Much Ado about Placenta


This is a story about how I went from being someone who had never heard of a placenta to being someone who ingested one…by accident. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Being pregnant taught me many things about my reproductive system that I had never thought about. It’s not that I had misconceived notions, I just had…no notions. Never given it a thought. The placenta was one of these things.

The placenta is not, as I had imagined when I was much younger, the same thing as amniotic fluid. I realized that I had never bothered to update my teenage understanding of this amazing organ until there was one inside of me, but once I got wise to what it really was – the source of nutrients and basically all bodily functions for the baby – I was amazed.

Many believe that the placenta, being so rich in all things baby and pregnant lady, is extremely beneficial to the mother if ingested after the birth of the baby. (Side note – did you know that after the baby is born you still have to birth the placenta? And that it feels like what I imagine running a marathon just to cross the finish line and find out you have to sprint a 5k would be like?). Though there isn’t much conventional scientific evidence proving that consuming the placenta does anything for momma, it’s definitely not hurting anyone, so I did want to give it a try. I only had things to gain: some say consuming it decreases propensity for postpartum depression and helps to regulate the general transition from beautiful pregnant woman lit from behind to sleep-deprived, milk-soaked, bat shit crazy new mother.

Well there are a few ways to ingest this magic baby maker. The one I was interested in was capsules. You take your placenta from the hospital, hand it over to the right person, and for the next few weeks take placenta pills. The other, less appetizing, was taking the placenta home and using pieces of it in shakes or juices. I was not warming up to the latter.

Unfortunately, after Noam’s birth, the hospital said they had to test the placenta for this or that related to the fact that the baby was born three weeks early. So I left without the raw material for my postpartum capsules.

As it turned out, my postpartum experience was emotional, exhausting, but pretty even-keeled for the most part. I didn’t find myself regretting too much not having tested out the placental benefits I had stood to gain, as I told some other postpartum ladies at a recent get together. We were at the midwife’s house, who had invited us all over to meet each other and share a bit about the first few months of motherhood. It was remarkably comforting to be around other new mothers, and the time was flying by as we ate snacks and drank fresh juice that the midwife had prepared from her fruit trees.

Her fruit trees AND…

“There’s a placenta in this juice!” she said incredibly nonchalantly after I had already drank half a cup. I froze momentarily, as did the other two women.

I had so many questions. Mainly, whose placenta was I drinking?

Responding to our outraged disbelief which she mistakenly interpreted as enthusiasm, the midwife explained that she had so many placentas preserved from the various births she had supervised that she often tried to incorporate them into her daily diet.

Coping with the idea that I was ingesting a random woman’s collection of hormones and nutrients and torn between finding the situation hilarious and repulsive, I decided just to finish my juice. I was, after all, halfway through anyway. Who says you never get a second chance?


The Bilingual Birth Chronicles: He Was Born!….So Early!

20160822-062851.jpgWell guys, after posting last time that I still had weeks to go at work, Noam was born exactly two days later. That shows me!

Many things at home were already prepared, but I also had grandiose ideas of finishing paper proposals, writing, and other household projects before he came. Dreams of yesterday! Now I have to figure out things like getting his passport, how a birth certificate works, and how to change a diaper.

The day before he was born, people at work threw a surprise baby shower, then Fuca and I continued on to a concert that night. We got home, went to sleep, and two hours later the baby was on his way.

20160822-062919.jpgSo: Noam Landau Santos, born 8:47 AM on August 17th at just over 6 lbs. The rest we’re figuring out!



The Bilingual Birth Chronicles: Kids Ask Pregnancy Questions

IMG_7509 (1)As I settle in to the 9th month here, I’m looking back on what it was like to be pregnant and constantly surrounded by young children. So much of it was extremely touching: there were many hugs, careful kisses for the baby (who sits at about eye-level for a 7-year-old), and lots of baby-patting. So much of it was also hilarious, as students struggled to understand pregnancy – something so familiar to them but also so mystifying, almost irreconcilable. You know, we as adults, myself included, are not that different in our non-comprehension of gestation, so I’ve compiled a list of the 10 best questions and comments students brought to me over the last few months. Maybe you’ll even identify with some of them. I definitely did.

-Teacher, you’re pregnant?!
-But….how did you get that way??

-If I put my ear to your belly, will I hear him?

-Hey, look, she’s pregnant!
-Yea, tell me something I don’t know!

– Is he connected to your belly button?

-Why isn’t your baby going to be born now?

-How will you know when it’s time for your baby to be born?

-Did you swallow him?

-Does he have a name yet?
-Yes, it’s Noam.
-Um…can you say that in English?
-….that is English.

-Hey, you don’t work here anymore because you’re pregnant!

