Category Archives: Pregnancy

To Slice Or Not To Slice

Waiting to contract

 

If you are pregnant in the US, if you know someone who is, or who wants to be, read this. It will give you some idea how much Caesarean section – heavy-duty abdominal surgery designed to help a baby live when the mother cannot give birth vaginally – depends, not on medical emergency or advice, but on culture. Yes, within America.

 

In order to avoid “but the patient wanted it” whingeing, let’s first take a look at who has the power in childbirth and Caesarean sections.

 

One can give birth by oneself. Alone in the woods, within an earthquake-devastated building, in a cave while fleeing rapacious soldiers. All have been done. On the other hand, no one can perform a Caesarean section on herself. Not one person. With that kind of surgery, there must be a practitioner. That puts that second person in charge. No one is holding an IED to physicians’ heads to demand that they slice. Obstetricians (obstetrics is a surgical specialty; historically, few female medical students have been encouraged to specialize in surgery) have the power to just say “no” to a medically unnecessary request or demand for Caesarean section. They have every right to do so – pointing out that the patient shows no risk factors to indicate it – and they have the power. They alone.

 

That takes care of the whinge. Now:

 

Recently, much has been made of the fact that the American C-section rate is quite high. This nation is #15 from the top in global high section rates, and its rate of 30.3 is significantly higher than in other first-world nations.

 

It has been observed that of the top 10 countries worldwide, in terms of high C-section rates, eight have Roman Catholic majorities. (The remaining two high blade users are Iran and South Korea.) Eighty percent of the nations where a person is most likely to undergo C-section with its attendant risks – shock and sepsis; developmental harm to newborns; longer maternal recovery – and extra expense, have high or very high populations identified as Roman Catholic. Clearly, then, that religion and/or its physician adherents are somehow driving the C-section rate to much higher levels than the 15% recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). In Brazil, which stands at #1 in the world, the rate is an alarming 45.9; nearly half of Brazilian births happen under the knife.

 

The C-section rate in the United States varies up to 15-fold. Some states have very low rates. Yet some – see this graph – have rates that rival the highest global rates (New Jersey’s extraordinary C-section rate is nearly equivalent to #2 Dominican Republic and #3 Iran, where over 41% of people in labor are cut). Those states pull the US average up.

 

From the graph, there are 19 states (plus the District of Columbia, making 20 data-specific areas in all; they are listed in order at the end of this article) whose rates exceed the American average. As noted above, that US average is already high compared to other first-world nations. I wondered what cultural effects could be driving these very high rates of abdominal surgery, so I examined graphs and maps.

 

What I found is this:

 

Of those 20 areas with high C-section rates, three states also hold high percentages of residents who are Roman Catholic (3 million people or more): California, New York, and, as mentioned above, New Jersey. Only three. How, then, do we account for the remaining areas? Is there some distinguishing cultural “mark” common to them?

 

There is indeed. If we examine the pre-Civil War slave status of these high C-section districts – where legal ownership of human beings was permitted – we find that 14 of them were slave-holding at the start of hostilities in 1861. From lower percentage of C-sections to highest, bearing in mind that all these states’ rates surpass the US average, they are: Tennessee, Georgia, District of Columbia, Virginia, Arkansas, Maryland, Alabama, South Carolina, Texas, Kentucky, West Virginia (which broke from Virginia during the Civil War, but prior to it had been the western portion of that “slave” state), Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana.

 

Note that Maryland and Kentucky were among four “slave states” that remained in the Union. Nonetheless, both permitted the ownership of human beings in 1861.

 

That is an extraordinary commonality.

 

There are, however, three states remaining of the 20 with higher-than-US-average rates of Caesarean sections, and these three – from lower to higher C-section rates they are Nevada, Oklahoma and Connecticut – seem to have nothing in common.

 

However, each of these three high C-section states borders at least one state noted above.

 

Nevada shares along border with California (with a high Roman Catholic population). Oklahoma borders both Arkansas and Texas (both former slave-holding states). Connecticut’s western border runs along New York State (with a high proportion of Roman Catholics).

 

It seems reasonable to conclude, therefore, that high C-section rates  in Nevada, Oklahoma and Connecticut are due in part to the cultural influence of their neighbors. It is worth noting that California has an outsize cultural influence on Nevada; New York impacts the most populous areas of Connecticut, in the southwestern section of that state, where many commuters live; and despite sports rivalries between Oklahoma and Texas, the latter sends thousands of its residents north to the former.

