Maternal Mortality in Mother and Baby Homes
We need to talk honestly about the unexplained deaths of thousands of healthy single mothers in all the Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland. It is estimated that 5,000 to 7,000 deaths took place. While In this article I mention 19 Mother and Baby Homes, there were a few more. For the purpose of this article I shall write on 9 Mother and Baby Homes and I list 10 others at the end of the article.
I was born in a Mother and Baby Home, St. Patrick’s on the Navan Road Dublin, the biggest in the country. I spent my first 4 years there. My mother, Norah, was 38 when she had me in 1954. It obviously wasn’t easy for her or the other women of the Mother and Baby Homes and although I never knew her, I have spoken to other women who survived the Mother and Baby Homes over the years. This is what I learnt.
In a few London hospitals in the early 1940s, 50s and 60s, many of the midwives in training were Irish Nuns. Once their training was completed the Nuns took all that they had learned at the great teaching hospitals in London and returned home to Ireland. But once they started to work at the nine main Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland, the murderous Nuns altered a few of the surgical procedures they learnt in London. These changes would prove lethal.
An episiotomy, although no longer routine, is a fairly standard surgical procedure to widen the opening of the vagina thus allowing the baby to come through it more easily. During childbirth, the vagina has to stretch to accommodate a head the size of a grapefruit. (The episiotomy procedure was commonly used in all cases of a breech birth.) As the baby’s head enters the birth canal, It can split open the skin, fat, muscle, and dense connective tissue next to the vagina, leaving a perineal tear. Rather than allow this perineal tear to take place, the option of cutting the perineum (episiotomy) is used. In either case, stitches are required to repair the perineum.
The episiotomy procedure involves an incision being made in the perineum downward from the vulva towards the anus. The nefarious Nuns, however, would deliberately cut upwards through the clitoris, because to the Irish Nuns’ way of thinking, sex itself was a mortal sin and especially so for single women. By this unnecessary procedure, the single woman’s sexual pleasure was destroyed forever. That’s how hateful and lethal the Irish Nuns were to the mothers who had children out of wedlock. Many of these new mothers were teenagers.
The wicked Nuns as midwives knew that the potential consequences of an episiotomy were dire and so the procedure was very often used - but without the necessary stitching. No anaesthetic, painkillers or antibiotics were administered and, with many unwashed hands and unsterilised scissors performing the birthing procedure, a life-threatening infection and a very painful slow death sentence was often the result. In fact the women who had the episiotomy surgical procedures with dirty scissors were, in effect, murdered by the barbarous midwives, the Nuns.
In most cases, the use of medical drugs and stitches that could have saved the women’s lives were refused by the Nuns. Instead, the women, dying in great pain, were told by the Nuns to pray and beg for forgiveness for their mortal sin of having sex outside marriage. The Nuns (and the Priests who were sometimes in attendance) insinuated that the terrible pain the single women suffered in childbirth was the result of God's curse having been placed on them for their ‘wilful carnal knowledge’ which was a euphemism for sin. Many Catholic Priests said about single women giving birth –“If women become tired, even die, it does not matter. Let them die in childbirth. That's what they are there for.” Martin Luther.
So raw fear, preached by the Clerics at the Mother and Baby Homes, was the enemy of a successful birth as it has a tendency to freeze the frightened woman’s labour. This led to a plethora of interventions and additional pain. What the cruel Nuns didn’t know (or ignored) is that when a woman is in fear, the muscles of her uterus work against each other instead of in unison, resulting in excruciating pain for the frightened woman.
The Nuns - acting as midwives or nurses - didn’t care about the mother’s survival because if the mother died during childbirth, they knew they could sell the child more quickly and easily. Killing the mother was therefore speeded along, allowing the Nuns to concentrate on only saving the life of the baby at the expense of the mother’s. The Nuns were in many cases criminally careless in their treatment of and contempt for the single mothers.
Other common causes for the mother’s death in all Mother and Baby Homes were emotional factors, such as worry, stress and the fear brought on by the Priest and the Nuns shouting out hatred as the single woman went into labour. Excessive bleeding during a cesarian delivery was also a major problem as were umbilical cord difficulties. If the cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck, it can compress the throat and cause death or it can emerge before the baby does. If a uterine rupture happens, the baby has a risk of oxygen deprivation and a caesarean delivery may be necessary. And if a midwife-Nun suggested a caesarean, the mother knew she was likely on the way to the grave. In all these cases, medical help - not prayers - were needed.
For every woman who died in childbirth, dozens more suffered injuries, infections or diseases. Lack of food and no medication, just hourly prayers and slave-working conditions was the lot for even the very pregnant women. And last but not least, the spouting of daily hatred and ignorance by the Nuns and Priests of the Catholic Religion at the bedside of the women, contributed to the astonishing high rate of deaths in all Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland.
The biggest danger to expectant and new mothers in Ireland’s Mother and Baby Homes however was infection. The most common death for women in the Mother and Baby Homes was from Puerperal Fever - also called Childbed Fever, or Postpartum Sepsis.. Hemorrhage, eclampsia (dangerously high blood pressure) organ damage and obstructed labour were also major causes. Rickets, a condition whose symptoms are malformation of bones and a softening of the skull was present in many of the babies and was a common cause of obstructed labour. The cause of the condition in newborn was the result of the poor diet of the mother while pregnant.
Even previously healthy, young single women could give birth on Monday, be happy and well with her newborn on Tuesday, be feverish and ill by Wednesday evening, delirious and in agony on Thursday and dead on Friday or Saturday. By the following Monday morning they had been dumped with hundreds of other women into a mass grave at the back of the Mother and Baby Homes. We know that thousands (maybe 5,000 to 7,000) women died in these Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland. Numbers are inaccurate because we also know that the Nuns deliberately destroyed many of the records of the dead women.
