When I was single, I had a sister and many female friends and I thought I was fairly well aware of the issues that women faced. I was horribly mistaken, and once I got married I learned just how many mysteries of femininity are systematically hidden from guys. As if to add insult to injury, my wife regularly asked me questions that were so unexpected that they left me somewhat stunned.
But then, my wife started talking about having children and the unexpected-question quotient went to an all-time high and those unexpected questions got out there. Questions about water retention, birth control, nutrition, emotions, whether we should homeschool, whether super spicy burritos may induce labour, etc. (you know, the types of questions that guys talk about while they’re chatting around a barbeque). I was searching desperately through the Bible for help on some of those questions (when it seemed appropriate), and many times I was tossed a question that I was utterly unprepared for. One night, after she had been reading a tsunami of stuff, she gave me the look and the “honey, can we talk?” The look told me it was time to sit down, so I sat down and she shared that she had been reading about a new practice that was somewhat growing in popularity, and I simply couldn’t believe it: eating one’s placenta.
That’s right. Eating the other thing that emerges with a baby.
Not only had I never heard of that, but I couldn’t even imagine why in the world someone would want to eat their placenta. How in the world would that even work?
This might seem like a weird question if you’re a single guy, but in truth this question has come up for me several times after my wife and I initially discussed it. At the time, apparently women at church were talking about it and it was becoming the thing to do. Apparently there were amazing health benefits (and 1 Cor. 6:19-20 was getting tossed around with all the standard guilt-inducing metaphors). Apparently it increased the milk supply in nursing mothers (and Heb. 5:12-13 and 1 Pet. 2:2 obviously command all mothers to breastfeed their children until they’re functionally literate, right?). Apparently, it was a preventative cure for postpartum depression (and Matt. 6:25 clearly suggests that postpartum depression is a sin, right?). Apparently, it’s a rather old practice that is found all over history (and if we’ve been doing it for centuries or millennia, what’s the worry, right?). Apparently, all the other mammals are doing it (and we don’t want to be the nerds of the animal world, right?).
Now none of those arguments are terribly convincing, even on a surface level (and there’s some rather strong rebuttal on a sheer empirical level from many smart folks in the hard science world and even the soft science world), but tearing down weak arguments doesn’t establish a positive strong argument (i.e. proving that you’re wrong doesn’t make me right). What’s more is that I couldn’t really find any help in building up a positive case short of some mediocre articles written by Christians who were well meaning but not exactly Bible scholars (if I had a dime for every good idea defended badly by Christians on the internet…). I also couldn’t think of a scripture that directly addressed the issue of placenta eating (off the top of my head) so this appeared to be a bit of a conundrum.
So, we had a conversation that continued on for an hour or so, and covered the popular reasoning for why someone would even think about eating their placenta (apparently you dried it and made it into pills, not a PLT like I was thinking) and we talked about whether or not eating any part of a human being was synonymous with cannibalism. I also sat down, prayed like a frantic man, and started desperately doing some research . Allow me to show my steps of sorting through what I (secretly) thought was an issue that scripture did not mention:
Step One: Try to find the appropriate and relevant biblical terminology.
This means that the English term(s) used to describe something might not be the Biblical terms, but this is sometimes difficult as finding technical terms can be frustrating if you don’t even know what to look for. I knew that the term “placenta” probably didn’t appear in the Bible, so I hopped on Google and BibleGateway and attempted to search a bunch of somewhat related terms in an effort to find a relevant direct reference in scripture. You always want to go with direct references to an issue or topic if you can, and only move on to the second tier of “applying relevant principles” if you cannot find a direct reference.
On that particular day, the Lord was wonderfully gracious. I found one relevant term; “afterbirth” in one verse. Finding one term and one passage made my work quite quick and easy (and that is amazingly rare).
Step Two: Make a list of the passages with the relevant terms/principles.
This means looking up all the passages with the term/principle in it and making two lists: one of direct references and one of passing/indirect reference. A direct reference is basically when the term/principle is the topic of the passage, and an indirect reference is when the term appears but is not the focus/topic of the passage. I found one passage that included an indirect reference – Deut. 28:57.
Step three: Examine the scriptures you’ve listed and analyze your data.
This is the part where biblical interpretation comes into play, but the interpretive task here was relatively easy since I only had one verse: Deut. 28:57. What do we see there? Deut. 28:52-57 is part of a curse for disobedience to the law that they’ve received. The whole thrust of the passage is that if Israel disobeys God’s commands, God will bring a curse on Israel so utterly horrid that women will violate every natural inhibition they have and behave in ways that are absolutely unthinkable to them. God promises Israel that he would curse them to the point that they would engage in actions that, even under siege and suffering to the point of being near death, they would still find shameful.
The eating of both the children and the afterbirth will be done in secret because it’s absolutely shameful.
Think about that for a second.
Deut. 28:56-57 speaks of a woman who, before the curse of the siege, was so refined and well mannered that she wouldn’t step barefoot on the ground. During the curse of the siege, that same women will eat both her afterbirth and children in hiding (in an effort to hide the fact that Miss Manners has become Miss Mongrel) and not even share her food with her own family. The eating of her children and her afterbirth is the bottom of the barrel for her; it’s the unthinkable action that demonstrates the shameful depths to which she has plunged.
Given that is the only mention of the afterbirth in the OT (including the Hebrew term), there’s not a whole lot of question about what God thinks about eating the afterbirth.
So if you’re thinking about placentophagy (eating your placenta), you simply need to ask yourself one question: Why would I willfully choose to participate in an action that is the mark of being on the receiving end of a divine curse?
Just some food for thought.
I’m sorry, I simply couldn’t resist such an obvious pun.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “I’m getting hungry for jalapeno poppers now for some reason” Unger