Digging Boise by Nathaniel Hoffman

I don't think Petra remembered her placenta, but she seemed to like its shallow grave among the sagebrush.
 
She stood on the mound of fresh dirt, looking east toward the rising sun, a faint smile creeping into the corners of her little mouth. "Is the rest of my childhood going to be this weird?" the smile hinted. "What am I doing here?"
 
If only she had had more words.
 
The afterbirth sat in our freezer for nearly 18 months. We didn't know what to do with it in San Francisco, where Petra was born. There are always people watching when you are trying to bury an organ in the city.
 
But in Boise it's no problem to head into the hills, a double-bagged organ in tote.
 
So after three years on the chilly Pacific Coast, we moved back to Boise this summer for the freedom to dig a hole somewhere.
 
Before Tara started growing a belly I might have thought the placenta thing strange. But then, I had never seen one before.
 
I had never seen a belly button eight months along either.
 
I had never seen a delivery room. I had never seen Tara so focused. Nor a baby that small. I never imagined the umbilical was so huge and I never fully grasped how the belly button actually formed.
 
I always thought the doctor tied a knot or something. That's what my mom used to tell me, beaming with pride at my perfectly formed navel.
 
As Tara rested and Petra nursed, our midwife unfolded the placenta and held it up gingerly, revealing an amazing network of veins that look like an overgrown acacia tree. It's been compared to the Tree of Life.
 
Apparently people used to look at their placentas. Lots of indigenous people still do, according to a Native American friend. He's not sure if he's ever seen one, but assures me it is commonplace across the continent.
 
Once we got a good look at the organ that fed and shielded Petra for nine months, we couldn't just have it tossed in the hazardous waste bin with all the bloody gauze and stuff.
 
So we took it home. Tied tight. The bag jiggling around in a pink plastic tub. We had a lot of stuff -- including day-old Petra -- to carry in, but I didn't want to leave Placenta in the car for the second trip upstairs.
 
It might draw flies. Or get carjacked.
 
Placenta went in the freezer while we learned how to crawl and sing and sleep differently.
 
I often forgot she was in there, taped in a neat bundle. Except when digging for Cherry Garcia. Or frozen peas.
 
Though it may have been broached, we never considered eating the placenta. Neither Tara nor I are organ eaters. Nor do we read the Hollywood tabloids.
 
Apparently more famous people and faddish spiritual people are looking at their placentas again these days. There are ceremonies posted on the Internet, recipes for roasting or drying placenta and odes to the organ and its benefits.
 
Earlier this summer we packed the apartment and I drove Placenta 12 hours up to Boise to a new, upgraded, North End bobo freezer.
 
And then one day we headed into the hills to a spot near the place where we spent our wedding night and put the placenta in the ground facing the morning sun.
 
The organ still looked fresh and I was a little nervous someone would see me carrying a shovel, my right hand bloodstained, an empty plastic bag in my back pocket.
 
What did organ thieves do before baby wipes? Then we drove back to town, got a turkey sandwich and went to the hardware store.
 
It was our kind of ceremony. Poorly planned but perfectly executed. We can't wait until Petra tells her kindergarten teacher that her placenta is buried in them there hills.
 
Nathaniel is an independent journalist in Boise, Idaho.