SOS Ireland: Clare People feature

Ellen was special. When she went into labor on the morning of September 27, 1965, she became the first woman in her family to have her baby in a hospital. She was safe, surrounded by doctors and nurses who knew exactly what they were doing. Or so she thought to Ellen, the doctors who attended her were like gods.

So when a doctor ordered three nurses to hold her down while he preformed an unknown procedure on her- she assumed it would all work out OK. It didn’t.

It was my first baby so I was very ignorant and naive. I didn’t know what was going on. I remember hearing the Angelus (on the radio) and all of a sudden there was a big rush to get me into the labor ward. I remember a man came up very near my face, he had a gown and mask on. He said to the nurses ‘Hold her by the shoulders’. I don’t know anything more. All i know is that from that night on I was damaged dreadfully,” she said.

I was alone in the Hospital- it was 1965, there was no such thing as husband’s in the delivery ward then.But you trusted them (the doctors and nurses). Going to the hospital was a big thing for us-that’s where everything would be safe. ” At first I didn’t realize that some-thing was wrong- I thought that that’s just how new mothers would feel. I couldn’t walk, I was holding on to chairs, I was completely incontinent. “In 1967 I became pregnant with my second baby and my Mother urged me to see some one about the problem.

I spoke to my own doctor and he did not tell me what the problem was – but he did send me to see a surgeon, who said that I need surgery to repair the damage. “In February of 1969 I had the first of many surgeries to repair what was wrong with me.”

In the early 1970 s Ellen was told not to have anymore children, but as contraceptives were illegal in Ireland at times the young wife was told to practice self restraint”. Her condition was not examined properly until she moved to Shannon in the 1980 s. “It went on for years and years. I think the worst thing was the incontinence. I couldn’t go to the shops, I couldn’t go anywhere – it was a awful time.”

I moved to Shannon then back in the 1980. He started the repair jobs – there were a lot of repairs over the years, until finally in 1990 he said there is nothing more that could be done. He was such a lovely man and he did help.

The surgeries would help for a while and then it would all break down again – I guess there was too much damage done inside me. “I’ve had four colostomies done to me since 1990 and let me tell you they were severe – there were times I didn’t think I was going to live. “But even then nobody ever gave a name to what was wrong with me – I still don’t know.

But I remember watching TV in 2010 and they did a mock symphysiotomy on prime time. I started shaking, I said Mike ( her husband), that is me, that is what happened to me. I remember nearly passing out – It was the first time seeing what happened to me in 1965. It was so real to me. It was like I was on the table again and they were holding me down.”

Ellen is currently fighting for missing records concerning her birth to be found by the H.S.E. She is hopeful that these records will finally unlock the secret of exactly what happened to her all those years ago. I got all my records – letters from one surgeon and another, all sorts of records. I wrote back to them (the H.S.E.) saying that they didn’t give me the records I wanted – the ones from my births and they got back to me and said there was no records of me giving birth to any children,” she said.

My poor children grew up knowing that their mammy was having accidents.

They would leave clean cloths for me outside the bathroom door, They’d leave me in shops and go off and buy clean cloths for me.

This has been a very private thing all my life. Its been hard on Mike and its been hard on my children. “My family are so supportive – they always have been.

Sometimes I just curl up in bed and hope that the pain would go away. It is difficult but I had to get up every morning – I had to get up every morning-I had five children, I had to keep going But I am only one of many this has happened to.

Nobody can give me back the years of my life.

I should have had a good life,I should have been able to go places and do things but I’ve been tied to pain. I think if I felt sorry for myself, Id start to crack up.

“It is so strange that they don’t seem to have the records I want considering all the other records that they gave me. I am still hopeful that they can be found.

If I could get my year’s back, if I could look at these and ask what they were doing.

I was butchered, that’s what happened, like alot of other women.

Last month, Ellen, and other members of the Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SOS) group, received the news they were waiting for. The Government has passed a bill which would see some redress provided to the victims of symphysiotomy.

It is unclear what form this redress will take and whether the full release of H.S.E. records will be part of the redress process.

I really do have to thank all the people who helped to highlight this and bring it to national attention. People like Caoimhghin O Caolain have been very helpful and of course the SoS group, People like Marie O Connor have been brilliant.

This has come too late for a lot of women.

There was around 1’500 sysphysiotomy preformed in Ireland and there are only around 200 of us left.

That is a real tragedy,” she said.

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