella funny.

*I was not the only reader who wondered about this, judging from a rather sniffy letter from the editors that explained that since they could not think of any way to adequately address male parenting issues, they weren’t going to try. Which was honest, at least, but pretty disappointing for such a cerebral rag. I have in my blogroll at least 5 excellent dad bloggers who could and do write about male parenting issues every day, but apparently this is too complex a task for B,C’s editors to address.

**apparently, the way to get your kids to eat kale is to mince it really fine and put it into pasta sauces or stews–basically sneaking it into your kid’s diet. Because no child is going to grab a big leaf and go “mmm, kale!” Well, no child I’ve ever met. If kale is so wonderful, why do we have to make ourselves eat it? I think Nature hates us.

* **Holy crap. Twisty has some of the most unsentimental pics of birth + placenta you will ever see. You won’t see this on A Baby Story. Um, not for the weak, these.



  1. Muahahaha! You abso-freaking-lutely read my mind.

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