I have to admit, until I moved to New Zealand I never regarded the placenta as more than an amazing piece of machinery that grows a baby for nine months. In the early 1980s, in the English hospital where I worked as a midwife, we used to collect and freeze all placenta and send them off to be made into make-up. For a while we also collected amnion (one of the membranes) to be used by the hospital's plastic surgeons to put on skin graphs. But when we became knowledgeable about HIV and AIDS, these practices stopped.
When I moved to New Zealand and became a LMC midwife ( a midwife who carries her own caseload from conception until six weeks following the birth of the baby) I became more aware of birth in holistic terms and supported women to birth their placenta physiologically. The placenta became more than just another piece of birth debris...I recognised it as a vital and integral part of the birth process that midwives and women often ignore or at least, do not give full attention to.
The other thing I learned about the placenta is that it has cultural significance to some peoples. Many of the Maori women I worked with would take their placenta and bury it at a place that had family and/or tribal significance. It took quite a while for me to remember to return the placenta to families and not chuck it straight into the bin.
I have to admit I have never seen a greater spiritual significance in the birth of the placenta like some people do. For example, some people practice what is known as lotus birth, and keep the placenta attached to the baby until it separates naturally. To me, the birth of the placenta marks (for the most part) the safe health of mother and baby, and is the time when I can relax (like I said...for the most part).
Going back to this case, I agree with Pam Harnden who felt that the nursing college missed an opportunity for education...that rather than sacking the students they should have explained why publishing this photo on Facebook could have been offensive and disrespectful to some peoples and cultures. As a midwife it doesn't matter what I feel about the placenta...what is vital is I respect and support the beliefs of the families I am working with.
Social media policy
It looks like the student nurse will be reinstated following a court ruling. And I would suggest the moral of the story for the school of nursing is to put a clear policy about the use of social media into place.
As for my advice to nursing and midwifery students...do NOT put anything on Facebook or the Internet that is related to the women and families you work with without clear guidance or permission from your lecturers. And remember that your actions and beliefs may be innocuous as far as you are concerned, but may have very different cultural and spiritual significance to others.