I’ve felt drawn to craft a unique instrument from the most primal source, the womb, for years now. It feels like a mystical calling – taking the amniotic caul that cushions a baby’s and giving it new sound and purpose. I’ve longed to feel the energy and listen to the drum beats rhythms these tissues might produce. To honour the mysteries of birth through percussion and song. Now, finally, I’m able to share the wonder of this dream realised. Of a drum birthed from the womb. The experience has resonated within me in ways deeper than expected. Let me tell you how it came to be.
Last week, I was honoured to be invited into the sacred space of a friend after birth, just hours after she brought her baby into the world. As I held this tender space for the new family, listening to their birth story and first moments together, my heart swelled with the beauty of it all. I remembered at that moment how much I missed this aspect of supporting women through the birth journey.
The exciting reason for my visit that day was to collect the placenta. For years I had dreamed of crafting a drum made from amniotic membranes, and my friend was generously letting me use her membranes for this magical purpose. I left eager to begin a powerful ritual, transforming this tissue that had nurtured new life into an instrument that would continue honouring the rhythm of life.
The idea of crafting a drum from amniotic membranes had occurred to me 5 years ago. After reaching out to a few people whom I thought could help, I realised I had ventured into unchartered territory, as no one I asked seemed to know how what to do. The one doula I found who had made such a drum said that they broke after a few days.
So I assumed it wasn’t possible and parked the idea for now. However, I set an intention to find a way, and gathered materials in the hope that this would become possible. I attended the birth of a friend in 2020 and we dried her membranes together in the hope of making a drum with it someday. I also saved another set of membranes in 2022, keeping it in my freezer until the time would be right.
Fate put Melonie Syrett, aka The Drum Woman, in my path. I met Melonie a few years ago, and started attending her drum circles. I also did her sacred women drum circle facilitator training this year. In November 2022, Melonie shared the following on Facebook:
“So, I’d like to share something hugely magical that happened recently. A friend of mine had a baby ‘en caul’ – born in the amniotic sac! What an auspicious occasion indeed.
I arrived the next day and took the caul that had been stored in water in the fridge. Late that night, three of us sat together as I connected to this caul, like I would with a hide for a drum. I hadn’t ever felt anything like it. The energy in the bowl was fizzy, alive for sure, sparky.
I tentatively held the sac. It was the hugest of honours. I opened it up and gently laid it over a small drum frame. I thought it would be slimy but it felt different… Wet, strong but super thin, barely there under my fingertips.I softly rolled the caul over the edges, trying to tighten and tension it over the frame, all the while quite fearful of it breaking.
Once over as much as I could bear to pull it, I used some hide lacing to tie the caul in place and gently propped it up to begin its drying process.
It was a huge honour to be asked to work with such precious materials. I’ve worked with nothing like it before and am so grateful I was asked to do so.And if you tap it, it has the best sound. It’s deep, like a heartbeat.”
I spoke with both Melonie and Jessica (who gave birth to baby Evelyn, whose caul membrane was used to make the drum), and started working out how I could make a drum with the extra knowledge. Jessica shared that the membrane had been floating around in her birth pool, only noticed and picked up when they had emptied the pool. From this I concluded that rinsing the membranes may play a role in the lasting power of the drum.
I also found the work of Colombian medicine woman Laura Torres in the French book “Accoucher dans un Temazacal” (Giving birth in a sweat lodge). I saw on social media that she’d made such a drum. This gave me the idea to look for the Spanish version. Where the English or French searches had returned nothing beyond Melonie’s post, searching for Tambor de membrana amniotica returned several South American doulas, midwifes and medicine women who had made such a drum, usually using a coconut shell or a small hollowed gourd. Here are examples of such drums
I even found an Instagram account called Tamborcito.de.placenta that seems to specialise in making such drums. I reached out to a few of these women, and one replied, explaining that she uses saline to rinse the membranes.
After I collected my friend’s placenta, I set to work the very same day. It felt important not to set it aside, to work with it as soon as possible, still in the space of the magic I felt after visiting my friend.
- I laid the placenta out on a tray, and gently cut out the membranes (both amnion and chorion) with scissors. I immediately noticed how thin and smooth the amnio was, compared to the chorion which was more rough and “meaty”.
- I then placed both membranes in a bowl of water. I had to change the water several times to remove all the blood, and despite this there were still little pockets of blood which I could not remove for fear of tearing the membranes. I suspect baby Evelyn’s drum is so clear and perfect because of the pool en caul birth, and the fact that her membranes never sat in coagulated blood like the ones I used.
- Whilst I rinsed the membranes, I held them, expressed my reverence, and asked them if they needed anything further to be honoured. They told me that the drum making was honouring enough.
- Whilst the membranes were soaking, I spent some time preparing small hoops (I ordered cheap toy drums online and removed the plastic head from them) and spent some time sanding them down to make sure no splinters would catch and rip the membranes.
- Finally I gently laid the membranes over the hoops, gingerly pulling on them gently to tension them over the hoops. I found it a challenging thing to do, as I wanted enough tension so the finished drum would resonate, and yet I also feared ripping the membranes if I pulled too much. The amnion was so thin and smooth, it did not need much to keep it in place, so I just used a piece of string, whereas the chorion, being heavier, needed something stronger to give it taught, so I used a leftover piece of horse hide lacing from my drum.
- I then propped them up on a tray and left them to dry for a few days. I was pleasantly surprised by how deep their sound was when I tapped them with my fingers (see videos below).
In this video you can see the different steps I used to make the drums and also hear what the drums sound like.
After a few days of drying, I tentatively and very gently tapped the drums with my fingers. I was amazed by how strong and deep the sound was, despite the small size of the drum. I own many drums, and the diameter of the hoop is usually indicative of the depth of the sound (the bigger the hoop the deeper the sound), and none of my drums of similar diameter sound near as deep as these drums. Both drums have a different sound and resonance. Here is the Amnion drum, and here is the Chorion drum.
It has now been a week since I made the drums. The Amnion drum membrane cracked because I did not manipulate it carefully enough (it is VERY delicate, and I made the mistake to turn it face down on an outdoor wooden table to take a picture of the underside of it, and it cracked). My chorion drum is still intact and playable. Time will tell if it stands the trials of time. I know that Jessica’s drum is still intact, 8 months after her birth. She has shared with me that she keeps it wrapped in tissue a tin and manipulates it extremely gently when she wants to look at it.
It has felt like a powerful , magical and huge honour to be trusted to craft such a drum with such a special membrane.
Do you feel the call to craft such drums or offer them to mothers? How would you use such a special drum, and what would this drummaking process mean for you symbolically?