It’s the news that simultaneously blew minds and turned stomachs. Caused outcry and sparked debate. It saw Rochelle Humes trending on social media and a spike in searches for placentophagy. For few can unsee the Instagram she posted of her newborn’s withered umbilical cord, manipulated into the word ‘love’ and framed as a wall hanging.
Turns out, however, she didn’t actually ask for it.
“I wasn’t sure if she wanted it or not, I just included it as a special bonus extra. And she posted it on Instagram,” Danielle Kinney, founder of placenta capsule company Placenta Plus, and the artist behind the work in question, tells us in her thick Liverpudlian accent. It was her hands that manipulated Valentina Raine’s cord into the below:
Humes had messaged her after being recommended the range of products, crafted from raw placentas in one of two labs in Kinney’s garden, by Rebecca Vardy (wife of England footballer Jamie Vardy) on Twitter. Vardy in turn had been inspired by Placenta Plus’ original celebrity client, Coleen Rooney, who made headlines when she announced she was eating her own placenta following the birth of son Kit.
“I talked [Rochelle] through the benefits,” Kinney continues, listing increase in health, vitality, mood, milk production and post-natal recovery time among the bonuses she’s heard from previous clients.
“No one has died from taking placenta pills or really been ill. I totally get that its gross. When I did it, I didn’t tell anyone about it.”
The idea of women eating their own placentas are nothing new. Indeed, the very concept spans thousands of years, as women throughout history have attempted to reap the apparent nutritional rewards from the body’s only disposal organ. Both the taste and the smell of a raw placenta makes capsules one of the more desired methods of consumption in modern times. Even so, there remains no scientific evidence that placentophagy – the act of eating one’s placenta – actually has any significant positive or negative effects, other than freaking out relatives when you tell them what you’ve just had with your lunch.
Umbilical cord art, however, is rather less traditional. How does one get into twisting the discarded vessel of another woman into a decorative work? What does it entail, and crucially, does it really make the house smell of rotting flesh, as per one concerned follower of Humes pointed out on Instagram?
From her suicidal battle with post-natal depression to Breaking Bad-esque moment she ground down her first placenta, Kinney tells us everything we need to know about umbilical art and more. And it all starts with a shrivelled cord in a sock draw…
LB: How did the concept for making umbilical cord art come about?
Danielle Kinney: “Just before Christmas I went round to my friend’s house and I found an umbilical cord in her sock draw. It was disgusting – it looked like a dog chew! And we had a good laugh about it, but I asked her to give it to me to do something with, as I was mortified it was just sitting there in her sock draw.
“It took me five days of wracking my brains to work out what to do with it. I started twisting it into shapes and I eventually spelled the word ‘Love’. My mum always said ‘Frame every achievement’. And actually, making a tiny human is a huge achievement, so I put it in a glittering frame and gave it to her.
“She posted it up on Instagram and people loved it. I thought of my own children’s placentas stuffed in a box like shrivelled toe nails on these crusty pegs, and I wish I had a nicer way of keeping them rather than giving the kids these horrible pegs when they get older.”
What’s the process like? How do you actually make the things?
“You detach the umbilical cord from the placenta, which then goes on to be processed, and then we manipulate them while they are still wet. If they’re long enough we can manipulate them into names, but for most people we write the word love or twist them into a heart. Some people have asked for really complicated things before and we’ve had to say no…”
Really? What like?
“The name Charlotte. No umbilical cord is long enough for that! Then it goes into a dehydration machine for 18 hours and then its done. I’ve seen a lot of people say it’s going to rot or smell or go mouldy, but after dehydration this doesn’t happen. And then it gets framed and is even more protected.”
It’s a bargain as well, isn’t it…
“ I know, its just £35! I didn’t want to exploit women in that way. I mean I’m a businesswoman and I have to eat, but I’ve also been pregnant and given birth – I have three children – and I’m very aware being a woman and a mum the cost of having a little person. Its astronomical and it’s a part we only throw away anyway.”
How do you actually get the placenta from the hospital to your lab? Its got to be chilled like meat is, right? Otherwise it goes bad?
“Our clients have special cooler packs that we provide, with the correct temperature to keep it in, the correct way to treat it when in labour. One of our couriers – sometimes me – collects it in a temperature-controlled vehicle and transports it to the lab within the hour. Babies are literally born every minute, so I work at 2am, 3am in the morning. I’m on the brink of divorce because I’m working non-stop to make sure that every base is covered, every risk is minimised and that the standard of service is kept up.”
