The amazing Alexandra Feeney, Elliott (5), and Georgia Mae (4).
Alexandra and her husband are high school sweethearts and have been together from the ages of 15 and 16. When they found out they were pregnant with Elliott they were ecstatic and on a mission to do everything “right”. She was determined to have a 100% natural childbirth, breastfeed until the age of 2+ and thought everything was just going to be beautiful and perfect because she was prepared. Alexandra worked full time as an ER nurse throughout her early pregnancy, however, at around 6 months she suddenly started to feel a terrible pressure in her vagina. It came on very quickly and the intensity was so bad that it would bring her to tears. She learned she had internal vaginal vericosities that were not visible from the outside, but the pain was deep and severe. At work, she wore a contraption called the Prenatal Cradle, which was a whole-body brace but it didn’t work very well. The pain was so severe she dropped down to part time and then as needed at work. She couldn't bear to stand for more than a few seconds at a time. Simultaneously her legs broke out in spider veins and deep varicose veins. When she stood, both her vagina and inner calves felt like they were exploding. She tried to tell herself that at least she didn’t have stretch marks until one morning she woke up with her stomach covered. Near the end of her pregnancy, Alexandra's self-confidence hit an all time low.
Labor began uneventfully and Alexandra was having contractions without having any pain. When her doctor came in to check her cervix, however, everything changed. Without her consent, her doctor used a tool to rupture her membranes and she was suddenly hit with intense rectal pain. The pain was so severe she felt thrown into helpless desperation. Alexandra screamed out for an epidural but it didn't help at all. They had the anesthesiologist came back and tried again with no change, and then a third attempt finally brought a bit of relief. She was able to rest for 30 minutes before she was complete and told to push. Alexandra pushed for 2.5 hours total and during her pushing phase the severe pain came back and never ceased. "I became a different person, I wanted to die. It’s horrible, sinful even to say this...but I wanted to die. I prayed to die. I had quite literally lost my mind with the pain... it felt like I would be cut in two. The best way I can describe this desperate mindset is that if there had been a gun close to me, I would have ended my life right there... In this moment, I was not myself. I was not Alix. I was a shell."
Elliott was born completely healthy but Alix doesn't remember the first few hours after he was born. Her repair lasted for an hour and a half, as she had a 4th degree laceration and an episiotomy. The rectal pain continued after the birth, but not as acutely severe as during the labor. However, due to the severe tearing, swelling and everything else- she couldn’t walk normally for over 3 weeks. At her 6 week appointment, Alix's doctor accidentally tore her open again during her exam. They spent 30 minutes stopping the bleeding with silver nitrate and had to repair her again. It took almost a year before she fully healed and didn't feel so broken.
Breastfeeding was a challenge, also. Elliott was a biter and by the time Alix saw a Lactation Consultant her nipples were black and bleeding. With the help of a nipple shield she was able to successfully nurse for a year.
With Georgia Mae, pregnancy was a welcome surprise. Alix had changed from an OB to a wonderful midwife practice and shared with them her concerns about her first birth trauma. Labor with Georgie Mae began very typically and her husband stayed at home with Elliott, who was just 22 months old at the time. Her mom spent the morning with her in the hospital, with a plan for them to switch when she got closer to delivery. Alexandra's mom decided to go grab a cup of coffee, while the nurse drew her a bath, lit candles and helped her get inside. Before she left the nurse mentioned that sometimes playing with your nipples could help get things going. Alix gave it a try but remembers thinking that it was ridiculous, until she felt a familiar stab in her bottom and pulled the call string. Georgia Mae was born less than 30 minutes later. Alexandra's mom just made it back in time but her poor husband missed the birth of his daughter by 10 minutes. Unfortunately, the rectal pain she experienced was equal in intensity to Elliott’s labor, but for a much shorter amount of time. Recovery and breastfeeding were also much easier.
Alexandra is now a postpartum nurse and finds it an honor to work with women and their families during such a special time in their lives. For her, the physical toll from childbirth remains: The varicosities cause daily pain in her vagina and running/jogging causes urinary incontinence. Still she says, "I look into Elliott and Georgia Mae’s hopeful faces and everything else fades into the background. My body may be damaged, scarred, imperfect….but my body was the means by which these incredible humans came into this world...and that makes it pretty amazing."