WHAT CAN I DO WITH MY BABY'S UMBILICAL CORD?
Elizabeth Adetula explores the world of umbilical cord keepsakes
Because umbilical cord keepsakes are now a thing.
What you see in the image above looks like something you could have stumbled upon in an art gallery, or perhaps you’re lucky enough to have something like it hung in your front room. Is it a watercolour? An early Matisse, perhaps? No. It’s an umbilical cord.
I’m pretty sure you’ve now taken a double (or even triple) take at the picture, so read on and let me explain. The canvas above was made by Little Cord Art, a company founded by Stephanie Duffy that makes artwork out of your baby’s umbilical cord, in an impressive process that involves cutting the umbilical cord, microscopes, coloured ink, a lab and trained technicians.
It’s one of a crop of businesses catering to a new generation of parents who can’t bear to throw away their babies’ umbilical cord once it and the baby have parted ways. Umbilical cord keepsakes are grim for some, but revolutionary for others. And, just like placenta encapsulation, this new trend will not be for everyone.
Bringing a child into the world is one of life’s biggest milestones. With the umbilical cord being the essential organ that helps the baby grow and develop, connecting a mother to her baby, it’s no surprise that it can be hard to let go of this vital cord after giving birth. Although the umbilical cord is generally discarded as medical waste in the Western world, in some other cultures it is buried and cherished. For instance, in Jamaica the cord is buried with a tree planted on top to celebrate the new life. In Turkey, there is a belief that wherever the umbilical cord is buried will determine what the baby will become. So, for example, if the cord is buried near a mosque, the child will be very religious, and if it’s kept near a school he or she will become a scholar.
It was the symbolic importance of this organ that initially led Ryon Morrison and his partner to find Stephanie and her company, and he was also struck by the artistic merit of her works. ‘What really drew us was the fact that this was truly, a one- of-a-kind, never-to-be-duplicated artwork,’ he said.
He signed her up to make a piece based on the umbilical cord of his son Junior, and the resulting picture is a surreal explosion of purples and blues. It has the grainy quality of an ultrasound, but the painterly appearance of a Da Vinci sky. He said friends and family have been ‘dumbfounded’ by it, but it’s always a talking point.
‘People find it fascinating, rather than weird,’ said Meredith Peterson, another Little Cord Art customer, who only found out about it in time for her second child. She wishes she had an artwork for each of her children, because of how it tells a unique story, personal only to them.
Stephanie returned four potential prints from the cord, which Meredith liked so much she ordered all four. ‘We had only planned on buying one,’ she laughed.
You don’t need a third party to get involved. Victoria Dove, who runs teething necklace brand Little Gnashers, had a DIY approach. In what she describes as ‘a mulled wine-inspired moment’ one Christmas, she turned her son Sid’s umbilical cord into a Christmas tree decoration.
She had kept it safe in a jam jar, knowing that she didn’t want to sellotape it to the back of an unused pregnancy journal. She also couldn’t bear to part with something she felt was ‘really so important’. This is the result.
She’s found it extremely divisive: some people thought it a lovely thing to do, others found it ‘a bit peculiar and not something they wanted to look at’.
If neither of these options appeal, there’s a third way. Sara Larson turned heads when she wrote about turning her daughter Ihlen’s umbilical cord stump into a piece of gold jewellery, costing about $500, with the help of jewelry designer Lisa Linhardt.
It doesn’t get around the problem of not knowing whether to dispose of the cord or not, however.
Referring to jewelry designer Lisa Linhardt, Sara said, ‘She returned the original belly button to us when the job was complete, and it's still hanging around our apartment someplace. (To be completely honest, I’m not sure where!)’