Please Pass the Placenta: Unreal deduces the reason placentas are clogging sewers in Illinois

Mar 11, 2009 at 4:00 am

If you haven't already eaten lunch today, stop reading now. Seriously. Go eat, come back, then dive into something that's sure to make you lose your appetite.

Unreal was browsing news of the weird yesterday when we stumbled upon this whopper of a headline: "Placentas Found In Sewage System."

Apparently someone in the city of Urbana, Illinois — the town adjacent to Champaign and the University of Illinois — is dumping human placentas down the drain. The fetal organs are getting caught in the filters at the city's sewage plant. Three placentas have already been found this year. Police are baffled.

While most news outlets pontificated on the source of the placentas (An unscrupulous midwife? A doctor trying to duck the cost of medical-waste disposal? Tom Cruise?), Unreal wondered about a different tack.

Often called afterbirth, the placenta is the organ that provides nutrients to a fetus inside the mother's womb. Many societies consider it sacred. In Hawaii, for instance, the placenta was traditionally planted with a tree so the family could watch it grow (the tree, weirdo) along with the newborn child. Other cultures, including those in New Zealand, Costa Rica, Belize and the Navajo Indians, bury it for various superstitious reasons.

Some people eat it.

The act is called placentophagy and it's not as uncommon as Unreal would like to hope. In fact, humans are the only mammals that don't munch on their post-birth mess. It's a part of traditional Chinese medicine, and it's long been rumored as cure to postpartum depression.

Some people eat it just for the hell of it. Of course, the Internet knows no bounds so there are both written and digitally recorded accounts of the act.

Here's how a registered nurse described it in the November 1984 issue of Midwives Chronicle and Nursing Notes:

"Most newly parturient women feel voraciously hungry following a normal, uncomplicated delivery and, resolving to eat the placenta, I had expected it to satisfy this hunger in my case... However, my own aversion to bloody, raw meat frustrated me from eating the afterbirth immediately postpartum so it was placed in a large dish and left in the kitchen...Despite having convinced myself in pregnancy that it was necessary, for medicinal reasons, to eat the placenta, it was at this point that I nearly threw away my special 'birthday cake.'"