Jennifer Hughes’s placenta was delivered ten minutes after her first child, just before midnight on March 31. It was on the large side, with a liverish texture and a bluish tinge; it measured nine inches in diameter and weighed a pound and a half.
[I]n the birth plan that Hughes brought with her to Beth Israel Medical Center, she specified that she wanted to keep her placenta, for cultural reasons. Complying with New York State health regulations, which says that hospitals “may, at the request of a patient or patient’s representative, return a healthy placenta for disposition by the patient,” the hospital allowed her to take it home, and even packed it up for her.
In some cultures, it is customary to bury the placenta and plant a tree over it.
Hughes had other plans. She was going to eat it.
[Jennifer] Mayer—an upbeat, blue-eyed blonde from upstate New York—is a professional placenta-preparer. Her job is to transform placentas into supplements that are said to alleviate postpartum depression, aid in breastmilk production and lactation, act as a uterine tonic, and replenish nutrients lost during pregnancy. Her clients are mostly middle-class, like Hughes and her husband, Doug, who are college-educated, in their thirties, and live on a gentrifying street in Crown Heights.
Mayer, who also works as a massage therapist and doula, first became interested in placentas as a student at the University of Colorado. After reading up on the purported benefits of consuming one’s afterbirth and learning that a client was planning to try it, Mayer decided that she wanted to offer her customers placenta capsules: dried, ground afterbirth packaged into a clear pill no bigger than a regular vitamin supplement.
“They’re happy pills,” Mayer says. “They’re made by your body, for your body. Why wouldn’t you want to try?”
For Alexa Beckham, a petite brunette who started [a placenta] encapsulation service called Ruby Tree Birth late last year, the science, or lack thereof, has little impact on the magic she experienced.
“When I was pregnant, I just craved organs,” says Beckham, a onetime vegan and raw-foodist who now eats grass-fed and organic meat. “I’d go to Diner [the Williamsburg restaurant] and order beef hearts, marrow … so the placenta just made sense.
“After I gave birth, I threw a chunk of placenta in the Vitamix with coconut water and a banana,” she adds. “It gave me the wildest rush. You know the feeling of drinking green juice on an empty stomach? It’s like that, but much more intense. It was definitely physical.”
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.
Hughes and her husband, Doug, have come home with their newborn son after spending the night in the hospital. They sit on their couch, depleted, while the baby sleeps.
Mayer takes a bit of dehydrated, cooked placenta she saved and ceremoniously places a portion in their open palms. The pieces are brown, shriveled, and brittle—like old shoe leather left out in the sun.
The new parents toast each other, giggle nervously, and begin to chew. The crunch is audible across the room, and they wince slightly at the sound.
“So, what do you think?” Mayer asks.
“It tastes like jerky,” Doug says. “Dry, gamy, bland jerky.”
[New York Magazine]