Baby's Day Out

Childbirth goes solo.

Still, that experience didn't stop the stay-at-home mom from continuing her freebirth activism. In 2001, she organized the second International Husband/Wife Homebirth Conference, with Shanley as the keynote speaker. The event drew about thirty families from as far away as Utah and California to Louisville, where they attended workshops and exchanged tips on unassisted birth. Having another freebirth themselves was still a tender subject for Jenny and Paul, but by the time Jenny got pregnant in 2002, her heart was settled.

"I decided I would rather die than go back to the hospital," she says. "If I end up dying during home birth, great, then it's my time to go. But I will not cave."

Their fifth child, Ben, was born at home successfully. Instead of lying on her back, Hatch chose to give birth standing in the yoga Goddess position, a kind of warrior squat with her arms raised at right angles.

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)

By August, Elizabeth could envision her birth perfectly. "I want to surrender and let my body do what it needs to do. I want to open up with every rush that flows through me," mused the mother-in-waiting in her online journal. Her body would push, but her mind would not. "During transition I hope more than anything I will be calm and confident. I don't want to be afraid and go backwards or stay there, but I want to surrender completely."

When it came time, her body would push with unbelievable force. And then when the head began to crown, she would slow down with quick breaths while supporting the ring around the baby's head, to prevent tearing. She'd take it slow, wait for the next few contractions to get the shoulders out. "If the shoulders are stuck I'll get on my hands and knees and release them," she wrote. "The body should then pop out quite quickly into Jason's arms. He will slowly and gracefully bring the lil one up to the surface and onto my chest. Then after making sure the lil one is warm and content and I'm cleaned off, I want to lie in bed with my lil one and husband rejoicing in our Father over our special blessing together."

She posed lots of questions to her Yahoo group: about signs of a pre-term labor, post-partum hemorrhage, what herbs not to take - and, especially, what to tell her parents.

At first Jackie thought that her daughter might be open to at least having a midwife at the birth. "Especially for her first time," Jackie says. "And she read some really radical books -- and Elizabeth is a very radical personality. And I even said to my husband once, 'For the safety of our grandchild, we really should have a nurse/midwife on call.'" But every time she tried to bring it up, Elizabeth would change the subject.

Elizabeth felt that her mother was pushing her toward a choice she didn't want. "And I was like, 'Gosh, why do I have to go see a midwife? I don't have an illness. I'm pregnant,'" she recalls. "It's something most women go through. I'm not going to die if I don't go see a midwife right away."

Finally, in November, Jackie drove out to the ranch and the two sat down for a long mother-and-about-to-be-mother talk. Jackie grilled Elizabeth about every complication she could think of. If something went wrong, where would the couple be legally? Could they be charged with child abuse? And she quizzed Elizabeth about everything that might occur during a birth: hemorrhaging, a placenta that doesn't detach, the cord wrapped around the baby's neck. Elizabeth, armed with knowledge from midwifery books, had an answer for every query.

"My mom was totally blown away that I had all of this information," Elizabeth says. "I think that she respected that more, and she said, 'You know even more about it than I do. I believe that you can do this.' So she was definitely supportive of it toward the end."

Jackie remembers it differently.

"Finally, I had to remind myself that Elizabeth and Jason are together now, and though we may have all this experience and be willing to help, that it has to be something the husband and wife really want," Jackie says. "We have to respect that."

But Jackie had one last warning for her daughter. "I said to Elizabeth, 'I do want you to be careful about who you tell this to, because right now you have to have positive people around you if this is truly what you want to do. I'm probably not going to be able to talk to any of your aunts, who are all nurses, about this. Or your godfather, who is an emergency-room doctor, who would think we are negligent.'"

Jason and Elizabeth made the decision not to call either set of parents until after the birth was complete -- partly because they didn't want them to worry, partly because they didn't necessarily want Jackie showing up at their door to help.

Last year, Tracy Ryan opened Mountain Midwifery Center, the state's only licensed freestanding birth center. Over the past eight months, the Englewood facility has overseen 63 births. Seventeen more babies are due this month.

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