Symphysiotomy survivor in Geneva seeks justice for all women whose endured ‘butchery on behalf of the State’

‘I was so distraught I drove into Listowel. I bought a bottle of vodka and drank it with 14 sleeping tablets’


The worst thing for Mary (73, not her real name)) about the symphysiotomy she underwent in 1968 is the double incontinence she still suffers.

“I was inside in Dunnes Stores a few weeks ago and the excrement was coming down my legs. I never have any sensation that I need to go until I’ve gone.”

She has worn pads since she was 27, when her pelvis was broken during the birth of her first child. She will not eat in company and avoids being away from a change of clothes.

She was admitted to the maternity unit in June 1968 “delighted with myself” as her waters had broken on her first child. Her doctor knew she was carrying a large child and she was put on pethidine for pain as well as sleeping tablets. “I was woken two days later by the doctor who said I had been through a very traumatic surgery.”

Her baby son was 9lbs 12oz – she was just over seven stone – and she was told she would see him in a few days. The pain was “excruciating and everywhere”. Three days later she was brought home in a wheelchair.

“I couldn’t walk. I had two sweeping brushes under my shoulders like crutches to get around and I had to go up the stairs on my bum. When I went to the doctor for the six-week check-up I asked what in God’s name was wrong with me, why he hadn’t done a Caesarean section. He said: ‘It’s not my policy to do them because it will limit your family.’ I was butchered back-to-front by him.”

She has been in pain since. She cannot lift her right leg. Though she had three more children, she never wanted sex after the operation. “It ruins your marriage. Three years ago, it got too much. “I was so distraught I drove into Listowel. I bought a bottle of vodka and drank it with 14 sleeping tablets . . . I haven’t cried about this in a while,” she says, wiping her eyes.

She is in Geneva with Survivors of Symphysiotomy.

“I am determined to get justice. What I want is for the Government to accept what happened was illegal and that it was done by doctors on behalf of the State.”

* This article was last amended on July 31st