 

As others are doing, we can speculate what it is about Roman Catholicism that encourages, absent medical emergency, slicing into a laboring person rather than allowing her to labor and give birth vaginally. It could be institutional disrespect. Women are not yet allowed to be RC priests and are permitted only minor roles in the church. It could be a continuation of the cult of Eve-like and Marian suffering. A Caesarean section is so painful it requires anesthetic, and the recovery period is long and arduous – these new mothers must struggle to rebuild their abdominal muscles. It could be that Roman Catholicism encourages a mindset that rewards male intervention (nearly all obstetricians are male) and denies female bodily integrity and power.

 

What of the former slave states? There, too, we see a history of power inequities. Pre-Civil War, the dichotomy between the influential and those who had little say in their lives was much starker than in states where slavery had been abolished. It takes little effort to note the transition from imposing on vulnerable people who were black to imposing on vulnerable people – the hours of childbirth put one at risk – who are female. It puts the obstetrician in control of a process he normally would simply observe. He inserts himself into the labor and is thus in control of a person’s life and health, just as slave owners were in 1860.

 

To those who protest – “hey, what about all those obstetricians who aren’t Roman Catholic, who aren’t descended from families that owned other human beings?” – you’re right. However, when one enters into a culture, and wants to fit in, one adapts. One adopts the customs and traditions of the culture. Fail to do that, and you risk being considered a dangerous renegade. Of course there are physicians in all areas who are not Roman Catholic; likewise, some obstetricians in former slave-holding areas are descended from ancestors who never lived there.

 

To get along, go along. There is pressure on obstetricians. Patients apply some, but there is  more from the culture they work in. If fellow obstetricians are posting high C-section rates, and you’d rather not, how do you become what Australians call the tall poppy – reducing your section rate to the WHO-recommended 15%, or lower – without getting cut down and criticized?

 

Probably, you don’t. Most likely, you make excuses to yourself. You look for aspects of the labor, or the pregnant person, to blame. You form a foundation on sand before you slice.

 

That’s unethical and unnecessary. It harms both the patient and the new child.

 

As a society, we need to make Caesarean sections dependent not on culture but on true medical necessity. That means insisting on all levels – grassroots to hospital to national watchdogs – that obstetricians just say no to cultures that encourage appallingly high C-section rates.

 

Note: The 19 states (plus District of Columbia) whose C-section rates exceed the already high US average are (from lower to highest): California, Tennessee, Georgia, Nevada, District of Columbia, Virginia, Oklahoma, New York, Arkansas, Maryland, Alabama, South Carolina, Texas, Connecticut, Kentucky, West Virginia, Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey.

 

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Really, Chile?

Sebastian Pinera, making life-and-death decisions one 11-year-old at a time.

 

If a child is too young to adequately consent to sex, with all its emotional and physical ramifications, then surely she is too young to make life-or-death decisions, right?

 

Not in Chile.

 

An 11-year-old girl repeatedly raped and impregnated by her stepfather has been praised by Sebastián Piñera,  the nation’s president, for her “mature” decision not to seek an abortion. (Note that this scenario occurs all over the world. A recent case in China involved an abused 12-year-old.)

 

Now, leaving aside questions of what abortion options would be available to this young girl in Chile (few), the amount of pressure a Catholic country’s therapists and families might place on a vulnerable child (huge), and the fact that the girl’s mother is obviously not the person who should be raising her (the mother initially called the rapes “consensual”), how is a child whose frontal lobe is still under construction to be regarded as mature enough to decide to continue a process that can easily kill her?

 

Two things: first, the age of menarche — a girl’s first menses — has been dropping since 1840, as has boys’ sexual maturity since 1750, even though mentally and emotionally they are still children; and, second, the brain research being carried out at the National Institute of Health (NIH) by Dr. Jay Giedd and by other researchers in other countries, clearly indicates that even in healthy humans, a child’s brain differs from an adolescent’s brain differs from an adult’s brain.

 

This 11-year-old is therefore two whole steps away from having an adult brain. She should not be asked to make an adult decision, since she does not yet possess the frontal lobe capacity to do so.

 

In addition, pregnancy and childbirth are risky. Even in wealthy nations with excellent healthcare and follow-up, grown women die during fetal growth and delivery. The US is hardly at the top of the list for maternal mortality (that’s where people die as a result of pregnancy or delivery, including within several days after a birth), but US statistics demonstrate that overall, maternal mortality is 8 per 100,000. In Chile, the figure is almost three times higher: 23 per 100,000. In both countries, that is an average. In certain geographical areas and among certain populations, death rates soar.