Where is the lab?
“The lab is in the grounds – I’ve got a big garden.”
How did you come up with the business idea of turning raw placenta into pills in the first place?
“Well, I did my own placenta. I had terrible post-natal depression (PND) after I had my daughter, and when I fell pregnant with my son, I was determined not to go through that again. So I searched and searched for someone who could do it for me, and I just didn’t trust anyone. Someone asked my husband to meet them in the car park with the placenta and they’d do it. And I just couldn’t risk that with one of my own body parts. So when I was pregnant, I started to study up on how to do it, and did all the theory, but I’d never trained on a live placenta.
“I just needed to get my own done and that was it. So I gave birth, bagged it up, took it home, cleaned everything. Then I got it out and nearly had a cardiac arrest. I was screaming, I just couldn’t look at it. Then my husband was screaming, and we were both just screaming. I almost called the hospital up to come and get it. It was like something out of Breaking Bad. Then I did it.
“I swear me and my husband didn’t speak for four days after that. But I started to take them, and honestly, I felt like a unicorn. Within six weeks I was on a beach with the kids in Dubai and in a really good place. A friend asked what I’d done differently, and when I told her she thought it was a bit freakish. But then she asked if I could do hers too.
“I said, ‘Alright, but then that’s it.’ She posted her pills on Instagram and within seconds, Coleen Rooney got in touch and asked me to do hers too. After that, more and more women kept asking, so I got planning permission and built two labs in the back garden and an office.”
That’s one hell of a short commute…
“Yeah, its good! Not when you want to get away though. I’ll be in the office and the husband will come in and ask what time tea is… Urg.”
Taking placenta pills to alleviate the symptoms of post-natal depression is quite controversial. There are fears that women who need proper medical support for their condition won’t actually seek it. And there’s no evidence that placenta consumption has any benefits to mental health. What would you say to that?
“My PND was so bad, I was suicidal when I’d had my daughter, and I put my family through hell. At the time I went to the GP and I discussed the use of anti-depressants. This time, I really wanted to try to do it naturally without them, so I told my GP and he agreed that he would monitor me closely on them, and if I reported any huge changes in behaviour or mood swings, I would come to him immediately. I always say you’ve got to do what’s right for you. I’d never tell anyone that placenta pills are 100 per cent cure. They are just an option. They give women a bit of control over their post-natal experience. If it does fail, then of course they need to look for alternative therapies.”
There’s also no scientific evidence to prove that consuming the placenta has any extra nutritional benefits…
“No, that’s right. There isn’t any evidence. But equally there’s little evidence to say you shouldn’t do it either. All I hear from clients is talk about better health, greater milk production, better moods and faster general recovery. There is also a lot of evidence about the harm of undergoing certain medical procedures on the NHS, like epidurals. But they perform them every day anyway. I believe there are some political reasons there isn’t enough evidence around placenta pills too. Pharmaceutical companies would be out of pocket if the natural way was better than taking whatever medicine they were producing.”
You also offer a whole range of placenta beauty supplements. From anti-aging cream, to stretch mark oil to daily moisturisers. What are the benefits of those?
“Placenta is full of collagen. The majority of high-end anti-aging serums and creams use sheep or cattle placenta for this reason. I’d rather use something of my own. I know where it’s from. With these animals, we don’t know where they’ve been farmed, whether they’ve had all sorts of drugs pumped into them. I’d rather spend £45 for one I know than £142 for a cream made from an unknown animal. Also, it uses your own stem cells, which respond much better to your skin and encourage regeneration.”
You’re becoming a bit of a celebrity favourite at the moment. Is there anyone else you’ve got on the books and looking forward to receiving their umbilical cord art?
“We do, but we’re 100 per cent confidential. I never post pictures of myself picking up a famous placenta or anything like that…”
Which would be a seriously weird post anyway…
“Yeah, it really would be! There was one particular star over the summer that has never got out, even though people have asked and asked me to confirm it. You know I got a text from my mum from her friend asking why I didn’t tell her about Rochelle! I just posted it on Instagram. We are confidential and everyone who works for me – every courier – has to sign a confidentiality agreement.”
For more information about Placenta Plus, visit the website here.
What is the placenta? Visit the NHS website for their advice and guidelines here.