Notes from Home: Afterbirth
By Trudy Wischemann
I woke up Christmas morning with thoughts of the manger. Mary and Joseph have made it through this tough night; mother and child are doing fine. The animals in attendance are probably hungry, waiting for their keeper to bring them breakfast. It’s a new day.
For some reason, these images took my waking mind to another birth, the birth of my mare’s foal when I was about 14. It was my first real exposure to birth, as had been my witnessing of his conception. Both were rude awakenings to the realities of life, of how we come into this world.
My mother had seen his coming in a dream, and told my father, who, believing her, woke me up to go check. We were keeping Misty in the back pasture for some reason, out of sight of the house. But when we arrived at the fence, there was the foal on the ground, a small chestnut cinnamon roll just unfurling, long stick legs trying to find footing. He lurched to his feet, as surprised to be there as we were. The miracle had occurred. Misty made it through that tough night, and mother and child were fine.
Before he dashed off to work, Dad turned to me and said “You go get the shovel and bury the afterbirth. If you don’t, Misty will eat it.” I’m sure he meant well in assigning me this responsibility; she was my horse, after all. But I didn’t know what an afterbirth was, and when I finally found it, I was grossed out. I was also alone, as I was so often in those years. Burying the afterbirth felt like some kind of punishment for being female.
Christmas morning, my mind went back to the manger, then, and to Mary. Was she left alone to do something with the afterbirth? As a teenager, with no midwife or mother there beside her for guidance, did she have any idea what to do? Would Joseph have relieved her of that responsibility, or did he simply motion in the direction of the shovel?
That reverie took me to Quaker Oaks Farm, and the blessing of meeting Darlene Franco, who sits on the board of directors. Darlene is a member of the Wukchumni tribe, who have been meeting regularly on the grounds of the farm many years, long before it became a non-profit. Early in our acquaintance, Darlene told us of burying the afterbirth of each of her three children as the bases of three individual trees. “My kids know which tree is theirs,” she said, invisibly converting afterbirth from the category of “profane” to the category of “sacred” in my mind.
Afterbirth: that protective sac the mother’s body makes to carry the growing baby inside her until that baby is ready to breathe the atmosphere directly and eat through its mouth rather than through a cord to its navel. The sac that breaks, releasing the mother’s waters, when the time has come to squeeze through that dark tunnel into the light, and make home on this planet outside the womb. Miracle.
Trudy Wischemann is a squeamish teenager all grown up who writes. You can send her your stories c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com and leave a comment there.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Foothills Sun-Gazette newspaper.