-When he moves around, is it like that movie Alien?

All really valid questions and reactions. With just a few weeks of work left, I’m still all ears.

The Bilingual Birth Chronicles: Nation-Ambiguous

IMG_7471As it turns out, I’ve traveled quite a bit while pregnant. At six weeks, I was in Georgia with my older sister. At eight, I was on a plane back to Brazil. After that, there were two more trips to the states and another still to a conference in Brasilia that my doctor finally vetoed.

One great thing about boarding in Brazil is the priority access line for pregnant women (along with other “special needs” groups as they’re called). You board first, and everyone falls all over themselves to help you.

As a pregnant person, though, I’ve felt very little need for special treatment. In fact, I routinely forget I’m pregnant and am constantly chided for lifting heavy objects, squatting down or standing for too long. When it comes to airline staff, their offers to help are often met with my blank stares, bewildered and trying to retrieve the reason they might have for wanting to help me.

For the flight attendants and airport staff, this is interpreted as a sign of my lack of comprehension of the Portuguese language – a more than fair assumption. They begin trying the next tricks up their sleeve, hoping to arrive at my native tongue. Funnily enough, English is hardly ever their go-to. I’ve been approached in Spanish and French. People bombard me with a list of nationalities, making rapid-fire guesses as to my origins. French ranks high, as does German and generally Scandinavian. The US hardly ever comes up.Though it doesn’t quite send me into an identity crisis, I do feel a pang of disappointment when the guesses aren’t right.

Landing on the other side of the Americas, however, sometimes presents the opposite problem. Once in Miami, all bets are off as I mix seamlessly into the sea of international arrivals. Again, the lines and movement of the airport baffle me in any language, so when a security official barks me to remove my shoes, blanks stares and visible concentration on my part precede any action. Impatient and cutting her losses, the security rep translates it into her best shot at Portuguese for me. I smile and comply. After that, I’m helped in Spanish by a few vendors as I try to pick up items Brazilian friends have requested. What I love about Miami airport is that even after responding in English, way too embarrassed of my Spanish now to dare to use it, I’m still answered in the vendor’s first language. This is languaging in practice.

Arriving in New York and on the very last leg of my trip, I stop for a quick coffee before getting a cab to my parents’ house. I place my bagel and drink order, and wait by the counter for them to call out my name. Soon, the barista is handing over a paper cup while checking the receipt to identify the customer. “Hulia??,” he yells. I am home.

The Bilingual Birth Chronicles: Shots. Every day.

syringeOne thing that doesn’t change regardless of where in the world I am is how much I hate shots. Not that anyone likes the, but I imagine some adults are able to deal with them as mature, grown individuals. Nope, not me.

Interacting with needles in general still calls up primal responses in me that I thought were lost to necessary societal repression. Getting a blood test is a actually a test of courage and perseverance. The nurse wants to know why I’m crying. When the Brazilian government recommended H1N1 vaccines for all pregnant women, it took all my determination and strength to go and get…oh wait no, I never went.

So you can imagine the kind of heart-breaking, tear-jerking, panic-inducing news it was to find out that I’d have to receive daily blood-thinning injections throughout pregnancy and the six weeks following the baby’s birth. Just in case you can’t, I’ll tell you about it.

Since being hospitalized in 2013 for a pulmonary embolism, doctors had told me this incident would return to relevance during pregnancy. I chose to ignore these superfluous comments as sensationalist. As it turns out, these doctors seemed to have known what they were talking about, unfortunately. In fact, these blood thinner shots were the first thing my obstetrician said when I mentioned the minor detail of this minor 9-day hospitalization.

At two months pregnant, I went out in search of a hematologist’s opinion, as my OB recommended. When he insisted on these shots, I looked for another doctor. Then another. Until I had four hematologist opinions, three of which directed me into the scary tunnel of injection doom. There was nowhere to run, I was panicking. Doing a Google image search of “fear of shots” also didn’t help any.

We decided on a date I would start, on which I woke up hysterically and dramatically crying. For the first few weeks, my husband gave me the shots, which go into your lower abdomen or thigh. It was a huge production, where I refused to look at the needle or pretty much cooperate in any reasonable way. Later, my mom gave them to me when I spent a week in the states. Then, one morning, I went to find her for our daily rendezvous, but she’d gone out. Perhaps my drama had worn her out. Who knows what came over me, but I went back to my room and applied the injection myself. No one was more surprised than me, but I haven’t looked back yet. Maybe there’s hope for me!



The Bilingual Birth Chronicles: Getting Reported to The Police

I’m finding that buying things for the baby is inevitable. I wanted to believe – so, so, badly – that I would find some loophole in the universe and get away with buying barely anything for Noam (yes, he has a name, finally!). Then I realized that he is a little person, who needs a little place to sleep,IMG_7016 little clothes to wear, a not-so-little place to put those clothes…well, I’m sure I don’t need to go on.

