Commusings: One Birth Story Among 7.9 Billion by Jake Laub

May 08, 2022

Dear Commune Community, 

Thank goodness for my “brother from another mother,” Jake, who has assumed the mantle for this week’s Commusing essay.

As I scrawl this preamble from bed, Schuyler is “mothering” in a fluorescent-lit Hyatt conference center in Anaheim. Micah and Lolli are leaping and twirling in a dance competition. Schuyler’s Mother’s Day weekend treat consists of endless hours of tedium, clapping half-heartedly through anonymous routines, pecking texts and emails, yet remaining alert for the ever-precious one hundred and twenty seconds of pay-off. The organizers diabolically spread your progeny’s routines out over the weekend to maximize both crowd size and general ennui.  Schuyler best not miss their moment in the spotlight for there will be hours of performance dissection on the traffic-clogged 101 during the car ride home.

Even though our daughters don the leotards, it’s really Schuyler, 17 years into motherhood, who does the dancing, the balancing, the soutenu. She is as Durga, the Hindu goddess, with a dozen arms, bearing not the weapons of ancient India but the tools of modernity: battered iPhone, corporate prospectus, digital thermometer, cast-iron pan, kitty litter box, father’s bedpan and wheelbarrow of mulch.

I watch her pirouette from task to task: wrangling our girls, keeping businesses afloat and sparring with Zoom. And I am enveloped by a profound sense of awe and gratitude, not just for her, but for all mothers who walk the razor’s edge of both baking and earning the bread, nursing both child and parent.

Where patriarchy has attempted to standardize every component of life in the name of growth and operational efficiency, the mother perceives a sustainable beauty in the interconnected web of variety. In this way, mothers are the holders of the sacred. They recognize the value in the unique and interrelated; the hand-sewn dress, the heirloom necklace, the local yoga studio, the garden-grown cockeyed carrot.

Mother Nature, too, finds its symbiosis in the vast biodiversity of distinct plants and animals, each of whom she casts to play a small role in the glorious theatre of life. For mothers, there is no single right answer or one single way to determine it. There is no false pride. There is nuance. There is “yes and…”

It’s a fraught political moment to celebrate Mother’s Day given the recent leak of the Supreme Court’s brief on Roe. I am contemplating something to say on the topic. I am also well aware that not all mothers are “on pointe” and that our relationships with them can be complicated. But, just for today, I hope to step outside the invective and honor and exalt those who courageously give us life. 

Drop me a line at [email protected] — preferably next Saturday. It’s my turn at dance comp next weekend. And follow my drivel on IG @jeffkrasno

In love, include me,
Jeff

  • • •

One Birth Story Among 7.9 Billion

By Jake Laub

 

It’s Julia’s first mother’s day, and I’m still orienting myself to the concept. Nine months ago the wheel of our family did an abrupt quarter rotation — parents are now grandparents, the children are now parents, and our daughter is contentedly banging pots and pans on the floor of the yurt, figuring out what it means to be alive.

A few years previous, I walked into the Commune Topanga kitchen on my birthday and Schuyler, after a quick hug, promptly asked for my phone. Locating the contact labeled “Mom,” she dialed. 

“Happy birthday, Jake’s mom!” she declared. “Congratulations — I know what you went through on this day 33 years ago.”  

I thought it was cute, but only after witnessing Julia’s labor and delivery did I understand the full significance of Schuyler’s gesture.

Our daughter’s birth – her actual, physical entrance into this world – was so primal and intimate and transformational that for weeks afterward I found myself gazing intently at strangers on the street thinking, “You went through this. You were first a microscopic fish, and then a squirming, underwater seahorse, and then you were pushed through a tiny tunnel into that first trauma of cold air and the need to breathe. No one is exempt; everyone is a walking miracle.” 

Over time that palpable sense of wonder that every human has fruited from the same apple tree of void faded into the no-self of sleep deprivation and dirty diapers. So as Mother’s Day approached I revisited the birth story that Julia and I co-wrote. By publishing it here, I hope we can all be reminded of the transcendental connection we share: Every one of us has a mother. 

