Jan’s Corner: The Gorgeous Placenta

Midwifery Today, Issue 144, Winter 2022.
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All the following stunning photos are taken by Harriette Hartigan, photographer, midwife, and author-photographer of the book Brought to Earth by Birth, available from Midwifery Today.

Placenta Garden of Life

seeing to share
elements of existence
seldom seen
within our first home
body itself

More of Harriette’s beautiful words can be found at: (InSight Photography (harriettehartigan.com)

It is astounding how much midwives and doulas love and appreciate the placenta, while the general public treats it with an “eewww” attitude. We think of it as an incredible though short-lived organ that through it produces a beautiful baby. Most of us teach our families the beauty and function of the placenta. Before or after we have checked it for missing pieces, we show it to the family with awe and respect. Look at this exquisite tree of life in the photo below. Isn’t that stunning? Doesn’t it just look like a picture of health?

Placenta Tree of Life

Some midwives or doulas make placenta prints out of the placenta for family. (See the back cover photo of the magazine.) There are many lovely rituals that families have around their placentas. Many bury it with a tree over it. Don’t put it too close to the tree’s roots or it will burn the roots as it decomposes. Many people eat the placenta—cooked or raw. Some say it is the only unkilled meat. It is believed to help produce an abundance of milk.

umbilical cord

Look at this enchanting cord. Besides its inherent beauty there are some great uses for it after birth.

placenta in sack

The cord can also be used to stop hemorrhage. It, like the membranes, is available even if the placenta has not yet come. Put a small piece in the cheek. It is very fast acting.

placenta in sack

There is an island where the people call the placenta and bag “the baby’s first home!” Of course, that is exactly what it is! It protects the child and provides a warm home of the perfect temperature, besides feeding the baby and taking away waste.

Of course, one of our tasks as a midwife is to carefully examine the placenta to make sure no pieces are missing. One of my midwife partners had a birth where a tiny missing piece of retained placenta caused a massive late postpartum hemorrhage several weeks later. It was one of those where she thought she had all the pieces, but a little something was left behind. Sometimes it can be hard to ascertain whether all of the placenta is there.

maternal side

Look at this beautiful piece of artwork. Picasso would be proud. Truly, the placenta and membranes are another of God’s artistic touches to life.


These divine photos give me a renewed appreciation and respect for the placenta, membranes, and cord. I hope they do the same for you.

Toward Better Birth,

Jan and Harriette

About Author: Jan Tritten

Jan Tritten is the founder, editor, and mother of Midwifery Today magazine and conferences. Her love for and study of midwifery sprang from the beautiful homebirth of her second daughter—after a disappointing, medicalized first birth in the hospital. After giving birth at home, she kept studying birth books because, “she thought there was something more here.” She became a homebirth midwife in 1977 and continued helping moms who wanted a better birth experience. Jan started Midwifery Today in 1986 to spread the good word about midwifery care, using her experience to guide editorial and conferences. Her mission is to make loving midwifery care the norm for birthing women and their babies in the United States and around the world. Meet Jan at our conferences around the world!

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About Author: Harriette Hartigan

Harriette Hartigan has been photographing pregnancy, birth, and newborn life since 1975. Her book, Brought to Earth by Birth, is a visual, poetic expression of our profound human experience. Harriette is also a midwife, writer, and teacher, with a degree in psychology. Her website is harriettehartigan.com.

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