I am so curious how many people without children or experience with childbirth have any idea what the hell a placenta is or does. I certainly had no clue–I knew the term “afterbirth,” which I think I associated with novels set on the plains before statehood, as likely to feature animal births as human ones. “Afterbirth” sounds so extraneous–like just some goop that happens to slide out after the important part.
Well in case this is your association too, let me tell you: placentas are THE SHIT. It’s a whole ORGAN and it does EVERYTHING! And they are huge–not even close to just some goop. And when you are pregnant, especially towards the end, there’s a lot of chatter about your placenta. If you get on towards or after the guessed delivery date, you get to wonder if it’s still working well or if perhaps it has died, petered out, stopped giving your baby what it needs, in which case it’s time to give birth right damn now. You get to decide what you might like to do with it once it comes out, which is a delivery process in and of itself–save it or have it disposed of? Put it in the garden and plant a tree on top? Put it in a smoothie? Have it “encapsulated,” which refers to a complex series of steps involving cutting it into strips, cooking it, drying it, adding herbs, and stuffing the resulting powder into little gelcaps?!
You may or may not suspect me of being a person that would do that last thing, but in fact I did (though if I’d read this beforehand I might have thought twice). They came to mean a a mason jar, I take six capsules a day, and here’s what they look like (I’m almost done! I would be done but I keep forgetting to take them).
I was googling the encapsulation process, and this delightful nugget was at the bottom of the search results:
Anyway: aren’t you curious where the word comes from?? Me too!
And…it turns out to be pretty delightful as well.
As with “uterus,” this is so much more encyclopedic than is typical, though within that frame there’s something colloquial about it, i.e. “more or less of the uterine wall is torn off,” jesus god.
The Online Etymology Dictionary is more succinct:
UTERINE CAKE! I hope you all have been watching John Oliver’s show if you have access to it–it’s a light in these dark sociopolitical times. A running gag he has is to lead into a segment on our dumb president’s terrible bullshit by saying “President Trump–two words that still sound wrong and unnatural together, like “fuckable clown”, “haunted horse,” etc (new ones every week!)… and, I might argue, like “uterine cake.” But uterine cake is, in fact, about the most natural thing there is…it is, and I hope you’re ready for this, BIRTH DAY CAKE.
This was all perhaps more anatomy than you were prepared for early on a holiday Monday, so to close out, here’s my current favorite picture of what my personal uterine cake nourished into existence ❤️