By Angie Park
The placenta is a beautiful, powerful sacred organ. Take a look at your bellybutton. They are scars that reminds us that we were once connected to the placenta by an umbilical cord.
After 5-30 minutes after the baby is born, the birthing person gives birth to the placenta. This is called the third stage of labor. This amazing organ is often misunderstood, and it is also often left as an afterthought, but it is the life support system for the fetus. It provides oxygen, nourishment and waste disposal, doing the job of the lungs, liver, kidneys and other organs until the fetal ones kick in.
(photo credit: Placenta by Michael Greenwood/Alamy)
After birth of a full-term infant, ~30% of the fetal placental blood still remains in the placenta. Immediate cutting of the umbilical cord robs the baby of this iron-rich blood. The in “West”, the protocol of cutting of the umbilical cord still varies between hospitals. A “delayed” cord cutting in a hospital in West can mean 2 minutes, a “super-delayed” cord cutting in a home birth can mean 1+ hours. In some cultures (Balinese), they practice lotus birth, which is the practice of leaving the umbilical cord uncut after so that the baby is left attached to the until the cord naturally separates.
(Photo credit: Lotus Birth, photo by Monica Eleazar of Birthing Beyond)
KOREAN PLACENTA RITUALS
Today, in the West, we often think of placentas as organs that help our babies during pregnancy. After birth, we usually dispose of them, encapsulate them into pills, make placenta keepsakes, etc.
For our ancestors in Korea, 태 (Tae/placenta) signified the baby’s life and destiny. It was sacred, and there were handled with immense care. For the Joseon royal family in particular, the placenta was thought to be connected to the fate of the nation and was thus even more carefully handled. Our royals ancestors would cut the umbilical cord with a bamboo knife, gently wash the tae, and preserve it in pottery (clay-pot or ceramic depending on social status) before Taejang, a Korean ceremony where the baby’s placenta was buried in a holy area. People strongly had a belief that if the Tae태 (placenta) was buried in good earth, the child of the태 (placenta) would have receive a lot of good energies from the earth.
(Photo credit: Placenta jars, 1481, Joseon Ewha Womans University Museum)
Other common Korean placenta rituals included wrapping it in rice straw or paper and carefully storing in the room where the baby was born, in a specific part of the house or in a place where Samsin, or the Goddess of Childbearing, was enshrined. Within three days after birth (This day is called samnal/삼날), the placenta was often burned. A person was assigned to do it, and a was kept out of sight. When sending the placenta out, an auspicious direction was selection.
Depending on family and region, the ashes were either washed away in running water or buried underground. It was believed that the placenta should be buried underneath a well-grown tree so that the baby nurtured by the placenta would grow like the tree. Some scattered them on the road in a long black line to promote longevity, and others saved some of the ashes for medicinal purpose.
(Photo credit: Taesil, a shrine where the royal family stored the placenta and umbilical cords of their children, Kitty Schweizer)
Resources: National Museum of Korea,Traditional Postpartum Practices and Rituals: A Qualitative Systematic Review, The Labor Progress Book, Encyclopedia of Korean Folk Culture, Korean Herald