“They broke their bodies not their spirit - a powerful compelling documentary about their plight and that of other women who have no voice.”

Mick Clifford - The Irish Examiner

“Deeply shocking and moving...”

Marian Finucane - RTE


Duration: 49 minutes

MOTHERS AGAINST THE ODDS is a ground breaking film that sheds light on one of the great unresolved scandal against women in modern Irish history which only came to light for filmmakers ANNE DALY and RONAN TYNAN when they sought to compare the experiences of mothers in Ireland and Kenya. Why were some Irish mothers subjected to a brutal procedure when they sought to give birth with shocking life long consequences? Why were their pelvic bones sundered during childbirth, without their permission, through a horrendously cruel procedure even compared by some to female genital mutilation (FGM) In confronting these questions this film reveals with compelling insights how unimaginable cruelty can be inflicted on women and girls when their rights are not respected.

Filmmakers Anne Daly and Ronan Tynan expected few surprises when they set out to make Mothers Against the Odds. Mothers in Kenya had a very high risk of dying during childbirth and Ireland was according to the statistics one of the safest places in the world to give birth. However, their experience in Kenya, and the questions raised there, opened their eyes to the all but hidden histories of a number Irish mothers, who were forced to endure a level of cruelty, up to recent times, that was both shocking and incomprehensible – and totally at odds with their initial expectations.

In fact, Kenya brought into sharp focus a very compelling story in Ireland, which remains both a very controversial and still unresolved part of Irish history. Observing the treatment of many Kenyan mothers today, helped them to understand how some Irish mothers, in former decades, found themselves at the receiving end, during child birth, of treatment that in any other context, might even be considered as a form of torture.
How could a medical procedure, symphysiotomy, which one leading Obstetrician described as medicine from the “Dark Ages”, be performed on some Irish mothers, when they went into hospital to have their babies, without their consent, and that in so many cases literally destroyed their lives? In a so-called Western country how could that operation be performed, without these mothers even being informed? All the more shocking when the Caesarean section was almost routine in Irish hospitals at the time when problems births arose.

Talking to mothers in Kenya going through different, but very similar experiences, to that endured by Irish mothers in former decades offered insights that makes this documentary really compelling. Irish and Kenyan mothers share a common bond that resonates in a very moving way. In explaining why women can be so vulnerable one Kenyan midwife in the film was adamant that the reason is simple and very clear: “Women are treated the same as children, they should not speak….” Women are second-class citizens in a real sense in sections of Kenyan society. They are perceived to be of value certainly, but only in the sense that they “can be traded like assets”.

The Irish mothers who were forced to endure a symphysiotomy without their permission had that procedure carried out in what would have been described as quite ‘modern’ maternity hospitals. But how were they selected for what turned out for many of them to be a “barbaric” option? The all but hidden histories of some Irish mothers show that they were treated, like many Kenyan women are today, as people who “should not speak,” and simply accept what is done to them for their own good – with horrific consequences as we now know in many cases.

What remains shocking about the Irish experience is that the “modern” option – the Cesarean section – was available for mothers in Irish hospitals at the time, and many were able to avail of that operation when things went wrong. Therefore, why were any mothers – (the actual number is unknown but growing as new cases are still coming to light) – subjected to smyphysiotomies, without their consent? A procedure which involved fracturing the pelvis, and meant in almost all cases a life time of pain and suffering, that appears all the more cruel and incomprehensible given the fact that Caesarean section, was available in Irish hospitals. Kenya today allowed the filmmakers to show how easily such cruelty could be performed against vulnerable Irish mothers, without their consent, in former decades. Kenyan women must submit to the prevailing demands of traditional culture, religion and the “superior” status of their husbands. A very conservative type of society, that also prevailed in Ireland, up to recently in historical terms. Indeed, a very good indication of just how hard it has been to free all women in Ireland from medical procedures, performed for religious rather than for health reasons, is provided by the fact that the last smyphysiotomies were performed in Ireland in the early Eighties.