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More Than Clinical Waste? Placenta Rituals Among Australian Home-Birthing Women

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The discursive construction of the human placenta varies greatly between hospital and home-birthing contexts. The former, driven by medicolegal discourse, defines the placenta as clinical waste. Within this framework, the placenta is as much of an afterthought as it is considered the “afterbirth.” In home-birth practices, the placenta is constructed as a “special” and meaningful element of the childbirth experience. I demonstrate this using 51 in-depth interviews with women who were pregnant and planning home births in Australia or had recently had home births in Australia. Analysis of these interviews indicates that the discursive shift taking place in home-birth practices from the medicalized model translates into a richer understanding and appreciation of the placenta as a spiritual component of the childbirth experience. The practices discussed in this article include the burial of the placenta beneath a specifically chosen plant, consuming the placenta, and having a lotus birth, which refers to not cutting the umbilical cord after the birth of the child but allowing it to dry naturally and break of its own accord. By shifting focus away from the medicalized frames of reference in relation to the third stage of labor, the home-birthing women in this study have used the placenta in various rituals and ceremonies to spiritualize an aspect of birth that is usually overlooked.
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Keywords: childbirth; childbirth education; home birth; hospital birth; placenta

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2014

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