Sunday, July 9, 2023

The Birth of Cadence

Hey guess what I have a kid now! Yes really. Their name is Cadence, and they were born on June 20th, 2023. It was rad.

There's a whole bunch of stuff about it on my website, including a birth story, lots of other writing below that under Q&A, photos, and videos. (If you only click on the "writings" button, you won't see any naked people.)

I'm crossposting the birth story here.


The day before labor began, I laid mulch around the sunflower seedlings and the raspberries in the raised beds. It was chilly out, despite being late June. I felt exhausted after gardening, but also satisfied for having done something physical. I spent most of the rest of the day watching British Bakeoff. "Bit of a rough day," I wrote in my journal. "Really tired and pretty physically uncomfortable. Grateful that pregnancy is almost over." I took a bath before bed, and then Duncan and I did a Spinning Babies exercise called The Three Sisters of Balance. For a few hours, I slept well.

I went into labor at about 1:30AM on June 20th, 2023. Right on time: June 20th was exactly my due date.

I called Duncan to my room once I was sure I’d had a few strong contractions. I was feeling pretty calm, but I was also shaking off and on. I wanted him to hold my hand.

I’ve heard that shaking is a common response to labor hormones. It was a big part of the labor experience for me, especially in early labor. The contractions that were accompanied by shaking felt like “hormone dumps” to me, and I described them that way to Duncan. They were more satisfying than the other contractions. I didn't like the shaking; it's difficult to relax through a contraction when you can't control your muscles. But I did like the psychological changes that went with it. I felt like I was moving into a different state of mind, like I’d taken a drug.

What state of mind did they move me into? Words I associate with the state include: Raw, toppled, stripped away, naked, open, riding, receptive, internal, trembling, alive, real, body-focused, quiet, present, and timeless. In that state, I wanted to be near the ground, to touch the floor with my hands and feel its stability. Everything outside of me became dim in my awareness as I let myself be taken by the waves. I barely felt time passing; there was only what was happening inside of me right then. I've never been more acutely aware of my animal instincts.

I felt a little bit like I’d been poisoned, but I wasn’t scared. I felt ready for it.

I asked Duncan to call our doula, Shalin, after about an hour and a half. She’d said it might take her an hour to get to our house, and I thought if things continued to progress as they had been, I’d probably want her support and guidance after another hour. She arrived at 3:50AM.

I used several positions early that morning. Some Shalin suggested, some were inspired by her suggestions, and some were spontaneous responses to what I was feeling. I spent time on hands and knees, sometimes tilting my pelvis or moving my torso in big circles. Sometimes I sat on the toilet, usually with a robe worn backward to keep me warm. For a while I sat on an exercise ball while leaning forward over my desk. I walked up and down the stairs sideways a few times, did a little bit of lunging in place with one foot up on the ottoman, walked around doing abdominal lift-and-tucks during contractions, and danced to music in my bedroom. But I think I spent the majority of my time kneeling and leaning forward over either an exercise ball, the ottoman, or a bean bag.

My focus was mainly on staying relaxed and integrating the sensations. I especially kept my hands, jaw, face, and pelvic floor relaxed. I breathed deeply and moaned to release the tension. Rain and thunder sounds usually calm me, so I kept those on in the background when I wasn’t playing music. I used mantras and visualization to guide my mind in the direction my physiology seemed to suggest. Aided by the endorphins and hormones, I deliberately put myself into a hypnotic state, moving deeper or nearer the surface as circumstances required, and I stayed that way for all 18hrs of labor.

I threw up at 5:37. It was quite a lot of liquid.

As the sun rose, my contractions started to space out. They had been about four minutes apart, lasting for one minute, but then they spread out to about eight minutes apart. I started to get a little worried that labor was going to stop again, like it had a week and a half before. I’d been through a lot already, and I would have found that pretty discouraging. There was still no bloody show when I went to the bathroom, and very little mucus. I was also feeling more “normal”, not so deep in labor space.

Shalin texted my midwife, Mackenzie, who suggested I take 50mg of benadryl and get some rest if possible. I took the benadryl and tried to rest, but lying on my side made contractions feel much more intense.

By 8AM I was shaking again, throwing up more, and losing a lot of mucus plug. Maybe this is really happening after all, I thought. I went for a short walk outside on the deck, where I paused a few times to lean against a wall or railing during a contraction. Duncan and Shalin walked beside me, ready to offer physical support, or a barf bag, if I needed help.

By 9:20 I’d thrown up again. Duncan kept me well supplied with coconut water, juice, and bone broth, but I couldn’t seem to keep much liquid down at all. Mackenzie decided to come over a bit early to rehydrate me with IV fluids.

I’d been paying a lot of attention to Cadence’s movements; they tended to move quite a bit just after contractions, as though they were stretching or shoving themselves around. I said multiple times during labor that I thought Cadence was doing most of the work. At 10:12 I had a contraction that I said felt “different”. I don’t remember this in detail, but I told Shalin that it felt like Cadence was “pushing through”. I think I felt them move to a different position this time, and there was more downward pressure for the rest of labor after this contraction.

