“So when I was pregnant and about to give birth, I was expecting kindness, understanding, love. But, by god, was I wrong. They were torturers. They didn’t care. I was a thing. An experiment
Symphysiotomy is an obstetrical procedure in which a woman's pelvis is surgically widened during labour. By the 20th century, it had mostly been phased out in the Western world in favour of caesarean sections. But in Ireland, the practice was reintroduced
in the 1940s - in large part because symphysiotomy, unlike caesarians, did not limit the number of a woman's future pregnancies, and so would not lead to women seeking sterilisation or contraception.
The painful and traumatic procedure was frequently carried out without the knowledge
of patients, and left many of them with lifelong physical and psychological
side-effects. A group of former patients, 'Survivors of Symphysiotomy', continue
for justice. This year, one woman was awarded damages
after a judge ruled that "there was no justification whatever, in any circumstances" for the performance of a symphysiotomy during her son's birth in 1969.
Symphysiotomy is still used today, particularly in rural areas of developing countries where safe caesareans would be difficult to obtain. A recently launched documentary
, titled Mothers Against the Odds
(YouTube trailer), compares the Irish history of symphysiotomies to ongoing practice in Kenya.
The last Irish symphysiotomy was carried out in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, in 1984