P.S. What follows is a home birth story, which, as we have learned, is a sensitive topic. For us the home birth experience was deeply meaningful, and Julia’s and the baby’s health allowed for it. Unfortunately, like many topics in the U.S., home birthing has become a polarized either-or paradigm, while there is a lot more grey and nuance beneath the topline statistics. As Schuyler says in her Commune course, Empowered Birth, “Ultimately a woman should birth where she feels most comfortable.” If you are going through the journey of pregnancy (or thinking about it) that course is a great resource to help you ask the right questions.

• • •

We built the birth tub and cleared the dining room furniture. We stocked the freezer with bone broth and mysterious jars labeled “Julia’s labor juice.” A cardboard box gradually filled with a hodgepodge of essentials: cord clamp, irrigation bottles, sterile pads, cookie trays, flashlights, infant diapers, and a new garden hose.


Preparing for a home birth is an exercise in excessive preparation for an event that is guaranteed to happen... within a 4-week window. 

Our due date of July 27th came and went. So did the following week. 

At the 7-day post-due ultrasound at the hospital, the baby’s amniotic fluid and heart rate looked good, but the nurses told us the policy is to induce at 10 days past due. Our homebirth midwife said she felt comfortable delivering until 14 days overdue, but after that we would need to return to the hospital for induction.

10 days overdue came and went, and a feeling of surrender sunk in. We kept telling ourselves: What matters at the end of labor is a healthy mom and baby. If this was destined to be a hospital birth, so be it.

And so we woke up in our yurt at Commune Topanga on Saturday, August 7, with relatively low expectations and no real plans. I started building a (likewise long-overdue) stone path to the yoga platform but left the project half-finished. Julia drank an ounce of the laxative castor oil (which can kick off contractions by stimulating the smooth muscles of the digestive system immediately adjacent to the smooth muscles of the uterus) and then we drove to the beach. Julia walked and I ran. It was a calm day, so we swam past the break and frog-kicked around. Someone saw Julia’s huge belly wading into the water and took a photo while pretending not to.

Back at the yurt around 3pm, Julia downloaded a contraction-tracking app. As if on cue, contractions started. Still, we were cautious. Our birth class prepared us for hours (maybe even days) of early labor, and we didn’t want to get overly excited for what might not materialize immediately.

Within an hour, though, the contractions were a minute long and 4 minutes apart. The app started telling us to “go to the hospital” (alas, it had no home birth setting), yet we were skeptical: No way Julia was already in active labor.

But things were moving, so I started touring the new property manager around the garden, giving her detailed instructions for taking care of the chickens and irrigation. Twenty minutes into the tutorial, the property manager turned to me and said, “How can you concentrate with all that moaning?” 

True, Julia was getting noticeably louder. A somewhat kooky retreat guest came up and offered his medical training — though the extent of that training or its relation to delivering babies was unclear.

Midway through an extended discourse on the compost pile, though, Julia had had enough, “Jake, we need to go, NOW!” 

At Topanga, Julia had walked through each contraction, but in our tiny Prius – on our way to her parent’s house where we planned for the delivery – the best she could do was half-stand, squat, and writhe. It’s quite an experience to drive winding mountain roads with a laboring woman in the passenger seat. 

The app was now telling us to “get to the hospital immediately.” Traffic was a solid red line on Highway 101. 

Did this person cutting into our lane really have somewhere to go... more urgently? Had we slipped into a Hollywood script that called for Julia to deliver the baby while bumper-to-bumper at the 405 interchange? Fortunately not. 

At 6pm we pulled into my in-law’s driveway and unloaded a grunting Julia into the care of our midwife, who checked and confirmed: We were well into active labor.

Over the next 90 minutes I helped Schuyler (who graciously agreed to serve as doula — and turned out to be an excellent birth photographer as well!) set up all the carefully planned laboring tools. Water boiled on the stove to heat the birth bath. We hung the yoga swing and put down gym mats. Julia’s mother spread the bed with a waterproof liner while her brother and dad moved discretely to the garage room with extra bedding. The midwife laid out a table of medical instruments (midwives can perform episiotomies, suture tears, treat hemorrhage, resuscitate babies, and administer oxygen, IV fluids, and medication). 

It takes a surprisingly long time to heat a 6-foot diameter, 3-foot deep tub to 99 degrees. Meanwhile, it quickly became clear that Julia had disappeared into a deep internal focus and that her laboring style was of the “leave me alone” variety. 

