Fiction: An Article About a Cinnamon Cake

Three years have passed since I lost all contact with that placenta. Maybe you have seen it? Has it been laid to rest? Or is it as restless as I am?

Abstract: A gravida 35-year-old woman was monitored by ultrasound from 16 weeks of gestation for cystic placenta. After delivery, pathologic examination of the placenta revealed a singleton placenta comprised of 2/3 normal placenta and 1/3 largely degenerated.

This was a rare medical case: a large part of the placenta did not function. But the other part thrived, nourishing—here, there is a three-year-old girl squirming on my lap now. I had taken this girl in my arms a second after birth, but the placenta was taken by researchers.

Animals eat their placenta, so as not to leave a mark of their vulnerability. But this placenta stayed somewhere out there, its smell keeps signifying my vulnerability, calling out to all my worries to lurk like predators.

I should bake a cake now for my daughter’s third birthday tomorrow, but instead, I google that placenta.

To my surprise it is right there. In a scientific article.

The evening is chilly. I shiver.

My daughter is warm, her cheeks are reddish.

I read on.

Introduction: Gametogenesis, fertilization and early embryonic development in humans are remarkably imprecise processes, resulting in high levels of early embryonic loss.

When I was two weeks pregnant, I experienced a terrible grief without knowing why. That can happen. A dozen times a year the sadness comes to every young woman, and it is a chewy and stale sadness because she is required to carry it, over and over again, close to her body, and not let it go. She is not supposed to release the grief, to dribble the dead pain to the ground. She cannot just tell the ground: “Take this pain, it is already dead. Make something new out of it, as is your wont.” Every woman is equipped with soft accessories, to carry the loss and hide it.

My daughter wants to start baking the birthday cake.

Let’s look outside first, girl, let’s watch the day go by. On this night you were born.

We stand at the kitchen’s window. Earth loses its reddish hue and turns pale.

Case report: This is the first report of this kind of placenta with a living newborn.

My sweet and fragrant little girl wants it to be a cinnamon cake. I go back to Google to look for a recipe, but the other search results are still there, telling me that “placenta” is a Latin word for an ancient type of a flat, round cake. There is a photo of a Greek man in 1880 baking placenta cake. So, placenta is not a matter for women only. Men also need to eat. Men, too, are nourished from placentas. Menstruation is not a women-only issue, either. Men know what life and death are.

Discussion: The possible mechanisms leading to the formation of chimeric/mosaic placenta in our case are twinning and fusion at an early embryonic stage. This is possibly a case of monozygotic twins with one becoming tetraploid and molar associated with vanishing of the corresponding twin.

We stir in the cinnamon. The twin child who was never born did not eat from the placenta cake. Her portion was stiff and degenerated. She vanished. Her few-celled-body was absorbed and faded. This often happens. But us, those who were born, are required to carry our bodies throughout life, and even after our death we do not let it crumble under rains and seed-bearing winds. Our tradition is to bury our body under stone, thereby forever taking up some space on earth. Never let go, never let something new grow in place of us. The only thing that grows in the Jewish cemetery not far from my kitchen is a cement tower of graves, level upon level. They built it because they are running out of place for burial plots in the ground. These cement floors rise above the earth. For dust we are—but to dust we shall never really return. We do not tell the ground: “Take our body, it is already dead. Make something new out of it, as is your wont.” Those who want to have yellow buttercups growing spontaneously from their body must make a special effort.

To determine ploidy, we performed chromogenic in-situ hybridization (CISH) for centromeres of chromosomes 7 and 17 according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Briefly, 4 μ thick formalin-fixed paraffin embedded sections were deparaffinized and hydrated and following heat induced epitope retrieval and protease digestion were exposed to the Digoxigenin-labeled probe. Denaturation was carried out in 80°C for 5 min followed by hybridization overnight at 37°C.

Where are all the other placentas buried? They are probably not covered by concrete. I would like to see what grows out of them. Maybe compost. Maybe a field of yellow buttercups.

Summary: A female newborn, 2087 g (third-fifth percentile), with Apgar scores
of 9 and 10 at 1 and 5 min, respectively, was born by spontaneous delivery.

In the moment of birth, the placenta died. But its death is every child’s beginning.

I pour the sugar into the round dish. I wish this placenta to have eventually found its way out of the researcher’s lab, out of the formalin, out of the article. That it is buried somewhere under the open sky.

I wish we all find our way to recycle ourselves.

Acknowledgments: The authors of this article are indebted to S. K, B.Sc. for her technical assistance.

Acknowledgments: The author of this personal version of the article is indebted to the placenta for her technical assistance. Wherever it—and my other child—may be, they are probably also writing their own piece now, engraving it with the tip of the umbilical cord, somewhere on a patch of red earth, amongst some yellow flowers.

The scent of cinnamon spreads as I hug my daughter. The earth will hug the
placenta and the tiny child, and will give birth to something new out of them. It
will be a happy birth-day.

The quotations are based on the article Triple paternal contribution to a normal/complete molar chimeric singleton placenta, by I. Ariel, D. Goldman-Wohl, S. Yagel, E. Gazit, and R. Loewenthal, Human Reproduction, Vol. 32, No. 5, pp. 993–998, Oxford University Press, 2017.

Tamar Weiss-Gabbay is the author, in Hebrew, of Just an Empty Field and The
Weather Woman. She is the winner of the Israeli Minister of Culture Award for
children’s literature.