Embodied Knowledge and the Transformation of Women’s Health Politics
In DES Daughters, Susan Bell recounts the experiences of this generation of DES-victims. In moving, heartfelt narratives, she presents the voices of those women who developed cancer, those who were cancer-free but have concerns about becoming pregnant, and those who suffered other medical and/or reproductive difficulties.
What Bowdoin Books says
” Susan Bell‘s book tells a story about women who attained legendary status in the annals of medicine. They were exposed prenatally to what was promoted as a benign and exciting new wonder drug prescribed to millions of American women to prevent miscarriage from the 1940s to the 1970s. This new reproductive technology—the synthetic estrogen DES— proved to be ineffective in preventing miscarriage, and in the long run it has had profound and damaging consequences for children, especially daughters of the women for whom it was prescribed (Dieckmann et al. 1953; Giusti, Iwamoto, and Hatch 1995). In 1971, medical scientists observed an association between prenatal exposure to DES and a rare form of vaginal cancer (clear cell adenocarcinoma) in women under age twenty; using available medical categories, they identified this synthetic estrogen as the first “transplacental carcinogen” (Herbst, Ulfelder, and Poskanzer 1971). “DES Daughters”, as these women are now called, are also at risk for poor reproductive outcomes, including ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, premature birth, and stillbirth (Giusti, Iwamoto, and Hatch 1995). Almost forty years later, DES-related cancer remains rare, but reproductive tract problems—including menstrual irregularities, poor reproductive outcomes, and structural or cellular anomalies—are common among DES Daughters. ” Sources: Bowdoin Books
“Exposure to artificial estrogens such as BPA and DES can change the way the fetus responds to estrogen later in life and may be associated with breast cancer” says Dr. Hugh Taylor, director of the Yale Center for Reproductive Biology.
I definitely think the wrong persons are blaming themselves. But who is to blame for the DES tragedy? Doctors who continued to prescribe the drug despite warnings about its side effects? The FDA who did not ban it and today recognizes the DES tragedy but refuses to apologize to the victims? The pharmaceutical companies who heavily promoted DES use to doctors? Governments who failed to protect the health of their citizens when health warnings were issued? Am I missing someone? something? So many questions remain unanswered. Surely this drug scandal could have been avoided like many others such as Thalidomide (the sedative drug introduced in the late 1950s and withdrawned in 1961 due to teratogenicity and neuropathy). Surely other people than the DES victims should feel guilt and should not be sleeping well at night!
To this day, many questions remain unanswered about the life-long health consequences of DES. The full extent of this drug disaster is yet to be seen and understood so it is no surprise that DES mothers, daughters and sons leave in fear … What do you fear most in life?