Parents delighted by image honouring Maori tradition

By Rebecca Blithe

Baby Harper Spies will have his placenta buried on his grandfather's farm. Photo / Emma Jean Nolan
Baby Harper Spies will have his placenta buried on his grandfather's farm. Photo / Emma Jean Nolan

An image of a newborn baby with his umbilical cord attached to his placenta has been shared by a photographer to highlight the Maori tradition of burying the organ after birth.

Captured by photographer Emma Jean Nolan, the photo was presented as a surprise to newborn Harper's parents, New Zealander Jolene Spies and South African Johann Spies who are delighted with the special shot.

"We think it's amazing, really beautiful," Jolene told the Herald. "It's going to be a cool keepsake for him.

"I was in the shower when she took it. My cousin watched her moving bub and the placenta around but never saw her writing love," said the 35-year-old mother of four.

"Emma went home and an hour or two later sent it to us. We just thought, wow, it's amazing."

The photographer said she had been waiting for a birth like Harper's to create the unique image.

"I had been planning the shot for a while. I was waiting for a baby with a long enough cord as it took quite a bit of length to spell out the whole word."

Shared on Facebook by Emma, Jolene says the reaction has been fantastic. "My dad thought it was amazing. My sister found it quite graphic."

Living in Brisbane but originally from Canterbury, Jolene says following Maori tradition by burying Harper's placenta has been made more poignant by the fact that she's away from home.

"It's going to be buried on my Dad's farm in the Bombay Hills. He's reinstating native forest and it will go in there. Because of my heritage and not living at home, it's really special to me. My ties are very much to the land and I've always felt that it was the right thing for me to do.

"I had my first baby in England and it was sad that I couldn't do it there."

Emma was the first person Jolene invited to the home birth of Harper, who arrived on January 2 as a 4.40 kilogram "big, bonny baby".

The pair met through work - Emma is a part time mid wife and Jolene a doula (natural birth supporter) and homeopath.

She says having Emma there was ideal: "It was easy because she's a friend".

When Emma shared the image to Facebook, she included an explanation of the "beautiful and sacred" practice of burying a newborn's placenta.

Welcome earthside sweet little HarperAs a Maori baby his placenta will now be returned to the land. The word 'whenua'...

Posted by Emma Jean Photography on Saturday, January 2, 2016

Jolene says the pair had discussed the concept but Emma looked into it further before sharing her comment.

"She's gone away and done a bit of research. I'd spoken about it with her but she came up with the caption herself."

Emma's work as a midwife has encouraged her interest in birthing traditions.

"I think [burying the placenta] is a beautiful tradition and a lovely way to honour the placenta that kept the baby alive. Burying the placenta is common in many other cultures and I have always respected and appreciated these traditions through my work."

Of the image, which has been shared 691 times since it was posted last Friday, Jolene says she hopes it sparks conversation.

"Hopefully it gets people talking and discussing the tradition."

- nzherald.co.nz

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