“Will you try the yoga swing?”
“I don’t like it.” 
“Do you want me to press on your hips” 
“Yes… get off.” 
“Do you want some of this homemade pineapple icee?” 
“No.”
“You’ve always loved the smell of essential oils, how about that?”
Head shake.

She was walking… and vocalizing… and walking… Walking is good for labor progression but she didn’t seem to be able to get rest between contractions. Things were moving swiftly, but swiftly enough to prevent her from overtiring? According to our midwife, the number one reason home births transfer to a hospital is not an emergency, but simply that the mother gets too tired to continue labor safely at home.

Eventually, the tub warmed and Julia slid in with a sigh of relief as the weight of gravity dissipated. Within seconds she was asleep. 

For the next hour Julia would wake for a surge, stand up or step out of the tub to walk through it, then micro nap in the water. Thinking this stage could go on well into the night, we took turns providing silent support (no touching or excessive talking, please!) while others napped.

Around 10:30pm what had been a moan turned into a barking cry that hit every note from throat-scrapingly deep to high and piercing. Mid-scream Julia’s eyes opened wide and she announced breathlessly, “I just pooped in the tub!” Good thing we included a long-handled strainer in that cardboard box.

These were clear signs of the final stage, and a cervix check confirmed Julia was 9 centimeters dilated and all clear to push.

At 11pm all of us – Jake, Schuyler, Julia’s mom Rita, and midwife Michelle – sat on the floor around the tub, enveloped in a sacred bubble of intention and attention with Julia floating in the center.

One push. A second push. Loud and hoarse and totally uninhibited. 

Later Julia would describe it like all the shit she had accumulated throughout her whole life sitting at the bottom of her pelvis, trying to come out as a single bowling ball. But when she put her hand down between her legs she felt soft baby hair. At that point the urge to push was unstoppable. 

At 11:15pm I climbed into the tub. Julia leaned forward over the edge and – there’s no better way to describe it than like a quarterback preparing to take a snap – I kneeled in the water behind her. 

A big, primal sound and the baby’s head began slipping slowly, slowly out, until… Whoosh! Like a torpedo she shot through the water into my hands, where I deftly slipped her back under Julia’s legs to the midwife, who then placed her onto Julia’s chest. A smooth waterbirth triple handoff. 11:20pm.

For months the codenamed “Baby JJ” was an anonymous entity squirming and kicking in the dark of Julia’s uterus. The actual baby part seemed of purely theoretical relevance, like learning about microbes in the atmosphere of Venus. Neither seemed likely to end up in our bedroom.

But, here was Maeva, a fully formed, bright pink, tiny human spitting up amniotic fluid in our arms. How could we still feel so surprised that an actual baby is the result of this process?

The universe is infinitely eager to see itself from new perspectives. 

We helped Julia out of the blood-clouded tub and onto a nearby mat, where she delivered the placenta and I cut the cord. While the midwife cleaned and divided this rich red organ into chunks for future chocolate smoothies (a favorite of Julia’s when her mood dipped in the month post-partum, though her brother Daniel bought his own blender in protest), baby Maeva quickly got her priorities straight and declared both nipples hers to keep before falling deeply asleep.

A bit of cleanup and paperwork, and by 2am it was time to go to bed as a family. 

As we lay with Maeva between us, our adrenaline-frazzled brains kept sleep at bay while we whisperingly wove the story of this day into our shared memory.

During pregnancy, we would write little poems to each other to share what we were feeling. On June 15, our 4-year anniversary as a couple, I wrote this one, which feels like as good a way as any to end this narrative: 

 

An Anniversary to Precede a Birthday

The day we met
and the day we will meet 
our daughter —
two chance timings to be
forever notched in the texture
of coming years. 

The raindrops of life
fall on our calendar
with indelible ink,
stacking memorable moments 
in delightful syncopation.
 
• • •
 
Schuyler offering pelvis compression.
_______________________________
 
Asleep in the tub.
_______________________________
 
Happy Mother’s Day!


Jake is a Commune Co-Founder, writer, photographer, dancer, chicken wrangler, and amateur fermenter. You'll find him and Julia tucked away in their yurt at Commune Topanga, just behind the beehives.

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