 

That is especially true of people who are pregnant before they reach age 20. Among teenagers, pregnancy is horribly dangerous. Imagine what the risk will be for an 11-year-old who can only picture a baby being like a doll to “take care of”.

 

Amnesty International asserts that this child must be provided with an abortion in order to save her life. While Chile stalls, an evasive scenario is likely to happen. Because the young girl’s body is immature, something is almost certain to go wrong with the pregnancy. At that point, doctors can intervene and decide to “deliver early” in order to keep the 11-year-old alive. Early enough, and the fetus will not survive.

 

That’s what you call prevarication. In a society where a raped child is praised for “maturity”, that’s what happens.

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Filed under Chile, Grooming, Jay Giedd, Menarche, Menstruation, Misogyny, NIH, Pregnancy, Rape, Sexual assault

Goodbye, North Dakota and Kansas

North Dakota and Kansas want to call this a human being.

 

Goodbye road repair. Goodbye police protection.

Goodbye fire fighters and robbery detection.

Goodbye schools, goodbye traffic rules.

Goodbye licensed cabs. Goodbye DNA labs.

And goodbye to preventive vaccine jabs . . ..

 

 

Why, you may ask. Why indeed.

 

North Dakota’s senate and Kansas’s house of representatives have voted to spend billions on unnecessary criminalization of normal, in fact, healthy and inevitable developmental processes. Which will leave them little money for road repair, etcetera. I’m not sure why the lawyers in their legislative bodies didn’t warn them.

 

What? You hear them squawk.

 

Well, didn’t you, ND and KS legislators? Didn’t you vote to make it law in your state that a fertilized egg is a person? You did, right? I have the articles about it right here and here.

 

Oh, that, you murmur. No big deal. Protection, yeah, that’s it, protection.

 

Whoa, hold on. If a fertilized egg is a person, and if it somehow fails to complete the nine-month journey to birth, that means – of course it does – homicide and potential murder. Right?

 

Follow me down this slippery slope you’ve created.

 

In order to determine that there is, in your view, a human in existence, you will need to test – on a daily if not hourly basis – every female child or adult of childbearing age in your state. Even those visiting for seminars and conferences, or celebrating Grandma’s 60th birthday. That means every female between . . . oh, let’s play safe and call it from eight years old to 60. Oops, that means Grandma, too, but of course in order to catch outliers, you need to be generous with your terms.

 

So somehow, every day, every female from third-grade to five-years-from-Medicare will need to take some sort of test (blood? saliva? pheromones?) to determine whether she’s carrying a human being within her.

 

If she is, you have to follow her. Medically, of course, unless you really want to pay officers to shadow tweens to determine whether they’re hitting that tennis ball just a tad too hard.

 

And if that fertilized egg – sorry, human being – fails to thrive? If a spontaneous abortion, AKA miscarriage, occurs, as it does in what reputable medical researchers estimate is at least one-third of pregnancies? Even though miscarriage is nature’s way of making sure fertilized eggs with faulty genetics don’t continue?

 

Well, hell. You’re going to have to use the rest of your taxes, beyond what you’ve already invested in surveillance and testing, to investigate the potential criminality of the erstwhile pregnant citizen. Was it a planned abortion? Was it “accidental”? I put that word in quotes because you will need to, as well. As every good 19th-century gynecologist knows, miscarriages happen for a variety of reasons: climbing stairs; riding a horse astride; sex with one’s husband, and so on. Add to those the possibility of miscarrying on a flight to ND/KS, or perhaps working long hours while teaching school. Wait, there will be no schools, you won’t be able to afford them. So much the better. That will force everyone to homeschool their children. Or, you know, not.

 

If the investigation determines that the pregnant citizen may have been at fault for taking a swim in a brisk lake?

 

Out comes the grand jury. The indictment. Incarceration (her children will just have to get along without their mom, her husband without his wife) and trial. With a guilty verdict, jail or prison. Again, the children will suffer, but what do you care?

 

You’ve just jailed a woman guilty of nothing but possessing a human body which God has designed to rid itself of some genetic errors.

 

Naturally, you’ll have to let violent criminals out of prison early in order to make room for citizens who have done nothing wrong.

 

Also, you’ve bankrupted your state and made it unlikely to be selected as the destination for national and regional conferences and tourism.

