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'I could no longer dance': Survivor of symphysiotomy takes case against hospital

The woman is taking a case against the Coombe Hospital, which denies all charges.
Jan 30th 2015, 9:58 AM 7,034 0

A SURVIVOR OF Symphysiotomy has taken a case against the Coombe hospital.

The woman, who wishes to retain her anonymity, claims there was no justification for the symphysiotomy performed on her in 1963.

Justice Kevin Cross ruled the hearing could go ahead in the High Court yesterday despite an application from the hospital to have the case dismissed because of an undue delay.

The judge said the claim could go to hearing as the plaintiff’s barrister agreed to stay within certain parameters – specifically the claim that there was no justification for the operation. Matthias Kelly SC said that it was an unjustifiable decision to perform the procedure after the baby was born safely. He also argued that the operation was never discussed with his client.

The hospital denies all claims, with its legal team arguing that the proceedings are statute barred.

This case is the first to be taken but is seen as a test for other women in similar positions.

Giving evidence yesterday, the woman – who is from the Midlands – said her baby was born safely by Caesarian Section in the Coombe when she was 19 years old. She was a newly-wed and it was her first pregnancy, the court heard.

She told the court that she had been X-rayed in the Coombe on arrival and was made aware that her baby was breached. According to the woman, her doctor explained that she would need a Caesarian Section and gave her consent forms to sign.

According to her evidence, she was taken to theatre. On awaking after, she found her legs were bound.

She said it was “four or five days” before she saw her baby. She claims she wasn’t allowed to breastfeed and was unable to bottle feed, needing the assistance of another mother in the ward. 

Recalling the days after the operation, the plaintiff said her mother became suspicious when she saw the difference in recovery between her daughter and the woman next to her who also had a C-section.

Answering questions from the defence, she said that a nurse then informed her mother that her daughter’s pelvis had been broken. Her mother later passed this detail to her, she said, adding that the information held no meaning for her as she didn’t understand.

The plaintiff told the court that on being discharged from hospital, she went to recuperate in her mother’s house.

She said she could not understand why she was having such difficulty or why she couldn’t walk. She also said she could no longer help in the family shop and it subsequently went out of business.

The woman, now aged 71, said she was in “terrible pain” for about two years but that it has never completely gone away. Her GP diagnosed recurrent kidney infections, she said, adding that she doesn’t believe he had access to the details of the birth.

Eventually, she saw a female doctor and revealed the leakage that was causing her problems. She was referred to a clinic.


She told the court that she didn’t associate her back pain and walking difficulties with the birth of her first child.

However, she said she was worried about her next pregnancies. Her second pregnancy ended at seven months and the baby died, she said.

She had four more children, who she said “used to say I walked like a duck”.

She told the court that as well as giving up cycling, she was also no longer able to dance.

Her husband would dance with her sisters instead, she said.

She also revealed that sex became uncomfortable after childbirth. She said she had enjoyed it before.

“I feel let down. I’d have had a different life if I’d been told,” she added.

Answering questions from the defence, the woman said her sister saw a newspaper article about symphysiotomy in 2012 and thought the symptoms mentioned were just like hers. She added that the word symphysiotomy didn’t mean anything to her. 

She said she read that article and watched the Tonight With Vincent Browne programme on symphysiotomy during the same year.  Her daughter noted the telephone number and they made contact with the Survivors of Symphysiotomy group.

The case continues.

Embedded tweets by the author are from live-tweeting of court evidence given by plaintiff yesterday. 

‘I was just 27 and I was butchered’: Symphysiotomy survivors in their own words

Earlier: Symphysiotomy victims tell the UN about cruel and barbaric childbirth operations

Interview: ‘I didn’t know if my baby was dead or alive for two days’

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Mary Caulfield


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