Reviews of Homeward Bound

“3.5 out of 4 stars” - People Magazine                                                               “The brilliance of Emily Matchar’s new book is that it exhaustively describes what disillusioned workers are opting into: a slower, more sustainable, and more self-sufficient lifestyle that’s focused on the home. Matchar synthesizes dozens of trend stories … into a single, compelling narrative about the resurgence of domesticity….Refreshing.” -The New Republic                                                       "[P]rovocatively explores what the movement says about the role of women in society today.” – The New Yorker                                                                       "I unreservedly loved it…It’s empathetic and funny and thoughtful and smart, and I encourage all of you to read it."– The Hairpin                                                         “Cogently argues that choosing a more hands-on, DIY lifestyle – family farming, canning, crafting, can, without sacrificing feminism’s hard-won gains, improve on an earlier time when ‘people lived more lightly on the earth and relied less on corporations, and family and community came first.’” - ELLE                                                               “[I]ntelligent and insightful...essential reading.” - Christianity Today                                                       “A lively and perceptive reporter… a valuable and astute assessment.”—Publishers Weekly                                                         “A well-researched look at the resurgence of home life…. Offers intriguing insight into the renaissance of old-fashioned home traditions.”— Kirkus Reviews

What is New Domesticity?

This blog is a look at the social movement I call ‘New Domesticity’ – the fascination with reviving “lost” domestic arts like canning, bread-baking, knitting, chicken-raising, etc. Why are women of my generation, the daughters of post-Betty Friedan feminists, embracing the domestic tasks that our mothers and grandmothers so eagerly shrugged off? Why has the image of the blissfully domestic supermom overtaken the Sex & the City-style single urban careerist as the media’s feminine ideal? Where does this movement come from? What does it mean for women? For families? For society?                                                                                     My book, Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity, which explores New Domesticity in greater depth, will be published by Simon & Schuster in May 2013.

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Do you have to eat your placenta to be a good mother?

I was invited to talk about New Domesticity on Judith Regan’s Sirius XM show the other night, and I must admit, her first question took me by surprise:

“So, Emily,” says Regan. “What’s up with this placenta-eating stuff? January Jones did it. What’s your opinion?”

Now, placenta eating is a topic which I can safely say I have no opinion on, other than a vague, involuntary sense of grossed-out-ness (but hey, I’ve eaten balut!). And, at first blush, it has nothing to do with New Domesticity.

But a post in Slate’s Double X blog today got me thinking about placenta-eating as part of the whole “crunchy motherhood” culture, which is something I do write about quite a bit. As Double X writer Amanda Marcotte writes:

I’m concerned to see placenta-eating getting added to the list of things new mothers must absolutely do, on pain of being judged forevermore as bad mothers by the ever-vigilant crunchy-mom mafia…

Many to most members of crunchy-mom mafia tend to identify as “feminist,” which has proven to be a remarkable shield that largely prevents observers from noticing that each new item on the must-do list increases the burdens and demands on mothers, who already have a full plate living in a sexist society that doesn’t really do much to make it easier for women raising small children. It started with the shaming of women who use pain relievers during childbirth, and then expanded into painting women who don’t breast feed as monsters, no matter how difficult or inconvenient it is for them to do it. Now with the whole “attachment parenting” trend, we’re veering into territory where women are being made to feel that if they return to work or want time to themselves, they’re going to raise sociopaths. And now placenta-eating, i.e. the consumption of human organs by actual humans. From an outsider’s perspective, it seems like the crunchy-mom movement has graduated from putting women into the kitchen to easing them into animal status.

OK, I don’t really agree that placenta-eating is going to become another “must-do” (and if people want to do it, good for them! They have stronger stomachs than most of us). But I certainly agree with Marcotte’s point about the dangers of a judgmental parenting culture that constantly raises the bar for what  women must do to be considered Good Mothers.

Any placenta-eaters out there?

12 comments to Do you have to eat your placenta to be a good mother?

  • i thought marcotte’s article was deliberately incendiary. there certainly is a crunchy-mom mafia, but i don’t think all women who choose to breastfeed or to give birth without painkillers should be lumped in with the zealots. i think those of us who consider ourselves feminists are obligated to cast a critical eye on women’s lives today, but i don’t think unequivocally blasting attachment parenting is helpful for anyone. there certainly is a judgmental parenting culture on the rise, and so even more reason to make measured, educated, well-researched decisions on what’s best for mothers, babies and families, be that placenta eating or a scheduled c-section. what ever happened to well-reasoned disagreement, as you have here, emily? i used to really respect marcotte but i was very turned off by her tone and attitude in this piece.

  • Emily

    Hi Carrie – totally! I definitely think the piece was deliberately incendiary (guess it worked – there are nearly 400 comments there!). I think there’s a really interesting discussion to be had about what seems like an increasingly demanding parenthood culture (it does seem that there are more “must dos” than there used to be, and that can be really problematic for parents – especially mothers), but blasting a specific practice like placenta eating does seem counter-productive.

    Frankly, I’d be curious about what it tastes like!

  • Jess

    I did it. My midwife was concerned because I have a history of depression and am unwilling to take anti depressants after a severe adverse reaction to one. After my son was born, I signed the paper to release my placenta. Later that day, my midwife’s assistant came and took the plastic container. Two days later she brought me the pills. I took them right away and never had any issues with depression until I ran out, around the time when I went back to work. I found myself amazingly functional on so little sleep. I’m not sure how it affected my breast milk supply, because oversupply runs in my family, which I did have. I swear by it. The pills definitely took a while to get used to. They are by no means pleasant, but there are ways to prepare it using herbs.