 

So what! You’ve declared your interest. You’ve shown you support children. From conception to birth, anyway, the most important months, and that’s what counts.

 

Until a member of your family is pregnant, or hit by a driver running a red light. Oh, dear . . ..

 

Goodbye traffic light maintenance.

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Filed under Birth control, Conception, Contraceptive, Family, Harassment, Health, Law, Miscarriage, Misogyny, Personhood, Pregnancy, Prison, Surveillance, War against women

Dear Mayor Bloomberg

 

Found his personal website. Found his official .gov site. Looked through both of them. Could not find a simple “contact the mayor” button . . . unless I were a New York City resident complaining about, say, trash removal.

 

There was no easy way (there could be, web administrators!) for the ordinary non-New Yorker to contact the 108th mayor of the Big Apple.

 

The address of Gracie Mansion is on the internet. But Mayor Bloomberg does not live in the official mayoral mansion on the north end of Carl Schurz Park, overlooking the East River – I know my way around the city – so mail would be unlikely to reach him there.

 

So I’m blogging this in the hope that someone savvy on Bloomberg’s staff links him.

 

If you live in NYC or read national papers, you know that the Mayor’s Office has recently approved a campaign using shame to bring down the rates of teen pregnancy and birth in the city. “It is well past time when anyone can afford to be value-neutral when it comes to teen pregnancy,” says Bloomberg’s press office.Posters have been appearing in the subways, photos of little kids with these sample headlines (bolded words original to the text):

 

“Honestly mom . . . chances are he won’t stay with you. What happens to me?”

 

“I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen.”

 

“If you finish high school, get a job, and get married before having children, you have a 98% chance of not being in poverty.”

 

Is any of this false? No. Is it a good idea to shame people into healthy behavior? Yes.

 

Look at MADD’s campaign against drunk-driving, and the way smoking has become impermissible in many places across the US – something that perplexes puffers who arrive here from Asia, where Big Tobacco is trying to addict as many people as possible in order to make up for quitters in, for example, America. Yes, shame works. A little bit of shame, that is, not enough to crush the person who likes to drink or the one who uses one of the most addictive substances on the planet (that’s tobacco, y’all).

 

Despite naysayers, shame is not a four-letter word, and it can be very useful to help teenagers avoid pregnancy. Holland certainly finds it so. Health experts from other parts of Europe visit the Netherlands to learn how the Dutch attain their low teen pregnancy rate. Hint: shame is utilized. Pregnancy in adolescence is regarded as an inexplicable failure of prevention on the part of both girl and boy. The Dutch also view teenage pregnancy as a family issue, and the state will not provide the young woman with a flat all her own – unlike in the UK, which categorizes a teenage mother-plus-baby as a distinct family unit.

 

So I’m not shame-averse. Not at all. What gets my goat, though, is using shame against only the female half of the pregnancy-creating couple.

 

Teenagers don’t use IVF. They don’t spend thousands of dollars on prime Danish sperm over the internet. No, they get pregnant the old-fashioned way. Which means they don’t do it alone.

 

Chances are, the guy who knocks up a 16-year-old is not himself 16 years old. No, sir. More times than you’d think, the dude depositing sperm is well over 18. He’s an adult, often with a wife or girlfriend. He has no business messing with teenagers.

 

So, what’s sauce for the adolescent goose is more than sauce for the adult gander.

 

Here’s what I want to see: a shame program aimed at the men who target girls. Those guys should be looking at women their own age. Pick on someone your own size, we should say.

 

Remember Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”? Of course you do. It’s still played, and not just on oldies stations. Hey! Teacher! Leave them kids alone!

 

So here’s how the next posters designed for NYC subways should read:

 

Hey! Man! Leave those girls alone!

 

Target the other half, the older, supposedly more mature half of the baby-making process. Shame grown men into better behavior. Let them know that picking on adolescents is the opposite of cool.

 

That way, teenagers won’t get pregnant in the first place. Problem solved.

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Filed under Adolescence, Bloomberg, New York City, Pregnancy, Subway ads, Teenage girls

Misusing Medicine

 

An Ethiopian woman, a Jewish woman

 

You probably won’t like this one bit. Indeed, I gasped.

 

First, a bit of Israeli history. Not long after modern Israel was first formed in 1948, the Law of Return was established. That doctrine held that, no matter where in the world Jews are born or located, they have the right to “return” to Israel, the birthplace of their ancestors, and take their place among Israeli citizens. In 1970 the law was broadened to include the spouses of Jews, as well as people with Jewish ancestry. That means that Jews from many nations now live near the Mediterranean, in one of the most politically volatile regions on earth, as part of what is often described as “the only democracy in the Middle East”.