All diseases and infections spread more readily in the Mother and Baby Homes than in the general population. The Catholic Church, through the actions and attitude of the Nuns that ran the Mother and Baby Homes, instilled a culture of carelessness, impatience, and unnecessary interference or neglect. For example the midwife-Nuns refused to use sulfa antibiotics that were highly effective against the streptococcal bacteria responsible for most cases of puerperal fever. Instead, they told the mothers to pray. Pre and post-natal care wasn’t part of the standard medical practice in any of the Mother and Baby Homes. If a new mother had come from a Magdalene Laundry (as many did) she would be expected to return to the back-breaking work there as soon as possible, normally 48 hours after birth.
In truth, because of their indifference, callousness and incompetence, the midwives-Nuns allowed pregnant women, new mothers and newborns to die preventable deaths. I believe that in reality, the Nuns killed a lot of the women and children deliberately.
1. Between 9,000 and 12,000 women passed through St. Patrick's, Mother and Baby Home on the Navan Road, Dublin. Which was considered by far the largest of Ireland's Mother and Baby Homes. Between 1923 and 1930 inclusive, 662 children died at this home, an average of over 97 per year, or nearly two per week for seven years. However, these figures only began to be recorded 20 years ago, conditions prior were even worse.
2. Bessboro Mother and Baby Home - Bessboro, Co Cork. This Mother and Baby Home was opened in 1922. It became a Mother and Baby Home in 1924. Approximately 8,000 to 10,000 women passed through its doors. The infant mortality rate in 1944 was 68%, when the national average was about 5%. One-hundred-and-twenty-one babies and children were buried in that year alone.
3. Kilrush Mother and Baby Home - Kilrush, Co Clare, seems to have been in existence at the foundation of the state in 1922. Kilrush was designated a ‘Special Institution’ for the sole use of single mothers in 1922 . There seems to be confusion as to where the babies who died are buried with most adoption activists believing there is an Angel’s Plot near the former home. Approximately 800 to 1,200 women and girls entered the home and approximately 250 to 350 babies and children died.
4. The Home - Tuam, Co Galway;- The Tuam Mother and Baby home opened in 1925. According to the interdepartmental report of 2014, there were 1,101 births included in the records from the general registrar's office during the home’s lifetime, but this seems extraordinarily low and may reflect the fact that Tuam did not have a maternity unit during its early years and births outside the home would not have been registered to the home. Some estimate put the number of women passing through the Home as 3,500 to under 5,000 women. 796 babies and children died and were buried in a Septic Tank at the back of the home, and their is credible talk that another 1,500 to 1,800 more women and children are in secret grave pits nearby.
5. Sean Ross Abbey - Roscrea, Co Tipperary was opened in 1930 Approximately 6,000 to 8,000 girls and women passed through its doors. There is some anecdotal evidence that they also produced children’s coffins. There is a designated Angel’s Plot where the babies and children who died are buried. Approximately 800 children and babies died between 1930 and 1950 and it is not known how many died in its final 20 years, as the Nuns destroyed records. Academic research revealed that, in its opening year, 60 of the 120 babies who were born died. A conservative figure would be approximately 1000 babies died but most experts put that figure much higher, because the known records were destroyed by the Nuns.
6. Saint Peter’s Hospital - Castlepollard, Co Westmeath, opened in 1935 with Saint Peter‘s Hospital completed in 1939. Approximately 4,000 to 6,000 women and girls passed through its doors. There is a walled Angel’s Plot. Research completed by the Castlepollard group of survivors has found 203 confirmed and registered deaths. Freedom of Information requests and appeals have revealed that during 24, of its 36-year operation, 77 stillbirths were recorded in the official ledgers.
7. Ard Mhurie Mother and Baby Home - Dunboyne, Co Meath was opened in 1955 as the last of the nine Mother and Baby Homes. It was operated as an extern institution by the sisters of the Good Shepherds who also operated four of Irelands largest Magdalene Laundries. Numbers are difficult to estimate but it is likely that about 1,000 to 2,000 women passed through its doors, but many experts claim the figure is much higher.
8. Saint Gerard’s - Mountjoy Square, Dublin;- This home, Saint Gerard’s, was opened in 1933 by lay Catholics in a four-story over basement, terraced Georgian house. It was opened as what would be now called a “boutique” Mother and Baby Home to cater to fee-paying private cases and “select destitute cases." It was certified for 20 mothers and 12 babies.The home only had one recorded death during its years of operation. It appears to have been reasonably well run. The interdepartmental report 2014 records that 45 births were registered in Saint Gerard’s. Most of the births almost certainly took place in the nearby Rotunda Hospital. Girls stayed on average for about six months.
9. The Bethany Home - Rathgar, Co Dublin;- Opened in 1921 in Blackhall Place, in Dublin’s City Centre and moved to Rathgar 1934. Bethany was the sole mother and baby home for Protestant women who found themselves single and pregnant. It was the only such semi-secure institution for Protestants and it also doubled up as an orphanage, centre for Protestant women and girls on remand from the courts, or on probation. At least 227 babies died between 1921 and 1949 and it is likely the final figure will be approximately 300 or more. Thousands of women and girls gave birth at The Bethany Mother and Baby Home.
10 other Mother and Baby Homes;-
PS. The Irish Clergy signed a ‘Doctrinal Pledge’ proclaiming, among other things,
‘the utter depravity of human nature,
and the eternal punishment of the wicked’.