I did not know about this, but it is truly horrifying:
“One 86-year-old woman, Rita McCann noted, “I came on the Luas and I didn’t know if the cinema was on this side or the other. Then I spotted two women and said, ‘I’m sure they are heading for it’. When you see the limps going you get the message.”
The limp is a common ailment in women who have suffered through symphysiotomies, a painful surgical procedure used in maternity hospitals across Ireland in the 20th century. Other problems include chronic back pain and incontinence.
Often performed in the place of the more commonplace Caesarean section, symphysiotomies involved breaking the woman’s pelvis during childbirth. The Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SOS) group claims that the operations were carried out without prior knowledge or consent “mainly for religious reasons, by obstetricians who were opposed to family planning.”
SOS continues to fight for justice, calling for recognition of the suffering they have gone through as a result of unnecessary procedures, and asking for compensation. The women, many of whom are in their 70s and 80s, want the statute of limitations waived so they can seek damages from the State. The request has received cross-party support in recent months but action has been slow. So slow, that many are preparing for a long-drawn out legal process.
Between 100 and 150 survivors travelled to Dublin yesterday for the first screening of a documentary which examined the barbaric practice and compared it to methods used in Kenyan hospitals today.
The women travelled from all over Ireland and overseas, each with their own stories. As Rita pointed out, there are plenty of limps but there are also canes and wheelchairs.
Another survivor Claire Kavanagh said: “Put fifty of us in a room and you’ll get different stories but the same ending. We are all cripples.”
Among the women – a lot of whom seem to know each other well – there are supportive husbands, sons, daughters and in some cases granddaughters.
Many navigate the large, wooden staircase in a slow and careful manner but others seem grateful when an usher cries out directions to the lift.
That history is slowing being uncovered by the women featured in the film.
On screen, former midwife Laura Mann explains that when she was working in Dublin hospitals in the 1950s and 1960s, “the big thing was to have children even if you dropped dead.”
She discussed Catholic Church influence, and even interference, in maternity hospitals.
Survivor Micheline Gilroy remembers being “held down” and a strange man looking annoyed at the end of her bed. “I thought this was the way,” she said. It was her first and only labour.
Even though they now know they underwent symphysiotomies, there is still mystery and unanswered questions around the childbirth experiences of these women.
“‘I’m going to give you a symphysiotomy’,” Marie Cowly’s doctor told her. “Sure I didn’t know what it was,” she says. “He could have danced a jig at the end of the bed. I’d never heard of it. I still have no explanation.”
The nurses looked sick, some even got physically sick, begins Nora Clarke.
“I saw the hacksaw, I know what hacksaws are. He started cutting my bone and my blood spurted up like a fountain.” She remembers how the doctor looked annoyed that he had gotten her blood on his glasses. Until she spoke to her son Wayne about it many years later, Nora believed she had gone through a C-Section.
“You’ll never get rid of [the pain] until you’re not living anymore,” she says during the film.”
Let’s all remember that this is the same Catholic Church that started covering up the abuse of children around that time.