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Reluctance, Birth, & Rebirth

Storms were headed to Tassajara and Lauren was nine months pregnant. Through out the last months whenever we drove over the zenith of 4,000 feet on Tassajara road I would need to bring a chainsaw, a toe rope and digging bar. It would be raining in the valleys but snowy up top.

When we heard it was going to get pretty rough and we were five days away from our due date everyone thought it would be a good idea to head out. After many months of not knowing where we would birth this baby, as we wanted to do it natural and "at home", finally through our network of zen practitioners an old Zen student who lived just at the bottom of the hill from Tassajara let us stay in her guest cottage. In fact, she bought the whole property from Zen Center back in the day when lots was liquidated to help with the leaving of Richard Baker.

It was perfect, a bed room, a kitchen, and a bathroom. The neighbors were great and took us right in. They made dinner for us several times and invited us over to watch a movie. We didn't feel like we left the temple! Everyone was Buddhist and the sangha carried over.

For five days we enjoyed ourselves while strong storms tore down trees near our temple and on the road. The time we spent together before the birth was much appreciated, as during our monastic schedule, there's really not much time for anything but the schedule. We even took a day trip to Santa Cruz. She bought some clothes and I bought some old punk CDs. She also started having her first

Labor is an interesting process, not unlike Zazen. You hear stories about what can happen but your not quite sure what is what until you are, until you're quite sure. The next day her contractions were stronger but not disruptive. We went to Whole Foods and the coffee shop. We watched the movie Room, which added an interesting narrative to our experience.

The rest of the day was smooth. Lauren would feel a contraction and raise an eyebrow, not sure it even was a real contraction. She'd say it felt "tight." I said "like this?" and hugged myself. She nodded. I said, "What's another word for tightening, hmmm."

After dinner we decided to go to bed early, about 8pm. Lauren was shortly roused by a good contraction. She said, "God, if it's going to be like this for days, I can't imagine." I got up as she walked around. I got the tablet where I had been recording her contractions. After I kept asking about them she said don't ask me about them. I should have noted that this was the sign of a shift. Soon they were five minutes apart and Lauren couldn't speak through them. I remember her leaning in the threshold of the bathroom doorway pounding her heel on the tile floor.

We had read a lot of books about the labor process, but some of it contradictory, and none of them were written exclusively for home birthing, so we were weighing it all against what our midwives advised. We got it into our head that not only do contractions need to be three minutes apart, but they need to be 40 to 60 seconds long in duration. Some how it all sped up. But Lauren was still adamant that it was going to be a while. When she saw me pouring hot water on the white cloths we had set aside for the birth, she glared at me and said, "It is far too early for that." That was 11pm.

For the most part Lauren wanted to be left alone. I sat at a table and pretended to read, silently chanting the Shosaimyo Kichijo Darani for removing hindrance, marking when I thought her contraction started with a deep hum, or growl, and when they ended as she would sigh. I found myself  smiling uncontrollably! I thought my smiling might be offensive but her humming was so strong and forceful, I was in awe with sympathetic joy! I was amazed. At 12pm she wanted to lay down. Mostly she had been pacing from bathroom to bedroom and I was sitting on this yoga ball we bought, one that was supposed to open her hips. She groaned with a strong contraction, "You better call the midwife! I think I have to push!"

The midwife arrived around 12:40 and Lauren's water had already broken. She wanted me to be silent, but squeeze her hand as hard as I could. I was using two hands! She was afraid to push but involuntarily it was happening. The midwife arrived and began to set up her equipment without any conversation, leaving Lauren to labor. At this point we're crammed in the bathroom where Lauren wanted to be. I'm behind her holding a warm cloth on her perineum and the midwife asks if I see the head yet. I can't see so I put out my hand and I can feel the baby's head bobbing. I muse have lingered in awe, as Lauren snapped, "You know, you don't need to touch my vagina!" She got up and went to the living room. She was an iron Buddha. She never even asked for an asprin.

She wanted to stand and leaned on me as I knelt. She pushed once and the head came out and stayed out! I was surprised to see the back of the baby's head and felt her little mouth before I saw it. On the next push the entire baby girl slid into my arms. I was covered in blood and afterbirth. Lauren said, "That's it, that's it?" as I watched Calliope reach for the sky and look around with  big dark blue eyes.

We had a healthy baby girl. Lauren fed her and we all feel asleep around 4am and didn't wake until 8am. Five days later she's sleeping on my chest as I write and Lauren sleeps in the living room. 
My wider audience of Zen readers might wonder what the heck this all has to do with Zen. I don't know where to begin, but for me it started by saying yes to the training that was offered. When I sought out the path of becoming a monk I had no idea that Soto Zen priests married and had children. They look very much like other Buddhist monks and actually for better or worse their families blend in with the sangha, at least in America. My teacher has three children. It wasn't really my idea to have kids. I was a bit dismayed to hear these monks married some 13 years ago, but I also heard that they rode one horse, did one practice, so I stuck with it. 

But my reluctance to have children was another thing. I think maybe I was terrified I would lose myself but Lauren and I were coming to a point where she couldn't live without kids and I didn't think I wanted to do that to her. So I said start an OK Cupid profile, find someone else, lay it out for them- we don't have to break up, I'll be with you until you find someone else. She thought about it and said she would regret it for the rest of her life because she wanted to have kids with me. When we were married I was ambivalent about kids and she knew that, but wasn't sure it was a big deal. Well, when the thirties hit it was a big deal. Our biggest deal. 

I met with many teachers. Many of them said, "Just do it, you'll love it and you'll be great at it." I thought are these people insane? So after another tear stained night of difficult conversation with Lauren I called my teacher unawares and said, "Is it okay to do something you don't want to do just because you love them? " She said, "Of course. That's how you make things sacred, you sacrifice." 

And I felt free to make the sacrifice. I felt off the hook from myself. There was some old idea of punk rock Austin, doing what he wants when he wants, and staying true to myself. But that's not my teacher's way or advice. She says examine that self that wants more for itself. So I took a leap and we conceived. 

After years of reluctance, once I found out we were pregnant, something shifted and I never regretted it. And as I hold my baby at this moment I really want to find out who she is and she reminds me to be who I am. When I my in laws came to visit I really felt like I stood on my own two feet, shameless about who I was and the life I have chosen. 

And in a way I have lost "myself" or at least my agenda. For the first 3 days we woke every 2 hours to feed Calliope. I have changed 99.9% of the diapers as Lauren heals and made 100% of the meals, done 100% of the laundry and still had energy to hold Calliope, take her for a hike in her back pack and sing songs to her with my ukulele. I'm assured it's like this for a few years. One one hand I have a headache and on the other I love being so useful. That is to say I love how what's coming up in this moment is crystal clear, so there's not much hesitation.

Right behind the bed where we sleep my okesa rests in high place in pieces, looking unstitched, but I am stitching it, just this is stitching it. And I could have never have never, no, I just would never have done this without the support of my sangha and teacher and practice leaders. 

And I am the happiest dad ever. 


  1. Thanks! Andrew, do I know you in real life?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. What a sweet reflection of your experience. Happy for you, your family and your personal growth.


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