I got an email from my dad the other day. Here’s what it said.
Subject: 2 things
1. Did you know Alicia Silverstone chews up food and feeds it to her baby?
2. Eating placenta may not be good for you.
If you know my dad, you know that this is well within the realm of “normal” for my father and his email communication with me. In fact, it’s one of the less bizarre emails I have ever received from him. But besides alerting me to the fact that if my dad knows about this Alicia thing, I should probably write about it, it brings to light a larger parenting issue that’s been on my mind lately about where our comfort zone is, and what happens when someone does something outside of it.
Personal Disclaimer: I am not friends with Mrs. Silverstone. I respect her greatly, particularly in her capacity as a public animal rights activist, vegan, and author. Her cookbook is kind of amazing and has the best recipe for vegan peanut butter cups ever oh my goodness it’s ridiculous–oops. I’m sort of getting off topic, sorry. Back to the matter at hand: I have no problem with Alicia Silverstone nor am I writing to defend her because I am her BFF. I’m also not friends with January Jones, the actress from “Mad Men” who recently admitted to eating her placenta in pill form after her baby was born.
Religiously-Motivated Disclaimer: One of the things I avoid most in this world is lashon hora (gossip). I don’t believe in gossiping about people or listening to gossip. Although I am not a perfect practitioner of this prohibition (I hope to be perfect in this aspect one day, God willing), I would never want any comments I make about Mrs. Silverstone or Mrs. Jones to be perceived as gossip.
Since my book on attachment parenting (
Beyond the Sling
) came out a month or so ago, I have gotten some amazing support from parents who believe in gentle discipline, natural birth, breastfeeding, and bedsharing. I have even been able to shift some “conventional” folks’ perceptions about these things which is tremendously gratifying. However, in writing this book, I have come under public criticism for a lot of my beliefs in attachment parenting (just as those who parent this way have been criticized privately for years).
Let’s deal with my dad’s email though. He asks about two things, and although he is trying to be gentle, what he (and a lot of people) say about these things sounds more like this:
1) “Why would anyone chew up food and give it to their kid? It’s gross! We aren’t birds, we’re mammals! Even mammals don’t do this but if they did, it’s still gross! We’re human beings! We created computers and poems in iambic pentameter; this is just way too weird! And why would she put that on the internet!?” (Did I cover everything you are thinking?)
2) “Why on earth would anyone eat their placenta!? That is disgusting and nauseating. It’s weird and gross and just…blech ick feh. And if Dr. ‘Blossom/Amy Farrah Fowler/Miss I-know-everything-about-weirdo-parenting’ feeds me some line about it being evolutionarily beneficial or any other ivory tower academic drek and drivel, I am going to stop watching ‘The Big Bang Theory’ because I have evolved enough to know that that’s just G-R-O-S-S!” (Pretty close?)
Here are my responses to you, snarky people of America (and dad):
Chewing Up Food
Yes, dad, I knew that Alicia Silverstone does that. And I guess some people believe that foods that are hard to break down still have nutritional value and they want their kid to eat them. It’s not unhygienic; that baby was breastfed and is used to his mother’s body fluids, so that’s not a problem. I maybe did this once or twice with my first son, but since we didn’t offer any solids for the first year (only breastmilk), by the time our kids were ready to eat, they had a full set of teeth and even some molars (!). I sort of feel like if the food needs to be chewed up, it’s not the time to feed that food, but that’s just my preference.
(Putting on my Certified Lactation Educator/Counselor hat for a second, I also argue for delaying solids at least until six months, which is recommended by the AAP and WHO. Before six months, exclusive breastmilk is the recommended nutrition by those organizations).
I would never have thought to videotape it or post a video of myself chewing up food and feeding it to my kid, and I can’t speak to that decision by Mrs. Silverstone and her husband. Honestly, though? It’s none of my business to care why they did it. They simply did. If she had mentioned this in an interview, the reaction would not have been as strong. The visual is (understandably) very striking and has been a lot of the fuel for this fire.
Human beings are the only mammals that have chosen to not routinely ingest their placenta, which is consumed by every other mammal for its protein and iron-rich properties that are critical in helping the mother’s body recuperate after giving birth. End of story. It’s good for mammals to eat the placenta and we evolved for that purpose (sorry, Chuck Lorre, we may have just lost a few fans). Some people ingest the placenta pureed into a vegetable soup, some blend it with fruits, and for those among us who can’t bear the thought of either of those but still believe in the value of ingesting mammalian placenta, we have it dried and put into capsules (two capsules a day lasts about a month). The story in the news that my dear father referenced in his email to me was not about the placenta itself, but likely about the packaging, since, as mammals, there is no evolutionary benefit to us being created with a placenta that is not perfectly healthy and wonderful to ingest. It is. Yum!
If you have not either gagged or given up on me altogether yet, you may want to know that neither of these things are part of “Attachment Parenting” according to the established principles of Dr. William Sears who originally coined the term, nor is anything nutritional (besides breastfeeding) mentioned in the AP principles of Attachment Parenting International. This is simply something some people do. And it’s not illegal or “wrong” or crazy.
1) Attachment parenting does not have an opinion about ingesting placenta or chewing up food and giving it to your child.
2) I rarely chewed up food for my kid but it happened and was not something I wanted to do more of.
3) I ingested my placenta.
4) I am not a bad person, a crazy person, or a freak and neither is Alicia Silverstone or January Jones.
Everyone has a line which, when crossed, makes them perk up their ears. For you, it may be me breastfeeding my 3-year-old. For someone else, it may be me breastfeeding at all (I know people like this). For you, me holding my newborn over a potty may be the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard of. For me, diapers for 4-year-olds sounds pretty outside of my comfort zone, as does not wanting to be close to your baby as much as possible. The point is, we all have an idea of what we want to do or what we think is “normal.” It benefits no one for us to turn someone’s choices or even eccentricity into a case for ridicule or judgment.
Let’s reserve judgment for people who beat their children, sell their daughters into prostitution, or deny women the right to make decisions about their bodies and their lives.
All the other stuff? I see it as an opportunity to thank God for the variation of the human experience and the Source of a potential for compassion and love placed in each of our souls.
Read Mayim’s original take on “extreme” parenting, her adventures in co-sleeping, and her defense of attachment parenting.