Mackenzie arrived around 10:30. She listened to Cadence’s heartbeat with a doppler, and said they sounded good. She checked my blood pressure, temperature, and heart rate, and told me all of those readings were fine as well. I was feeling pretty ragged and depleted by this point, though.

She waited for the end of a contraction, then placed the IV while I was leaning forward over the ottoman. The IV itself wasn’t a major part of my experience, though it was occasionally a little inconvenient. She ran a second bag of IV fluids at 11:52, and by that time I was feeling much better. I definitely prefer to labor while hydrated. Being dehydrated felt sharp and strained. Being hydrated felt plump and expansive. I was stronger after the IV fluids.

At 12:25, Mackenzie asked if I wanted a cervical exam. I was still struggling with the possibility that this was not “real labor”—I didn't know how to orient to the experience, and it's hard for me to let go while disoriented—so I said yes. To my surprise, the exam didn't hurt at all. I was 7cm dilated and 90% effaced, and Cadence was at +1 station. I found that really encouraging! Sure sounded like real labor to me.

At 1PM, we decided it was time to start filling the birthing tub. We planned to set it up in my bedroom, so I moved to the living room while Mackenzie’s assistant Jaime began to inflate it.

I remember Shalin saying, “This is transition,” while Jaime was inflating the tub. The contraction sensations were intense, but they felt totally continuous with the earlier parts of labor. I had a harder time integrating them while the tub was inflating, because the sound of the air pump was pretty awful for me. Almost like a leaf blower. I didn’t consider it to be “too much” from within my tranced-out state, though, and told Duncan and Shalin that I was fine. But Duncan brought me ear muffs anyway, and things really were a lot easier after that.

The second bag of IV fluids finished running around 2PM, and it was time to go to the tub. Shalin and Mackenzie wanted me to use the bathroom first, but getting to and sitting on the toilet did not sound any good at all to me. I asked if I could just pee in the birth tub, and they said yes, people do that all the time and it’s fine. So I crawled on hands and knees toward the tub, pausing in the middle to ride through a contraction in child’s pose.

The support of the water was an immense relief. I felt far more comfortable with half of my body floating. I think it made an especially big difference between contractions. I found it easier to rest and relax in the water.

I spent a while leaning forward over the side of the tub, often holding Duncan’s hand. It was comfortable for me, but during a fetal heart rate check, Mackenzie told me that it was not comfortable for Cadence. The birth tub included a little seat on the other side, so I crawled over to it and sat upright. In the new position, Cadence sounded fine. I made the seat my new home base for the rest of labor.

Around 3:30PM, something started to shift for me. I don’t know what sensations tipped me off, but emotionally, I began to orient to the experience differently: Rather than completely surrendering into the timeless space of endurance, I think I recognized that I was entering “the home stretch”. I wanted to mark the shift, and perhaps to communicate with Cadence about it as well, so I asked Duncan to play Cadence’s birthday song: “Come Alive” from The Greatest Showman.

I rarely felt very connected to Cadence as a proto-person when they were in the womb. I was not in love with them already, the way many gestational parents are during pregnancy. But at some point in second trimester, I was listening to “Come Alive”, and it hit me hard that this is how I feel about the fetus, that this is what I want for them and why I was drawn to creating a human in the first place.

It’s what I want for everyone. It’s the kind of love that I feel for everyone. It’s the impact I want to have. I want people to somehow move beyond whatever obstacles prevent them from fully experiencing all the awesome things that constantly surround them. To be their full selves in intimate contact with the world. The ability to experience is why I care so much about humanity.

*Come alive, come alive Go and light your light, let it burn so bright Reaching up to the sky And it’s open wide, you’re electrified

And the world becomes a fantasy And you’re more than you could ever be ’Cause you’re dreaming with your eyes wide open And you know you can’t go back again To the world that you were living in ’Cause you’re dreaming with your eyes wide open*

So that’s how I wanted to welcome Cadence to Earth: with a prayer that when they left the darkness and safety of the womb, they would begin a life of unbridled wonder.

I felt all of that in the song as I listened to it, and as, between contractions, I was able to sing along.

The contractions were so intense, and even in the tub, the pain of them never completely let up in between. I felt a little bit betrayed; multiple books and videos about labor had led me to believe that the discomfort would stop between the contractions.

That sense of betrayal conflicted with my meditative strategies. For a few minutes, I was more aware of time, and I started to worry. I thought to myself, I can’t keep doing this.

Fortunately I’d prepared for exactly that thought. I recognized it as a sign of transition while it was happening, and I told my support team about it. “It was just a thought,” I said, trying to reassure them that it had been fleeting, and I was all right. Letting go of it moved me back toward the calm and relaxed state of labor space.

My body began to push spontaneously at about 4:30PM. Mackenzie said she heard it in my voice: Mixed in with the moans, I started making a sound that was more like a growl.

