Eww, that’s gross. Make sure you take it away and bury it quickly. Keep it away from the baby. It’s dirty!
That is what we normally hear when it comes to the placenta. In fact, I don’t recall much talk about the placenta when I was growing up because it was often a discarded organ. It was seen as disgusting, it did not have aesthetic value (no one would gaze in admiration at it – which, of course, they would do to a newborn baby, even if it was screaming its lungs out) and, in some superstitious cultures, the placenta was attributed to evil and some elements of the unseen, even if this is totally unfounded in Islam.
The truth is that the placenta is an extraordinary organ that forms through the combination of the sperm and the ovum. It grows where the ovum implants itself on the womb, like a hanging clot. The hanging clot is described in Surat Al-Alaq and, similarly, this is where it “branches out” to form the foetus. The foetus is connected to the placenta via the umbilical cord.
The placenta plays the colossal role of nourishing the baby (by passing on the nutrients from the mother) and transporting waste from the baby – out of the womb – to be eliminated by the mother. It has also been found that if the mother has incurred injury to other organs before or during pregnancy, her body sends signals of deficiency to the placenta, which in turn, sends replacement cells to restore her health.*
The reproductive system of the women is mentioned in the Qur’an, in Surat Az-Zumar, through Allah’s (SWT) description of the baby being protected in the mother’s belly.
“ … He creates you stage by stage in your mothers’ wombs in threefold darkness. That is Allah, your Lord. Sovereignty is His. There is no god but Him. So what has made you deviate?” (Az-Zumar:6)
These three veils of darkness can be seen as the abdomen (from the outside), the womb and finally the placenta. This is, again, due to its role in providing nutritious protection and ensuring the growth and development of the baby. A malfunctioning placenta (usually caused by malnutrition of the mother) will normally result in negative health effects for the baby.
The placenta is the only temporary organ that Allah (SWT) has created and its sole purpose is to be the loving bridge between mother and baby. It finally “dies” when the pregnancy is over and the baby is born into his or her mother’s welcoming arms. The placenta no longer has a function and is traditionally buried, in many Muslim cultures, out of respect for its dues.
The placenta: a parallel to Ramadhan
Why I’m writing about the placenta in such a fashion is because Ramadhan is also seen in a negative light by some people and this is especially true for mothers who struggle with motherly obligations, over and above the ones that take place during the month.
Ohhh… Ramadhan is coming… I don’t feel prepared at all – I should be fasting, but I can’t. I will be fasting, but don’t know if I will make it. The children, the chores, the cooking – will I have enough patience, will I have time for the Qur’an? When will it be over?
While eagerly waiting for the Holy Month – as eagerly as one longs for a placenta (i.e. the conception of a baby), the significance of Ramadhan (much like the significance of the placenta) can be sucked away. Weariness throughout the day, a fluctuating level of patience, fatigue, desperation and self-disappointment are all normal feelings of a mother who struggles to benefit from the spirituality of Ramadhan, while caring for her family.
At many times, the thought of Ramadhan brings about nuances of more work (especially in the kitchen), more unfinished food (that can’t be finished by the adults) and more gruelling tests of patience.
Allah gives good tidings to those who “celebrate” Ramadhan
Just as Allah (SWT) and the angels celebrate an impending birth in the Qur’an, as seen through several birth announcements of babies to come, like the ones of Maryam, Ibrahim and Zakariyya, the best motivation to celebrate Ramadhan comes from Allah (SWT) and His Messenger, Prophet Muhammad (SAW).
The Prophet (SAW) narrated that “The two months of ‘’Eid, i.e. Ramadhan and Dhul-Hijja, do not decrease in superiority.” (Bukhari) The Apostle of Allah (SWT) reminds us of the limited window of opportunity for blessings, which can be found in only two months – one of them being the month of the Holy Fast. The temporariness of such blessings highlighted here can be compared to the temporariness of the placenta, providing nutrients to the baby much like Ramadhan enhancing the spirituality of a Muslim for the limited period of a month.
Allah’s Messenger (SAW) advises, “When the month of Ramadhan starts, the gates of Heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained.” (Bukhari). Prophet Muhammad (SAW) reminds us of the closeness we feel to Allah I during these sacred 29 or 30 days of the month. With a mother who is expecting, she also attains the status of a shaheed in the unfortunate event that she passes away during pregnancy (i.e., while the placenta is still in utero), during birth (when she is birthing her baby and the placenta) and during her post-partum period (as the placental site closes down).
Allah’s Messenger (SAW) also said, “There is a gate in Paradise called Ar-Raiyan and those who observe fasts will enter through it on the Day of Resurrection and none except them will enter through it. It will be said, ‘Where are those who used to observe fasts?’ They will get up and none except them will enter through it. After their entry, the gate will be closed and nobody will enter through it.” (Bukhari) The ultimate reward of Ramadhan (besides the celebration of ‘Eid) is Jannah. And, of course, at the end of every placenta’s life begins a new baby’s life on Earth – hence that special “’Eid” gift for mothers, a gift who, if the parents raise it correctly, could be their ticket to Jannah.
Rethinking placentas, rebirthing Ramadhan
Every mother will go through the phase of birthing her baby, followed by the placenta – probably not appreciating it as much as she should – and will also go on to experience Ramadhan with a child. Both experiences may be gratifying in some aspects, but the feelings of anxiety and stress are inevitable. Perhaps it’s time to rethink how we view that special temporariness (whether the placenta or the Holy Month) and really appreciate how it feeds us for that short period of time, to uplift us in life and in many ways become the gateway for our entrance – as mothers – into Jannah.
* Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Maria Zain was a prolific contributor to SISTERS magazine, writing extensively about issues including parenting, inter-cultural relationships, homeschooling and homebirthing, and even Muslim fashion. In December 2014 Maria Zain died, insha Allah a shaheedah, related to birthing her sixth child, who survived. SISTERS magazine will always be indebted to Maria for the immense work she did for the magazine as well as for the SISTERS family as a whole. We ask that readers consider donating to a fund for her six children in hopes to help their father continue to raise them in the loving and deen-centered style the parents worked so hard to foster.
Donations can be made at www.gofundme.com/mariazain