The umbilical cord is the first tangible connection between a mother and baby. For nine long months, with the placenta it nourishes and supports the baby in the mother’s womb as it grows. And for nine long months, the love the mother has for that baby grows in kind. So that makes this incredible shot, where a newborn baby’s umbilical cord spells out the word ‘love’, nothing short of perfect.
The picture, taken by midwife-turned-photographer Emma Jean Nolan, celebrates a unique and special moment in Maori culture. After giving birth, the placenta – the source of nourishment for the growing baby for nine months – is usually discarded. But in Maori culture the placenta continues to be that baby’s connection to the land with a special ritual performed soon after birth.
New baby Harper is a Maori, which means something special will be done with the placenta that kept him alive inside his mother. The placenta, which faithfully delivered essential nutrients to him while inside his mum’s womb, will now be returned to the land in a ritual known as whenua.
Emma Jean captured the Maori tradition in a photograph immediately after Harper’s birth, forming the word carefully by hand after noticing how long the umbilical cord was.
The photo, which has been liked and shared thousands of times on Facebook, has many people relating their own stories of whenua.
Khu Ellioiot, a mum of four, says her own mother kept to the tradition for all of her nine children. “At the back of my mum’s house we have all her moko’s (children’s) placentas under beautiful fruit trees,” she writes.
Other ways the placenta can been honoured or used include consuming it to fight postpartum depression or the bizarrely beautiful craze to turn the placenta into bespoke jewellery to wear forever.
(image via Emma Jean Photography)