 

Almost all Israelis are Caucasian, white, simply because few emigrated into Asia or Africa and bred with local peoples there.

 

There are, however, a number of Jews from East Africa, just across the Red Sea from Yemen. Known as “Beta Israel” (house of Israel), the communities lived in small villages and kept up – with varying degrees of fidelity due to ignorance or pressure from surrounding Muslims and Christians – the practice of Judaism. These days, not quite 2% of the Israeli population was either born in Ethiopia or is the child of an Ethiopian-born Jew.

 

Controversial 2002 examination of DNA – the technology for which was unavailable at the time of the Ethiopians’ acceptance to Israel – indicated that their population was unrelated to Levantine ancestors, and similar to other, non-Jewish Ethiopians. Those results made some Israelis nervous. More recent DNA research found in 2012 that the study population did possess some ancient Jewish ancestry – which would account for their having no concept of Hannukah (which remembers events that occurred only after their ancestors had settled in Ethiopia 2000 years ago).

 

To some Israelis, however, it seems that the Ethiopian Jews are a little less Jewish than they ought to be.

 

Last year, several people noted that the Ethiopian Jewish birthrate had plummeted to fifty percent of its former range. While some of the drop might be explained by the social pressures of life in Israel – where, with the exception of the ultra-Orthodox, families tend to be small – 50% seemed too dramatic to be explained away by mere peer pressure. Several reporters and videographers got started, interviewing women in Ethiopia, at their initial Judaic camp; then in the central camp at Addis Ababa, whence they would journey to Israel; and finally, in Israel itself.

 

What they found is that, without notification – or indeed permission – women of childbearing age, initially threatened with “difficulties” in being processed for Israel if they had many children, were injected four times each year with Depo-Provera, a powerful contraceptive.

 

Two days ago, for the first time, the pressured Israeli government admitted that those assaults were made by medical workers who knew perfectly well what they were doing, yet misled the women they injected.

 

The Israeli Health Ministry has order gynecologists to stop the practice, but it has not yet declared sanctions against the physicians committing malpractice with such racist implications – implications that bring to mind WWII-era practices.

 

According to the Independent, “Last year, the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who also holds the health portfolio [emphasis mine], warned that illegal immigrants from Africa ‘threaten our existence as a Jewish and democratic state’.

 

Well, only if they’re illegal, surely.

 

These were not illegal immigrants. They had been vetted and approved for Return well before making the journey to Tel Aviv. To knowingly assault them, disregarding their protests, in an attempt to restrict their fertility – when other groups are not similarly restricted – is an act of immense hubris and scathing offensiveness.

 

That is a heavy pain footprint.

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Filed under Birth control, Conception, Contraceptive, Depo-Provera, Ethiopia, Ethiopian Jews, Eugenics, Infertility, Israel, Misogyny, Netanyahu, Pain, Pain footprint, Pregnancy, War against women, World War II

Potty Parity

How soon will it take for . . .

 

I didn’t make up that title. “Potty parity” is a term in use to discuss public toilet facilities, particularly where the lack of women’s toilets mean they stand in long lines while men zip in, unzip, and zip out.

 

Note that we’re not talking equality. As in, 1:1 toilet stalls. Because 1:1, it turns out, may be way too lean for crowds of women.

 

The need for more potties on the feminine side is particularly keen in areas where lots of people congregate for hours at a time. No, not shopping malls. Stadiums.

 

In New York City, two baseball stadiums have faced potty parity questions within the past few years. Yankee Stadium and the Mets’ Citi Field both had designers who dug deep to come up with the right answer to the age-old question of how much is too much. Or rather, how long is too long?

 

Potty parity is not measured by numbers of porcelain thrones. It’s measured by wait times. And as we all know, women generally need to wait for a toilet longer for men.

 

From the New York Times: “Studies show that women take about twice as long as men in the restroom. The reasons vary, from the obvious (the need to secure themselves inside a stall, shed more clothes and use toilet paper) to the not-so-obvious (menstrual cycles and the increased likelihood, compared to men, of ushering small children). Groups including the American Restroom Association and the World Toilet Organization view quick access to clean public toilets as no laughing matter. People with medical problems, including bladder or bowel dysfunction, may not be able to wait. Long waits can exacerbate other issues, including urinary-tract infections.”

