Pondering strange practices associated with childbirth, many people imagine that they are the product of third world cultures. While it is true that third world cultures have unusual and superstitious childbirth practices, the most bizarre and the most disgusting almost always come from first world countries. No one in the third world devised the spectacular lie that childbirth is “orgasmic;” and women in the third world did not make up the practice of waterbirth and pretend that delivering a baby into fecally contaminated water provides a good start in life. For the winner of wackiest (and most disgusting) childbirth practice ever, though, I’d nominate another stunt made up by first world women: lotus birth.
Louts birth is the decision to leave the placenta attached to the baby for several days until it rots off. It is a bizarre practice with no medical benefit and considerable risk, particularly the risk of massive infection. I’m not making this up. According to Lotus Fertility.com (“Serving your Inner Midwife”):
The baby is born and remains attached to its cord while the placenta is birthed. The baby’s placenta-cord is kept in-situ with the baby, gently wrapped in cloth or kept in an uncovered bowl near the mother, and the cord is sometimes wrapped in silk ribbon up to the baby’s belly. The cord quickly dries and shrinks in diameter, similar to sinew, and detaches often by the 3rd Postpartum day (but up to a week in certain humid indoor air conditions) leaving a perfect navel.
How is this accomplished?
…[T]he placenta is placed in a special bowl or wrapped in a ceremonial cloth (it is helpful to rinse it first, and remove clots)… Sea salt is also applied generously on both sides to aid drying and minimize scent. This small pillow and its cord are easily kept with the baby, and some women even use the Lotus pillow as an elbow prop during nursing…
In other words, in order to minimize the smell of rotting, the placenta is salted like a piece of dried meat. And as a bonus, you can use the rotting placenta as an elbow prop!
Why would anyone engage in such a bizarre and potential dangerous practice? Here’s the ostensible reason:
The practice … [is] called “Lotus Birth”, connecting the esteem held in the east for the Lotus to the esteem held for the intact baby as a holy child … Ahimsa, (non-violence in action and thought within one’s self and towards others) … is from the writings and leadership by Gandhi … and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s civil rights inspired marches followed soon after. Approaching birth options with Ahimsa in mind is something that can create a tremendous liberation of creative energies, freeing the potential of birth & early parenting to be a peaceful experience for the human family at large…
What’s the real reason behind lotus birth? Homebirth and other fringe birth advocates are engaged in a battle of oneupsmanship, and the woman with the most bizarre (and often the most dangerous) birth practices wins.
So, for example:
A says, “I had natural childbirth”
and B says, “Oh, yeah, well I had PAINLESS childbirth”
and C says, “Well, ladies, I can top that. I had an ORGASM during childbirth!”
A says, “I had my baby in a birth center”
and B says, “Oh, yeah, well I had my baby at HOME”
and C says, “Well, ladies, I can top that. I had my baby at home BY MYSELF!”
A says, “My partner cut the cord”
and B says, “Oh, yeah, well we waited until the cord stopped pulsating and then cut the cord”
and C says, “Well, ladies, I can top that. We didn’t cut the cord AT ALL and just waited for it to rot off!”
On this point I agree with homebirth and other fringe birth advocates. If the goal is to claim the wackiest childbirth practice, lotus birth wins: treat your baby like a “flower” and let the dead parts rot off.
This piece first appeared in May 2009.