Friday, April 15, 2011

Placenta Prints: A Tutorial

Tree of life.
A lot of people act rather funny upon hearing the word "placenta".  Very few people really even know what they look like...much less seen one in real life.  I have a child, but I hadn't seen a real one in person til this past week when I did a placenta print for my good friend Amanda.  I have no clue what happened to mine....I'm sure it was destroyed soon after my daughter's birth.  I wish I'd thought to keep it, but I didn't know what I know now about them.

With Oscar's upcoming birth I really wanted a keepsake of some sort.  Many families choose to bury their child's placenta under a tree...which is a wonderful idea, but we do not own a home or yard I need to keep my placenta for other things.  I'm unsure where I originally heard about making a print with it, but the photos I have seen online were beautiful.  I recently got to see one in person in my midwife's office which was done to look like a tree. 

However, when looking for information on the actual HOW of doing it....I came up a bit short.  I found a few posts about it, but nothing particularly detailed.  One of the biggest frustrations I had was the lack of information about what supplies I would need for this project...particularly when it came to the paint/ink....which is probably the most dire part of the whole thing....besides the actual placenta itself!

In a lot of ways, I had to wing it.  Fortunately Amanda was 8 weeks ahead of me in her pregnancy so I had a great opportunity to practice.  This past Saturday we headed to the craft store for paint and paper because I just knew if I didn't get it then she'd end up having the baby and I'd miss my chance.....she had the baby at noon the next day.


Firstly, you will need to gather these supplies ahead of time:
 - Heavy Art Paper (acid-free)
Watercolour paper is a good choice.  Large sheets are available at most craft stores and can be cut in half.  We chose a mid-range sheet that went for $5.  Art Cardstock is another good option.  It comes in a variety of colors and was only $3 a sheet...which was also large enough to cut in half and get 2 prints out of.
Matt board and artist canvas would also work well, but we didn't go that route this time.  We did use a hand-dyed issue that was REALLY pretty, but not the easiest to work with.  If you get anything fancy like that, I don't recommend that it be the ONLY paper you have.  All in all, we had enough paper cut to do 7 prints (2 sheets of watercolour paper, 1 sheet cardstock, and 1 sheet of the tissue all cut in half)
 - Paint or ink
WATERBASED and NON-TOXIC is a MUST...particularly if you plan to ingest the placenta later.  Some tutorials recommend stamp pads, but we opted to use good-ol' acrylic craft paint.  You really can't go wrong at $1 a you can find almost any color you could possibly want.
 - Brushes/roller
I preferred the cheap foam brushes to the mini-roller, but the roller was nice for an all-over one-color application of paint.  Small foam brushes were nice for doing different colors and parts of the tree style print.  Get don't want to take a lot of time rinsing out the brush again and again to change it's nice to just throw them away when you're done being as we ARE working with essentially a piece of raw meat.
 - Large Clipboard or piece of cardboard

The easiest way to do this and get a good even print, in my opinion is to attach your paper to a stiff board.  I happened to have large artist clipboards, but cardboard or some other large flat stiff piece of whatever would work just as well (perhaps a shelf out of a cabinet or a large kitchen tray)
 - Masking tape to attach paper to the printing board
 - Paper plates, bowls, or old meat trays for mixing paint
 - Gloves to use when rinsing/handling the placenta
 - Old towels you don't care about possibly staining
 - A clean dish pan, pot, roasting pan, bowl for rinsing/holding the placenta
 - Paper Towels in case of spills, messes, etc.
 - A good friend to assist you, take photos, or hand you stuff when your hands are less than clean.
 - And of course....a placenta.

Note - It's best to do the printing as soon after birth as possible....particularly in the first hour or two.  Obviously this means that the mother is probably not going to be up for this...which is why it's best to have a friend do this for you if you're the one having the baby.  The other option is freezing the placenta and making prints immediately after thawing at a later date.  I've heard people have had good luck with this method, but the sooner the better to get a good print out of it.  Also keep in mind that the first prints are the do the type of print you like best first to up your chances of getting something your really love.


Get everything ready before you start working

You'll want a clean, dry, and flat space to work.  We set up on my dining room table and laid out an old towel that I'd folded in half.  Also think about where the wet prints will be laid to dry...or at least while you're working.

Note - If you have pets: PUT THEM AWAY NOW.  My cat was VERY interested in this whole process...not helpful.


 This is a placenta.

This is a placenta after being rinsed well.  Not so scary, huh?  I rinsed it several times (though try not to deflate the veins.  They're part of what makes it pretty.) and then laid it out on the towel with the
membrane side and cord up. 