  • There is an ongoing trend with trying to go further and further. The “crunchy” and extreme really make society frown upon “normal” holistic families. I think its an age old case of keeping up with the Jones’. I agree with the ideals of natural childbirth/infancy but unfortunately it seems to be like a cult. The cult following can be dangerous. Ie: breastfeeding & formula- It was beaten into my head that if I gave my son anything but the breast he would want nothing to do with nursing. He ended up hospitalized for “failure to thrive.” Its a very all or nothing attitude for many people with little room for acceptance of the gray area. I personally would not eat my placenta but that doesn’t mean it may not be right for someone else. The list of things to do or be afraid of becomes a heavy burden to hold onto. I personally have to unplug from it all. If I didn’t I would be in a padded room somewhere.

  • Meredith

    I think Carrie’s comment and your response are insightful. I agree that it is the feminist prerogative to interrogate and critique but certainly unbridled mudslinging doesn’t do anything positive for the discourse.

    Still though, attached to these individual choice schematics is an overarching structure of…hegemonic mothering(?) — the way women are supposed to inhabit and perform the mother-role.

    Sometimes it seems like the discussion about mother-roles/ mother-choices/mother-behaviors does little to examine structural assumptions and instead simply illuminates two sides of the same hegemonic-expectations coin.

    To use my own experience: The pediatrician who gravely told me that I needed to start using formula immediately because my three-day old had lost 10% of her birth weight [that's the upper end of the normal newborn weight loss curve] and the La Leche League representatives who insisted that EVERY WOMAN CAN BREASTFEED and that my eventual decision to use formula was simply personal weakness both fit within the structural narrative that infant feeding not only takes ultimate precedence over a mother’s personal knowledge/needs/wants/experiences but also reflects maternal character.

    Huh. A bit of a ramble here. Regarding placentas, I didn’t eat mine but I was fascinated by the look of it: craggy on one side, smooth on the other – neat!

  • I’m really tired of this line of thinking. Natural moms are so bad! We make people feel bad! Certainly, rhetoric of blame and judgment is awful, but many of the issues raised by Moms who chose natural/home birth, breastfeeding, and yes even placenta eating, are issues of health and well-being that have a public health impact. I feel like I can’t talk about something being important, or a profound experience, without someone else feeling like I’m implicitly saying she is bad because it didn’t work that way for her. Let’s keep in mind the actual figures here: the vast majority of births happen in hospitals, the vast majority of births involve drugs, the vast majority of babies are not breastfed, and I’m sure that the vast vast majority of mothers do not eat their placentas. I don’t see how statistical and cultural majorities can constantly claim oppression because a comparable few do something else and feel passionately about their choices. I work with a lot of doulas and breastfeeding counselors and we all know, witness, and understand that things don’t always work out perfectly, but often they can work really well if there is enough support and information. It takes a lot of vigorous talking and gestures to drown out all of the messages in our culture and families that tell women their bodies are too broken to safely carry, birth, and nourish babies. Sometimes we get a bit loud and strident in our efforts to counteract a tidal wave of undermining messages for mothers.

    I ate my placentas, I had them made into flavorless capsules, I thought it was just okay but it seemed silly to waste it. I had that choice because I birthed at home, not in a hospital where placentas are treated as medical waste. I don’t care what other people do with their placentas.

    • natalie

      Lauren, I appreciate your comment! You expressed what I was having trouble putting into words for a few months now. I am tired of not being able to discuss my experiences without generating defensiveness in others. I also wondered why my less-than-typical childbirth and parenting choices were so threatening to the mainstream?

    • Emily

      That’s an interesting point, Lauren. I think some women feel threatened by the very passionate natural motherhood movement because they feel like it’s saying they’re “bad moms” if they don’t do certain things. And even if that message is coming from a statistical minority (not such a minority in some urban areas), it’s still very powerful. Whether or not natural mothers ARE actually judging others for not breastfeeding/natural birthing/babywearing, etc. is another question. The whole topic of motherhood choices is so fraught, and it’s so hard to write/talk/think about without feeling like you’re lobbing another hand grenade into the “mommy wars”!

  • I agree with the comment above. I’m always amazed when the majority is threatened by the less than mainstream choices of an obvious minority. How can the fact that I don’t use drugs during childirth be threatening when the vast majority of patients do in fact use pain management during labor? A better question would be why the majority feel so threatened by such a minority of the general population.

    I’d also observe that SOME of what the author considers to be crunchy parenting is considered good parenting and good nutrition by the vast majority of doctors. I was unable to breast feed. That does not negate the statistics that show babies who are breast fed are healthier and have higher immunities overall.

  • ally

    Hi, Emily.

    I came across your blog recently via a comment you made on Heather Havrilesky’s recent NY Times article. I love your blog and can’t wait to read your book!

  • natalie

    Taking placenta pills has nothing to do with being a good mother. Its not necessarily something women do to “mother”…and there’s not pressure. Either pay to have your placenta encapsulated or don’t. I had mine encapsulted and took it sometimes but I didn’t feel pressure about it and I definately didn’t feel like it made me a better mother. Now, proponents of attachment parenting and extended breastfeeding might claim it makes them better parents but I really don’t think it creates more pressure because most parents choose not to do those things and the judgment falls back on the “wierdos” who do.