Umbilical Cord Mementos

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today, Issue 108, Winter 2013.
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We midwives and doulas are an odd and interesting lot. We love umbilical cords. There is usually so much going on at a birth that we don’t think a lot about them in general, but when we get to talking on the subject of umbilical cords, we love it! It is through the cord that baby is nourished and waste is taken away—amazing! I asked questions on Facebook about the cord and got so many responses with love and enthusiasm that I know you all share the love of cords with me.

The cord is a beautiful, pearly rope that is the baby’s lifeline in utero. It is not only a lifeline, but also a familiar friend through baby’s life in the womb. Like a toy, a baby plays with and grasps her cord. There are actually a few toys in there … thumbs, feet, fists and the cord! Sometimes the baby plays rough with its cord and grips it too tightly. A friend who is also a midwife was in labor and her baby had poor fetal heart tones. She transported to the hospital and ultrasound showed that the baby was gripping the cord so hard that it affected her heart beat.

I love that some midwives have formed a lovely ritual (we need more rituals in modern birth) of making a placenta and cord print for the mom as a keepsake. When my friend Eneyda and I attended a birth in Puerto Rico with midwife Gina Dacosta, we were touched by how the cord and placenta were treated so respectfully. Gina made a beautiful placenta and umbilical cord print and the baby’s footprints were added to the paper. This is a really nice thing for the midwife to do for the family.

The miracle of pregnancy and birth is so touching, so unique and so special—only a very creative God could come up with it. I would not have ever thought up such a miraculous manner for a new person to come to Earth, but like other midwives and doulas, I love it. Another practical use for the cord is to stop a hemorrhage or bring out a sticky placenta. Simply have mom chew on part of the cord—the wonderful oxytocic power from the cord gives it the unique ability to help midwives with complications (see my editorial, Lessons from Kitty Birth: Using Placenta to Control Hemorrhage, for more on this).

Midwives and doulas these days are so creative. While playing around on Facebook, I found a wonderful keepsake my cousin Teresa made from the cord. The word love is spelled out with the cord and then dried. Teresa is an amazing homebirth momma and doula. I asked her to give you instructions with a couple of her photos. (See more photos on page 6 of the print magazine.)

Jan is right—birth workers have an unusual affinity for placentas and umbilical cords. While not an appropriate holiday dinner topic, in my home it’s commonplace to have a placenta in the fridge next to the veggie hotdogs and soy milk. Although I know the physiology and anatomy of this wondrous organ, I’m always struck by the magic of it. Every placenta is unique and beautiful, like the baby it supported. As a placenta encapsulator, I change the form of the placenta into something the mother can use to restore herself after pregnancy. However, the umbilical cord is something I can preserve and return to mother and baby as a memento that connects them forever.

Thinking like a seamstress one day, I combined needle and thread with dehydrator trays to hold a cord in place while drying. It maintained the shape I wanted and allowed me to be more creative with the cord—no more warped hearts and misshapen initials. My new method only takes a few extra minutes, but is well worth the time.

The shape is determined by how much cord there is to work with. A heart or an initial can be made with a shorter cord, but I was recently fortunate enough to have 33 inches to work with. I was able to spell out love (and for this particular birth, it was especially healing). The first step is to figure out what you can make with the length of cord you have. If making a heart, twist the ends together to form the center of the heart. If it’s an initial, add some sort of flourish to either side.

After you’ve figured out the shape, place the cord on a dehydrator tray lined with parchment paper. I use cotton tatting thread and a large eye needle to loosely stitch the cord to the frame of the tray. The paper will give as the cord dries to allow for shrinkage. Start at one end and tie off the thread, but don’t cut it. Wrap the thread around the cord and the tray frame. Tie off the thread occasionally, but don’t cut it. Make sure you place thread at places where the cord crosses over itself and/or where you want to maintain a curve or angle.

Once you’ve stitched the cord down, place it in the dehydrator and dry as usual. You can also do this on a cookie rack with the oven on its lowest setting for 6–10 hours. Once the cord is thoroughly dried, let it cool, cut the threads and voilà—a flat, well-shaped memento of one of life’s most memorable occasions. Enjoy!

Teresa Fox Magri, doula, placental encapsulatrix

Toward better birth,

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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