I decided that at least if I had to buy baby stuff, that I would do it second hand for some things. Things like this are very expensive here in Braz, so I identified some high-ticket items and set about cruising Craig’s List, the idea being that at the end of this month while I’m in the states (for all of four days), I could bring it back with me. The catch was: with four days on the east coast, running after Craig’s List people wasn’t going to be feasible. I decided to enlist my parents to aid in the process, and they were beyond helpful.

What I didn’t anticipate, however, was the level of skepticism with which I would be viewed online. When the first person heard I was in Brazil and wanted my Dad to pick up the baby carrier, they stopped responding all together. I felt burned, but not discouraged.

Then the second person, selling me a bassinet, warned me that my transaction “better not be a scam” and that her “whole family was NYPD.” Wow. Never thought of myself as a scammer. I felt kind of badass for a minute, but then mainly worried because I really wanted that bassinet, dammit. Despite the signs that she was slightly crazy, I wrote her back, explaining my situation.

Well, she responded with a string of expletives, informing me and my “fake self” that I had been reported to the police. I was so mad, indignant even, but eventually tried to reach out to other people, being careful not to sound like a fake identity:

Dear Seller,

I live in Brazil but am from NY…

I’m asking my parents to gather some baby stuff for me…

I’m really Nigerian royalty but have been robbed in the United States and just need a deposit of…WAIT NO! That’s not me, I’m not a scammer! So why did everything start sounding like I was? This woman had given me a scammer complex.

In case you’re interested in the epilogue, I’ve since managed to coordinate three successful purchases through Craig’s List. I’m still awaiting the official police investigation to begin, and I still haven’t found a bassinet. Message me if you have one – I’m legit, I swear I am. You gotta believe me.



The Bilingual Birth Chronicles: It’s a Boy

IMG_6935In telling family, friends and colleagues that we were expecting a baby, one thing that was actually remarkably similar among both US and Brazilian friends and family was the certainty that this baby would be a boy. The week I found out I was pregnant, my older sister looked at me and instantaneously knew. Many, many other people afterward felt the same way, based on diverse extrasensory indicators. Numerous mothers kept telling me that the mom can always feel what the sex of the child will be. They looked at me knowingly, as if we were sharing a secret. I, not having any hunch, feeling, tingling or vision on the subject whatsoever, often just played along, secretly wondering if I was doomed as a mother from the outset.

At our third ultrasound in 4 months (prenatal care in Brazil is intense, more on that later), we confirmed that the baby is indeed a boy. Inspired by everyone’s question here about what the baby’s room will look like, we started to think about a space for this little person and the clothes he’ll wear. We discovered abruptly that “gender neutral” is barely a thing here, we got a little overwhelmed by blue onesies and truck or soccer pajamas, and we’re giving it a rest for a minute.

Besides, thinking about baby clothes and spaces has been eclipsed by simply trying to secure some basic elements about birth. Over 75% of births through healthcare plans here in Brazil (as opposed to through the public health system) are C-sections. To try and get into why this is the case would be too ambitious here. Suffice it to say that normal births here have, among the part of society with access to health insurance, taken on the characteristic of unnecessary, troublesome, antiquated. Silly, even.

Don’t get me wrong: I am terrified of giving birth. I don’t think it will be easy, pretty, or even bearable. But it scares me that the entire health care system phased out the birth canal. This is obvious in all sorts of spaces. Acquaintances, hearing that I intend to have a normal birth, widen their eyes and comment about how brave I am. A friend asked me bluntly if I enjoyed feeling pain. A specialist recently assured me that she had “nothing against normal births.” What?! This is like someone saying that they have nothing against digestion or kidney function – it’s not something you can have a position on, it’s just how mammals are built. My health care plan didn’t understand how to reimburse me for a natural birth – they kept asking me who was performing the surgery. Should there be any doubt in a woman’s mind about giving birth normally, a cesarean will almost invariably win out.

But not everything has felt like Brazil fighting against our way of thinking, of course. Planning to have a new person in our lives is proving wildly imaginative, and seems to bring out better, healthier and more creative versions of ourselves. Just the other day, I got home from work to find my husband watching mommy videos on YouTube. He’s definitely watched more birth clips than I have. On my end of things, I’ve curbed my caffeine and sugar habits, though the latter is a constant challenge, and have an inexplicable aversion to all meat. Is my son a vegetarian already?

We have tons of questions like this, and everyone seems to have a different answer. The cultural, scientific and folk contributions to child bearing come together (and diverge) in fascinating ways. We’re along for the ride.