By 5:30, my contractions had spaced out again. They were eight minutes apart. I still felt the pushing when they happened, but the times in between had become comfortable, and I was really enjoying my rest.

Mackenzie alerted me that things might not be moving in the direction I wanted. She offered me a couple options: I could take a cotton root tincture, which might increase the pace of the contractions on its own. Or, I could get out of the tub, maybe go for a short walk on the deck, to try to pick things back up again.

I definitely did not want to get out of the tub, so I asked for the cotton root tincture. However, by the time the tincture was ready, I’d changed my mind. I wanted to try stimulating contractions myself without leaving the tub, just by moving around differently. I used several tactics, including alternating lunges, pelvic tilts, and lifting my body out of the water. Basically, I just needed to make myself the right kind of uncomfortable as soon as I felt ready.

It worked! I rested for what felt like “just as much time as I needed” after each contraction, and then I began moving again to bring on another. Although the contractions seemed to begin as a result of my own decisions, Mackenzie said my pace was just perfect not long afterward.

I used my hand to touch inside my vagina, to see what I could feel. What I felt was a taut little water balloon very close to the opening: The amniotic sac was still intact. I re-checked after every couple contractions, to see if I could perceive any progress, but I could not.

I began to feel frustrated. I was working so hard, but as far as I could tell, nothing much was happening. I didn’t feel Cadence moving as much as they had earlier in labor, either. I really wanted my water to break.

This period of yearning for change was probably the most uncomfortable part of labor for me. The raw physical sensations weren't any more extreme, but emotionally, I felt almost as if I were in an argument with my body. Perhaps if I put more energy into pushing, I thought, then my water will finally break, and things will move again. But it didn't break, not then. I felt a little stuck.

At 6:02, Mackenzie asked whether I felt like I was pushing against my body, or with it. I told her I thought I was pushing with my body, but I wasn’t completely sure, because the sensations were all new to me, and I was frustrated. I asked for another cervical exam. I wondered if I might be pushing against my cervix, in which case perhaps I should try to hold off.

But Mackenzie confirmed that I was completely dilated. To me, that meant that everything was fine, and I just needed to be patient.

I began speaking then to Cadence, and a little bit to myself. Not always in words, and usually not out loud. I reminded myself that birth happens when both of us are ready, that I had no interest in rushing them, and that we’re safe to continue like this for a long time if we need to. “It’s ok to take your time,” I murmured. “Take all the time you need. I’ll be here when you’re ready.” It helped me so much. After that, I felt calm and patient again.

But I wanted to encourage them as well, to invite them out. I told them the thing that’s kept me moving through the roughest patches in my own life: “It’s hard out here,” I said, “but it’s worth it.” There are fireflies out here, and thunderstorms, and poetry. Even though it hurts, you have to live to see them.

At 6:34PM, my water broke as I pushed. It felt like a little pop, like squeezing a water balloon until it burst. I could feel Cadence helping out again after that, moving themselves around and down after every contraction.

My pushes felt clearly productive for the rest of labor. Cadence moved back up a little after each contraction, but each contraction brought them farther down than the last. I could feel their head with my hand at 6:43.

I was able to push two or three times with every wave, two or three exhalations. Mackenzie suggested that I maintain downward pressure between pushes as I inhaled, which I found effortful but intuitive. I kept my pelvic floor open and imagined my breath pooling at the bottom, rather than flowing all the way out.

I felt burning and stinging sensations around my vaginal opening, but they were not nearly as intense as reading about “the ring of fire” had led me to expect. On top of all the endorphins, it was a kind of pain I find pretty easy to tolerate. I was surprised to learn afterward that I had labial lacerations. It really wasn’t so bad while it happened.

Cadence’s head was 13 inches around. I got it out in three pushes, over the course of one contraction. I felt their body turn sideways shortly after their head emerged. I asked for a mirror to find out what it looked like: A furry softball sticking out of my vagina. Just as I’d expected, but fascinating anyway. Not a sight I was likely to see again, or at least not any time soon.

The rest of their body came out on the next contraction. Even though their chest was larger than their head (15 inches! Great big ribcage!), the whole thing seemed to slide out easily once the shoulders were through. At 7:22PM, Cadence was born into the tub, and Mackenzie caught them.

As I held Cadence to my chest, I said to them, “Hi! Hello! …You’re a little person!?” It seemed pretty wild to me that they had a whole human body full of rigid bones, that they were so large, and that all of that had somehow been inside of my abdomen. I rubbed their back to help them breathe while Mackenzie listened to their heart and lungs. Duncan came over to hold both of us.

Then I sang to them, the chorus from their birthday song, and Duncan joined me. I felt so relieved, and so pleased that I’d accomplished this, and that they were all right.

I was excited for the life they would have. I cried a little as I sang, and my voice wavered. I’m glad it’s one of the first things they heard on the outside. I sincerely meant it, and I always will.