I wrote this to a friend today: "I thought I'd heard it all, but no, there's more...". I'd just read a story in the Irish Herald highlighting new horrors that women have been subjected to during 'normal' vaginal deliveries in hospital.
I knew what an episiotomy was, of course. I also knew I wanted to avoid one. But a symphysiotomy? That was a new one on me, and here's what I learned today:
Note: More information in this SOS (survivors of symphysiotomy) press release
What is a symphysiotomy?
*A drastic operation to widen the pelvis in obstructed labour...
*It was performed on nearly 1,500 women around the time of birth, leaving many of them incontinent, in pain and suffering from depression for the rest of their lives
*The procedure, which dates back to the 18th century, was reintroduced into Ireland in the mid-1940s at a time when it was dying out in medicine in the developed world.
*...young and vulnerable women were put through a barbaric surgical procedure around the time of childbirth for dubious reasons."
*So far, around 110 victims of symphysiotomy have come forward, and there may be many more suffering in silence."
*Symphysiotomy was reportedly used to ensure women could continue to have several children, whereas a cesarean section might have limited the number of children they could bear.
*It was feared by some... that facing the alternative of repeated caesareans, women would turn to birth control.
*Those carrying out the procedure appeared to ignore its serious after-effects.
Remind you of anything?
I don't mean to suggest that the use of forceps, ventouse, episiotomy and other vaginal delivery interventions are as dangerous as symphysiotomy, but I do believe that comparisons can be drawn in relation to the final point above (regarding serious after-effects).
Women are simply not being warned about the true risks involved in planned vaginal delivery. Yes, if their outcome is spontaneous without morbidity for mother or baby, then I agree that (with hindsight) it has fewer risks than surgery. However, given that a spontaneous vaginal delivery outcome is neither predictable nor guaranteed, I simply cannot understand the justification for refusing a woman's request to deliver by planned cesarean surgery instead.
Improvements must come
The reporter for the Herald writes this about Ireland: "Some day, someone will properly psychoanalyse us as a nation and society to find out exactly why we put up with so much for so long."
I would make the same observation about some aspects of maternity policy and the disastrous outcomes that too many parents suffer: "Some day, someone will properly psychoanalyse expectant parents to find out exactly why we put up with so much for so long."