Baby's Day Out

Childbirth goes solo.

"I don't really like anybody telling me what to do," Laura Shanley admits. "So I really shy away from rules."

Elizabeth Vick was raised in Colorado Springs, where she and her five siblings were home-schooled by their mother, Jackie Leingang, a nurse.

The lone birther: Elizabeth Vick gave birth to Ani without a doctor or midwife.
Tony Gallagher
The lone birther: Elizabeth Vick gave birth to Ani without a doctor or midwife.
Feel the painless: Laura Shanley is considered the foremost authority in the freebirth movement.
Tony Gallagher
Feel the painless: Laura Shanley is considered the foremost authority in the freebirth movement.


A Clear Road to Birth by Judy Seaman
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(Warning: contains graphic content)

Her third child displayed an ethical certitude by the time she was fifteen, Jackie recalls, when Elizabeth stridently refused to see a movie with her cousins because of sexually suggestive scenes. "She's quiet and analytical, but her personality is very black-and-white," says Jackie, who recently returned to work after twelve years of home-schooling. "When she had a conviction in her heart, she never was really afraid to say it when pressed for an answer."

Elizabeth's family regularly hosted small church gatherings in their modest home. Jason Vick, an Alabama transplant, met Elizabeth at one of them. As devout Messianic Jews, believers in a theology that conjoins New Testament teachings with Jewish doctrine, Jason and Elizabeth shared common spiritual and moral expectations.

Their courtship lasted two years. Elizabeth enrolled at the University of Northern Colorado, then dropped out to get married. After many months of trying, she became pregnant last May. The couple moved out of their apartment in Colorado Springs and found a nice one-bedroom place on some ranchland nestled amid the plateaus and brush near Larkspur. Here they could enjoy the outdoors, and Jason could still commute to his IT job in Denver.

Elizabeth knew she wanted a natural birth without anesthesia or labor-inducing drugs, an ideal she thought would be difficult to maintain if she had her baby in a formalized medical environment. She was surfing online when she came on a Yahoo group devoted to unassisted childbirth. "Women have been giving birth for thousands of years in an intimate way and a private way. It's totally a natural experience," she says. "In this Yahoo group right now, there's like 700 ladies in it. Like it's not just something like a dumb idea -- it could happen."

The more she read about unassisted childbirth, the more it appealed to her. "I've heard way too many stories of women saying, 'I hated my experience of having my birth in the hospital. Don't ever do it if you can help it. You'll hate it,'" she says.

At her mother's behest, Elizabeth contacted a midwife in Colorado Springs. The midwife seemed nice, but Elizabeth was not impressed. "I was like, 'What are you going to do? Take my temperature?' Midwives don't have ultrasounds or anything, so what are you going to see that I can't tell from my own body?" she remembers. "Women should know if something's not right. The [midwives] didn't show me what they could do that I couldn't do for myself.

"Because midwives...I don't know. They all come with an attitude like, 'You'll do it my way, and if I don't feel it's safe for liability reasons, then we'll go to the hospital.' And I just didn't want to deal with that."

Her decision to have the baby at home was influenced less by her dislike of the hospital environment -- which she considers unpersonable and autocratic -- than her concern that labor could slide into a sequence of events that would end with the use of forceps or surgery to extract the baby. She'd read about the record rate of C-sections, and also about the shots and vaccines mandatory for newborns at hospitals. "I just felt in the hospital setting, you'd really have less control over things that I know are best for me and my baby," she says. "I just did not want to have to deal with any of that if I didn't have to."

The fact that 99 percent of all babies in Colorado are birthed in hospitals only fueled her determination. "I've never been that kind of person to go with the flow of society just because the medical or political establishment says it's the right thing," Elizabeth explains. "My husband, too. We like to find things out and research them for ourselves and see why."

Over the next few weeks, Elizabeth and Jason read up on everything they'd need to know to deliver at home, "to see if this is something that's smart or a dumb idea," Elizabeth remembers. Though Jason wasn't as into the natural stuff as his wife was, he supported her decision and studied female anatomy so that he could help in case of an emergency. By the end of July, they'd decided to go with a freebirth.

The next step: telling Elizabeth's mother.

With out-of-hospital births, it's the unintended scenarios that get the publicity. During the December blizzard, paramedics in Fort Collins had to use snowmobiles and a front-end loader to help three women who'd gone into labor.

A couple of years earlier, a 911 dispatcher in Denver had to coach a teenager through the birth process when the baby's father and firefighters failed to arrive in time. "You were there when I couldn't be," the father told the dispatcher afterward. "Even if I was there, I couldn't have done anything."

Some of the situations are more tragic. In February, eighteen-year-old Addie Kubisiak was arrested after a newborn's body was found in the ceiling panel of her Western State College dorm room. But the first-degree murder charges were dropped after it was determined that the baby, who'd been born in Kubisiak's car as she drove from her home in Parker, had been stillborn. Sensational stories of abandoned newborns regularly reveal women giving birth in all types of bizarre locations: seedy motels, prison cells, nightclub restrooms, movie theaters, alleys.

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