Put paint on your plate or tray so there's no worries of getting anything icky in the containers (I'd like to use these again of course).  Having something to put the paint on is also helpful if you're mixing colors or want to water the paint down at all.

I found that brushing on the paint worked the best.  By the way, once the placenta is laid out you really don't need to come in contact with it, so now is an okay time to take your gloves off.

Rolling is a good option for a one color print.  The mini roller that came with 2 disposable rolls was only $3.

Using a stiff board to attach the paper too was EXTREMELY helpful.  It helped get a nice even print.  Tape each corner and along the sides of the paper.  You don't want it to droop.

The placenta stays put and you bring the paper to be printed down on top of it.  MUCH easier than trying to flop the placenta down on the paper...which would be a major fail most likely....and a mess.  Once the board is down, rub gently over the back of it to make sure everything printed evenly.

Slowly and carefully lift it back up.  Don't be surprised if the membrane tries to bubble up or something tries to stick.  I often had to pull the cord off the paper with my fingers.

Another option is to just lay the paper itself on top of the placenta and rub directly on the back of the paper...but I MUCH preferred the results when the paper was attached to a board first.  Much more even prints were achieved with the first method.

The first application we did was the "traditional" tree of life style.  For this I HIGHLY recommend getting multiple colors for the foliage (and maybe even the trunk if you want to get really detailed with it).  I really loved a fall version that I had seen online, but that didn't seem appropriate for a spring baby.  Keep the season in mind!  Had I realize the baby would have been here so soon I would have also done a tree of pink, white, and lavender being as SO many trees are currently flowering.  However, the multiple greens turned out wonderfully!

This was the first, and best print on white watercolour paper.

This is the all-over purple print applied with the roller.  Much more placenta looking than the tree!

This was a dark brown that I watered down a bit and applied with a large foam brush.

This was the dark brown print on the funky dyed paper.  It wasn't my favorite print, but the paper looked neat with it.

This one was one that was paper pressed without the aid of the board. 

Here are all the prints hanging in my laundry room.

As soon as you're done get the placenta back in the dishpan and rinse off all the paint.  I then removed a lot more of the blood trapped in the veins and removed the membrane so that they meaty part of the placenta could be frozen flat and later cut into pill-sized bits.

Yes, that's a pizza pan of placenta on top of my birthday cake. lol


This was a really easy and fun project.  I was extremely nervous at first!  But having a supportive friend there made the process a lot easier even though neither of us had ever done such a thing before!

The key is planning.  You want to have this stuff ready to go BEFORE the birth if you can manage it.  Choose some different papers and paint colors so you have options.  Start with your favorite first to ensure that print comes out the best.  For my birth in June my friend Amanda whose placenta was used here will be doing the prints of mine...and I'd really like to have the stuff for her to do a rainbow print as well as the tree. I highly recommend getting at least 3 "leaf" colors if you do the tree print as well as a color for the trunk.  Keep in mind the cord on this placenta was cut really short so you might have more to work with with a different one.  Also keep in mind that this isn't JUST for vaginal homebirth!  Amanda had a c-section in a hospital, but all you have to do is ask them for the placenta.  They place it in a sealed container and I was able to pick it up without issue and do the prints at home.  It you have to pick it up from the hospital, though, try to take along a cooler and some icepacks to keep it fresh.

Also, don't let the gross-out factor keep you from considering this project!  It's really not that gross.  The placenta, once rinsed, is really not disgusting...just very interesting.  And once you hang the print on your wall it's unlikely for guest to have any idea what it is until you tell them....they'll just see a pretty tree!  So if you're trying to hide your hippie-side...this won't out you. :)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Cross Processing The Unschooler

Same child, very different results.

Cross processing is the procedure of deliberately processing film in a chemical solution intended for a different type of film.  The results can be stunning, but a cross processed imagine is obviously not an accurate representation of the original subject.  The overall photo is the same, but the colors can be dramatically different and the overall tone of the image is affected.

Now, what exactly does this have to do with unschooling, you ask...consider the following:

"If my child was given the choice between reading and playing video games...of course they'll choose the video games."

The phrase above is a common statement from those that do not "get" unschooling.  It is used as "proof" of sorts of why unschooling can't work....because of course children will choose the "mindless" entertainment of video games over reading (which is educational, you know, and therefore "no fun" in the child's mind).

Here is where cross processing comes in - people are developing their opinions about unschooling and unschooled children based on a thought process that would normally be used in regards to schooled children.  Yes, they're seeing a picture....but the color and tone are off.  Is that opinion then accurate when viewing unschooling?  No.

You cannot view unschooled children the same way you view schooled children.  The reason people try to is because they assume that what is the norm for school kids is the norm for all children in general and fail to realize the sort of effect that school can have on a child's development and attitudes towards certain activities.

