Photos of newborn babies are often shared on Facebook, but Maori women are doing something very different: shedding light on their connection to land and family by sharing photos of placenta burying traditions.
One photo in particular was shared of baby Harper with the umbilical cord still attached to the placenta, the cord intertwined to spell out the words “Love”.
“Welcome earthside sweet little Harper,” the Facebook post reads. “As a Maori baby his placenta will now be returned to the land.”
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The placenta and umbilical cord will then be buried into the soil, according to ancient tradition, perhaps under a new plant or tree, to signify the child’s connection with the land.
Other families have shared their own photos of their placenta, or whenua, traditions with many women commenting about their own experiences in the comments section.
“We gave thanks and also buried our baby’s whenua (placenta) and pito (umbilical cord) on our whenua (land). That way when they are older they will always find their way home, to their papakainga (homeland),” one person said.
Some families shared that they had kept hold of their children’s placentas until they had a permanent home for them.
“Our 3 are also still in the freezer, we rent our property and want to bury the whenua when we finally buy our own farm… and yes they’ll each have a tree planted above — the kids’ choice as long as it’s a native,” another woman said.
Others have shared images of their whenuas in action, showing the trees and plants growing beautifully thanks to the nutrients provided by the placenta.
“Thank you for watering me with love, feeding me with encouragement, & nourishing me with time & energy. I am growing beautiful because of you,” this mother shared on Instagram.
While this little girl wanted to prove the life-giving nature of the whenua and the effect it had on her birth tree, by sharing a snap on Instagram.
“Somewhere in the depths of my Instagram timeline I posted a pic of my daughter Ahijah sitting in front of her whenua or birth tree after we had just planted it. 133 weeks later here she is asking me to take a pic as she is super excited to see it working,” this mum shared.
Honouring and making use of the placenta is common in many cultures around the world.
Placentophagy, when the mother eats the placenta, has been on the rise in Western cultures since the ’70s when natural birthing practices first became more acceptable and embraced.
In Indonesia, the placenta is also buried, but for very different reasons. The placenta is considered the child’s twin and will act as a guardian angel for the child.
Dried placenta is also used in both Chinese and Korean medicine, and often given to children when they are unwell.
All this might be a bit hard to swallow, but one thing is clear, the placenta is life-giving and powerful and definitely worth celebrating.