Another Kardashian baby is on the way. I guess that means we will soon start hearing about things like placenta pills again. When North West was born two years ago, we heard all about Kim’s decision about whether to ingest her placenta in pill form. Her sister Kourtney is a big proponent of the crunchy craze. A few months ago, she Instragrammed a picture of her placenta pills and wrote, “Yummy…PLACENTA pills! No joke…I will be sad when my placenta pills run out. They are life changing! #benefits #lookitup.”
Okay, let’s look it up. A number of reputable medical websites that don’t at all look biased like www.placentawise.com or www.mommyfeelgood.com tout its benefits. “It’s not weird freaky or gross, it’s science,” proclaims one site. Sounds peer-reviewed. Other, lesser-known media outlets like The New York Times or The Atlantic however, aren’t quite as rosy, warning that the trend, which is not Food and Drug Administration-approved, has no proven benefits and may actually be harmful.
Sounds about right for the act of ingesting one’s own organ.
Yum, Breastmilk Shakes
But let’s move on to another earthy reproductive fad: banking human breast milk. New Jersey is the latest state to consider regulating the breast-milk black market. Women actually sell their breast milk to other moms who can’t produce enough and are too good for the white poison known to the rest of us as “formula.” A month’s supply can fetch as much as $1,200. If you are feeling totally creeped out, you are actually just getting left behind the curve. The market for human breast milk is actually expanding, with health nuts and body builders now wanting in on the liquid gold. And Big Pharma is circling like a hawk, looking for ways to swoop in on a new market.
Again, if you can get past the websites screaming the dangers of formula and “breast is best” to the actual experts, they warn of the risks of purchasing human breast milk off of craigslist-esque sites, which can bring exposure to diseases like HIV and syphilis. They’ve also had to remind adult consumers that breast milk can be “very hazardous if used to replace a healthy balanced diet.” (You mean to say that food designed for a seven-pound human doesn’t cut it for a 200-pound man?)
Why does all this matter, anyway? Why should we care whether some women want to take their birthing cues from January Jones (another celebrity advocate of placenta consumption) or some hulk wants to pound a shot of breastmilk after a good workout?
Women Aren’t Objects, Remember?
It matters, because it’s just another way we are commercializing the female body. Female reproduction is being turned into a commodity and traded on a marketplace in the name of health, and it’s not morally neutral.
The commodification of the female body and reproductive organs is already rampant. Women sell access to their bodies for male pleasure (and have since the dawn of humanity), sell their eggs, rent their uteruses, and so much more. An entire market has been built around artificial conception, another around the destruction of what the abortion industry likes to call the “byproducts of conception” (known colloquially as a “baby”), and now another one is being built around earthy extremism surrounding the aftermath of birth.
Caught in the middle are women, the supposed beneficiaries of said markets. This latest one preys on women when they are arguably the most vulnerable they will ever be in their lives: when they are postpartum and feeling exhausted, hormonal, and emotional. As one woman wrote for The New York Times’ Motherlode blog in a piece bluntly titled, “I Regret Eating My Placenta,” ”I do know that I regret eating my placenta — if only because I am disappointed in myself for letting fear and insecurity cause me to make a potentially dangerous decision without doing due diligence on its safety.”
People selling products that will somehow make her a better mom or make her baby healthier have a serious upper hand on a woman in hardcore new-mom instinct-mode. And, when you are poor woman and someone will pay thousands of dollars for the milk from your breasts, why not?
Whether a mom wants to give her baby another woman’s breast milk is not really anyone’s business. The same goes for whether she want to eat an organ that the body naturally tries to expel almost immediately after birth. But commodifying the female body is never natural or good. Using female reproduction for profit is just another way of treating women like prostitutes, and it deserves no moral sanction from society.