Will a child really always choose the video game over the book?  In the case of a typical school child, yes, probably (though there will always be exceptions).  In the case of an unschooled child?  It's difficult to say...their choice will vary depending on a number of factors.  Simply put, you cannot base your assumptions about an unschooled child on what a schooled child is like when they have lead drastically different lives.  Lifestyle is key.

The Schooled Child

Schooled children spend large parts of their day in school.  School is essentially their job.  As an adult, did/do you come home from work wanting to do more of the exact same task you do at work at home on your off hours?  Of course not!  You would probably want to come home and unwind, perhaps take a hot shower, change into some comfy clothes, and engage in a bit of mindless entertainment (in the form of television, Internet, or perhaps even a video game.)  Adults are allowed to do those things.  It's seen as normal, even healthy after a hard days work.  However, when a child comes home from school they still have homework to do, most likely...and when they engage in mindless entertainment it's often met with criticism and they're then told that they should "do something constructive/educational" or "read something".  Why?  Didn't they put in enough educational time for one day?  When is enough, enough?

Now besides the whole school-as-a-job thing...there is the fact that many schooled children have issues with reading.  Some struggled with it (be it that the method of teaching didn't suit them...or perhaps because they weren't developmentally ready for reading...) or they have negative associations with it.  Some have those negative associations because of required reading that they detested, others simply just see reading part of school and therefore something they do not wish to do for recreational purposes.  It's part of the job, why do it at home?

The choices are reading a book which is not their idea of fun vs. something like video games that have always been classed as mindless entertainment by the adults in their lives.  Yeah, I'd probably choose video games too!

The Unschooled Child

Unschooled children, meanwhile, are unlikely to have drawn any lines between video games and reading in terms of what is "fun" or what is "educational".  They're given the freedom to do whatever they want, whenever they want, and follow their own interests.  Learning isn't their job, it's just part of life.  They explore and learn everyday because kids love to learn!  All children have a natural love of learning and a desire to least until traditional school comes into the picture.  Forcing something is a sure fire way to make it undesirable (anyone who has/had a toddler can tell you this!)...but forcing isn't part of the unschooling lifestyle so the natural desire to learn remains intact.

Unschooled children learn to read in their own way whenever they are ready for it.  There is no required reading list.  There isn't anyone pushing them to read or do something "constructive" so they are free to choose the activity without any negative associations that might taint their decision. 

Reading is fun.  Video games, likewise, are also fun.  They haven't been demonized or classed as "mindless" or "worthless" fact video games can involve a lot of reading and be quite educational, though the unschooled child doesn't think about them that way.  There is no fun vs. educational.  There is only fun vs. fun and their choice will vary depending on the situation, their current interest, their mood, the setting, perhaps even the time of day.

Reading an enjoyable book vs. playing an enjoyable video me think about it.

The Big Picture

Of course it's not just about books and video games.  There is a lot more to it than that...but overall the same assumptions that lead people to assume all children will choose the game over the book also leads them to believe that there is no way a child would choose educational activities.  People worry that their children, if given the chance, would waste away in front of the television and never do anything, much less acquire a well-rounded education.  Honestly, if you pull your child out of school tomorrow to unschool...they're going to veg out in front of the TV, computer, or game console for awhile.  They need time to "deschool" and get over bad associations/habits they learned in school.  Parents, likewise, need to deschool and shift their mind-set away from attitudes that tells us things like "tv/video games/surfing the Internet/movies/anime/comic books are worthless", "non-fiction is better than fantasy novels", "math can only be learned from worksheets", "my child needs to know X by X age or grade level", etc.  We need to step back and see the worth in all things, not just those that our traditional schooled mindset says are educational.

Schooled Children As The Norm

Our society has become so accustomed to compulsory education and public schools that it's no surprise when assumptions are made about all children based on what is typical among schooled kids.  However, our current education system is a relatively new concept.  Children existed, learned, and developed long before we started putting them in school.  Meanwhile, in recent history, school has become a major part of most children's lives and has many long term effects on development...and we would do well to recognize that much of what we assume to be typical childhood behavior is a result of that education process.  When you remove that from the equation you need to rethink a few things...and stop viewing those outside the typical school format for what they are.

Unlike cross processing photography, I do not believe that people are deliberately processing their views on unschooling with assumptions meant for schooled children.  I'm sure they have no idea they are doing it!  However, it would be helpful if those people could step back and consider for a moment whether or not their assumptions really apply.  I encourage people viewing unschooling to keep and open mind and ask themselves "what would life be like without school and how would children be different?"....then, perhaps, you'll have an opportunity to see what a beautiful picture can result.  ---