Birth photographer’s picture honouring traditional Maori placenta practice goes viral

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  • A photograph of a newborn baby has gone viral after depicting traditional Maori birth practices around the placenta.

    The moving picture, taken by Emma Jean Photography and posted on Facebook, shows the baby boy with the placenta still attached, and the umbilical cord in the shape of the word ‘love’.

    In the caption, photographer Emma Jean Nolan details the Maori ritual of burying a placenta in the earth.

    ‘Welcome earthside sweet little Harper,’ she writes.

    ‘As a Maori baby his placenta will now be returned to the land.’

    ‘The word ‘whenua’ relates to the placenta and to the land. Whenua (placenta) is returned to the whenua (land) with the pito (umbilical cord) the link between the newborn and papatuanuku (mother earth). With this affinity established, each individual fulfils the role of curator, for papatuanuku (mother earth), which remains life long.’

    ‘How did you honour your placenta?’


    The image has had almost 1,000 shares, and numerous comments from around the world commenting on its striking nature.

    In an interview with Stuff magazine, Emma explains that she took the photograph as a surprise for Harper’s mother and father.

    ‘I set it up while she was showering and sent it to her later that day,’ she says. ‘They were very excited and happy with the image and asked if I would share it on my page.’

    Harper’s mum, Jolene Spies, who is of Maori descent, met Emma in the birthing community, and they quickly became friends – Emma was even present when Jolene took her pregnancy test.

    The then mum-of-three, who regretted not having pictures taken when her other three babies arrived, says, ‘The first thing I said to her, after being a little bit shocked, was, ‘Great, can you photograph the birth?”

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    Jolene explains that she has performed the same ritual with all but one of her babies’ placentas.

    ‘We don’t do a big ceremony but they’ve all got their own little stories about where they were buried and why they were buried there.’

    Emma says she knew the reaction to the image would be mixed, but she sees the beauty in the picture.

    “There will always be people who will be shocked or ‘disgusted’ by the sight of the placenta, and that is ok.’

    ‘But many people can see the beauty in the image of the connection to life,’ she adds. ‘The placenta may not be beautiful in appearance but it is beautiful in its existence and its work.’

    ‘We all owe our life to a placenta.’