Hello and good evening.
Thank you all for being here for this celebration of life. While we are gathered here to bury the placenta from my pregnancy tonight, there is nothing unique or unusual about her selfless service. As I look around me, I see the sacrifice of your placentas in each and every one of you. This ceremony is for all placentas.
Placenta: you evolved from a viral infection our proto-mammal ancestor was lucky enough to contract 100 million years ago. You moved the embryo’s territory from an egg outside the boarder of the body, into the interior of the womb–the very hearth of the maternal home. What a bold, and courageous move.
With this proximity, comes conflict. A ruthless competition for resources ensues. It is repeated many times a day, every day, everywhere, and all at once. It is through this ongoing age-old friction, that our people have evolved to birth the big-brained, still-in-process babies that we do. Before we were born, you were our mother.
If you take your view of pregnancy from popular culture, you might think that the process is a harmonious one–a collaboration between mother and fetus. You would be wrong. You might think the placenta belongs to the mother, that it is her DNA issuing orders to grow a new organ. Wrong again. Placenta belongs to the fetus, and emerges from the embryo’s cells like invading soldiers out to settle enemy territory.
The reality of pregnancy, friends, is that it is nothing short of warfare.
I want to offer a quote from Sun Tzu’s Art of War: in it he says “Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent’s fate”
From 2 measly cells: a single sperm and a single egg, an embryo forms and begins the work of hijacking the supply lines of an entire human body. That’s 2 against 37.2 trillion. It makes the 300 spartans who took on the Persian Army seem much less impressive, doesn’t it? And yet, no one has made a film about the bravery of placenta, no one has immortalized the guile it takes to protect the embryo against the motherland’s well-trained killing-machine of an immune system.
Let us recount just a few highlights from placenta’s strategic campaign.
Trophoblast cells are the precursor to placenta. They are the elite service members whose boots first hit the womb. They differentiate themselves from the fertilized egg with the objective of hiding the embryo from the pregnant body’s white blood cells that target foreign invaders for destruction. Harnessing chemical and biological technology from their arsenal, this stealth operation allows trophoblasts to implant into the uterine lining undetected. Thus begins their aggressive advance wherein they divide relentlessly, like a cancerous growth. Their relentless spread makes them deadly when deployed anywhere outside uterine terrain. When this occurs with ectopic pregnancy, the blow suffered by the opponent can be fatal.
Once engaged in the tissues of the uterus, conquering forces multiply and tap into the circulatory system of the invaded body. Fortresses are established along the rivers of blood by which oxygen and nutrients travel. Redirecting existing infrastructure to achieve its mission of growing the largest possible fetus, this is how a few cells give rise to a pound of placenta. On the other side, The motherland’s mission is to simply not die. And so the battle rages on for up to 9 months.
In my battle with placenta, we were opponents…and maybe it seems strange for one’s rival to give their memorial. But this is a war I entered into willingly, voluntarily quartering enemy soldiers in my only home. With doors unlocked, legs and windows open, I waved the marauders in and advertised warm meals and cold drinks. But what about those who did not sign up for this battle? Who never agreed to engage in cellular warfare? Should such pacifists be forced to quarter soldiers without their permission or consent?
If so, on whose behalf?
The blue in this flag represents veins–the veins that literally grew to drink my milkshake. Using these fleshy straws, you redirected 25% of my blood supply to sustain the fetus during its final weeks inside my boarders. I am grateful for your prudence during our engagement–that you did not push for more and more blood, beyond what I could supply, that would strain my heart and spike my blood pressure. Preclampsia. This is the kamikaze move that is responsible for over 70,000 maternal deaths and half a million fetal deaths every year. You could have deployed such a tactic, but you did not. Thank you for your diplomacy.
The red in this flag represents the gory realities of war. Blood was spilled here. It is fitting that this memorial takes place at sunset, the time of day your troops withdrew from my home, mission accomplished. Not via the expected route, medics carved an emergency exit through the layers of my walls–skin, fat, muscle, facia, organ–to retrieve the baby we both battled for. You were not far behind.
It has been exactly 1 year, 1 month, and 1 day since the placenta that you see before you has surrendered my womb, ending a 39-week-5-day mission on this Earth. In the end, you sacrificed yourself to give rise to new life. While our duel came to an end then, I could not let your body go without thanking you for your service.