By Hannah Haehn, MA, CD(DONA)
It is called “The Forgotten Chakra”. It is the organ produced by the pregnant body to nourish and support the life that is growing in the mother’s waters. It is the sibling to the child in the womb. It is the placenta.
The power of the placenta has begun to be restored in the minds of mothers and families around the world in recent years. Beautiful placenta art, placenta encapsulations, tinctures, even placenta smoothies, are all ways that the placenta and its nourishment for mother and baby is being honored. However, the moment that the placenta and the baby end their 40-week journey together, when the umbilical cord is clamped or cut, alters the relationship of the child to its placenta and to its mother. This change in relationship is one that needs further exploration and attention not only from the medical community but also from the holistic birthing community.
Commonly, the umbilical cord, that radiant source of pulsing red blood cells and useful iron that is rooted to the baby’s umbilicus and connects him or her with their placenta, is clamped and cut seconds after birth. However, the World Health Organization states that “late clamping (or not clamping at all) is the physiological way of treating the cord and early clamping is an intervention that needs justification…[In fact,] in normal birth, there should be a valid reason to interfere with the natural procedure.”
At the Yayasan Bumi Sehat Birth Clinic in Nyuh Kuning Village Bali, a holistic and all encompassing, evidence-based approach to honoring the sacred passage of the placenta and the change in energies as the umbilical cord is detached is underway. There, the cord is not cut or clamped in a linear timeline and never without attributing great thanks to the organ that has shared life with the baby who has been welcomed into the world.
The placenta is birthed attached to the newborn and is placed in a bowl of honor next to the side of the mother whose infant rests on her chest. Flowers adorn the afterbirth there until, hours later, when the family is ready, they can ask for a cord burning ceremony in which two candles are ignited and placed on either side of the now still and ready cord. Bringing the fire element to the birth process, this ceremony gently and hygienically releases the baby and its placenta from their bond. The cord burning ceremony is an empowering ritual that the family can all take part in while holding their child close, assuring them that they have a new source of nourishment and home in this world.
As well, if a family chooses they may wait until the cord detaches naturally, when the baby and the placenta decide they are ready to proceed into the next phase of their lives separately. This may happen three to seven days after birth, when the dry and sealed cord comes detached from the baby’s naval, allowing for a Full Lotus Birth to take place. These harmonious days of connection are sacred and experienced by the patient few who take this path.
This treatment of the placenta and cord comes from a deep understanding and appreciation of the connection between the mother and child and the placenta which should be more supported and further explored in the birth community. Yaysan Bumi Sehat’s founding midwife, Robin Lim writes:
“[In Bali] it is believed that the placenta, called Ari-ari, is the physical body of the child’s guardian angel. While the physical body of the angel dies shortly after the baby is born, the angel’s spirit stays with the child for his or her entire life. Each night the child bids goodnight to her Ari-ari and upon rising, she greets her placenta and thanks her for the protection the Ari-ari will provide for the coming day. At death, the human soul is accompanied into the afterlife by her placenta, steward of the mystery. Then, the placenta goes with the soul and stands before the Gods and Goddesses to testify on behalf of her human twin.”
And because of this:
“According to the Lontar, the sacred books of Bali Hindu Dharma, written in Sanskrit, the placenta must be strictly guarded. It was forbidden to cut the child’s umbilical cord before the placenta is safely delivered… In fact, the Lontar books recommend that many hours be allowed to pass after the placenta’s birth before placenta and baby are separated – if at all…”
These practices and this peace that is attributed to the revered placenta is something that each one of us can take with us, whether we are birth practitioners assisting a family in making decisions about the cord or placenta after their child’s birth, or if we are mothers and fathers embarking on the sea of birth currently.
One thing is certain however, as surely as we breath the air above us, we too shared our mother’s womb with our “Ari-Ari”, our placenta twin, and because of this deep spiritual connection that transpired over the weeks during our development we are connected to one another for life. Although our cords may no longer be linked, we are living proof of the power that our placenta held and because of this, as Robin Lim likes to so gracefully and honestly remind us, “We will never be alone…”
Live long and be well.
Hannah Haehn, MA, CD (DONA) is a Certified Doula, Maternal Health Advocate, Midwife Assistant and Childbirth Educator with a Master’s Degree in Global Maternal Health. She has been supporting families, writing about, sharing about, and living in awe of birth since 2010. She spent time researching and apprenticing with Robin Lim and the team of midwives at the Yayasan Bumi Sehat Birth Clinic in Bali during the Fall of 2011. She currently lives in Brooklyn and runs Full Moon Birth NYC which offers birth and postpartum doula services and childbirth education. www.fullmoonbirthnyc.com
 Lim, Robin. Placenta: The Forgotten Chakra. Ubud, Bali, Indonesia: Half Angel Press, 2010.
 Gaskin, Ina May. Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. New York: Bantam, 2003. Print.