I’ve thought quite often over the years about the connection of the placenta to tree lore and mythology. So many cultures across the Earth have a ritual connecting the placenta to trees. I’ve written a chapter on this in my upcoming book, The Postpartum Survival Guide, and wanted to share a little excerpt here.
Why is Tree of Life symbolism so pervasive around the world and across cultures?
The placenta is the very first physical, tangible presence that a baby is aware of. The placenta is a part of the baby, not the mother. Most women speak of the placenta in terms of “my placenta”, but this is a technical inaccuracy. We also speak of the baby as “ours” even though our children are gifts in our care, not our possessions.
Visualize yourself as a baby in the womb. Existence is effortless and perfect. You are never hungry, thirsty, in pain or suffer discomfort of any kind. You hear your mother’s heartbeat and her voice, and it comforts to you. You float. You are growing, becoming. You share this perfect space with something else. You feel it there on one edge of your small world. It is soft, and a loving energy flows from it and surrounds you. You are physically attached to it; it is a part of you. When you grasp the long cord that binds you together with your new hands, you feel it pulsing. You feel your connection to this other entity, and sense that it is helping you become.
Then you are born, and you are forced from your perfect world into a place completely unknown. You are suddenly cold, loud noises assault your sensitive ears and light hurts your eyes. But you feel your connection to that twin from the womb, and are comforted by it. You feel your mother’s skin, and it warms you. You smell a familiar scent from the womb emanating from her breasts, and you settle in and feel contented. You know that you have become.
So now consider a mother from ancient peoples. She gives birth to a baby who is born attached to… something else. This something is a part of her baby, but completely different. She looks at it, and sees in its shape the same roots that burrow into the ground and grow into strong trees. She sees the roots in the veins on its surface, the trunk of the tree in its umbilical cord, and the life-giving fruit in her newborn infant.
Is it now so difficult to imagine how she would see a connection with new life in the image of the tree?