 

The Times forgot to mention pregnancy, which accelerates the frequency with which people need to pee, especially in the last trimester. No wonder, with a 7-pound mass weighing on the bladder. They also omitted discussion of women’s “toilet etiquette”. Depending on where and when they grew up, some women believe they must never ever let any part of their body (their thighs, for example) touch the seat. They either hover over it or take time to place a protective layer of toilet paper on the seat before sitting.

 

(Note: Unless the backs of your thighs bear open wounds, you won’t catch anything. Relax and sit.)

 

Yankee Stadium now has “369 women’s toilets, and 98 toilets and 298 urinals for men, according to the buildings department. Another 78 fixtures are in unisex bathrooms, designed for families or in luxury suites”, according to the Times. At Citi Field, there are “374 women’s toilets, and 111 toilets and 240 urinals for men”.

 

Ah, sweet relief!

 

For men who scoff that women take longer because they chat, no. Just . . . no. Women talk in line (often to plead with “got to go!” children) before reaching an empty stall. They talk at the sinks. Within the stall, it’s all business – though that business might have to be repeated for each child who’s accompanied Mummy. Your date makes you wait while she applies lipstick, gentlemen, but she’s not holding up the line. The other women would be livid, and your date’s still alive, right?

 

The need for public toilets for women is not an exclusively US concern. The female line is longer virtually everywhere. In China, as well.

 

Again, the New York Times: “… national standards for public street toilets in urban China recommend a one-to-one ratio of men’s stalls, including urinals, to women’s stalls. Since sanitation workers — almost uniformly women — routinely take over at least one women’s stall for their cleaning supplies, women typically end up with even less opportunity to relieve themselves.”

 

What a bummer. It’s enough to make a woman become an activist.

 

That’s exactly what one Chinese woman has done. Li Tingting, age 22, has staged protests and loo-ins. At public buildings, she guards the men’s bathroom for three minutes at a time so women can use it. Then the men get it back for 10 minutes. Rinse and repeat. After an hour, Ms. Li moves on. In her native city of Guangzhou, a bastion of comparative liberality, Li has been successful in bringing attention to the issue of too few toilets for women. (In Hong Kong, the recommended ration is 2:3, and 1:3 in Taiwan. Lucky Taiwanese!) Working in Beijing, which takes a harder line against protest, she was temporarily whisked off by security guards.

 

Nonetheless, Li’s volunteer activism has borne fruit. A new focus addresses an age-old problem.

 

Now, if we could design a way to prevent men peeping over women’s toilet stalls. I wonder what the NRA would have to say about that tricky little problem?

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Filed under China, Health, Potty parity, Pregnancy, Stadiums, Toilet

Fifty Years Too Late

This was poison

 

Imagine you’re in the early stages of pregnancy and experiencing morning sickness and nausea that, well, doesn’t restrict itself to pre-noon. At any time, any place, you could be taken short. Find an empty place (pull the car over if you need to), tell your small children you’ll be right with them, and proceed to be very sick indeed.

 

Not fun. For some people, as well, first-trimester nausea lasts throughout the pregnancy. One of the most joyous things about birth is that one finally feels healthy.

 

Now, imagine a medication that could make the nausea vanish. No more hot saliva, frantic searching, upchucking. No more apologies for ruining a neighbor’s shrubs. Clear sailing for as long as needed.

 

Sounds good, right?

 

That’s what physicians and lay people thought decades ago, when a little pill manufactured in Germany became, for some months, popular as a nausea preventive in pregnancy. Until the babies of thousands of women who took the pill began to be born.

 

Babies who lacked hands and feet. Who had flippers for arms. Babies whose bodies had been deformed by the very pill that prevented their mothers’ vomiting.

 

That was thalidomide.

 

A pause here to acknowledge and honor the woman who prevented thalidomide from entering the US. Born in 1914 and still living, Frances Oldham Kelsey, PhD, MD, worked at the FDA at the time as a pharmacologist. She had grave reservations about thalidomide because the research showed a nervous system side effect. Despite intense pressure by the manufacturer to approve the drug, Dr. Kelsey refused to sanction it for the American market. Thanks to Dr. Kelsey’s determination, the only American children abused by thalidomide were those whose mothers bought the drug while overseas.

 

Many thalidomide-affected children were turned over to orphanages right after birth. Their shocked parents –there was little counseling or emotional support in the 1960s – simply felt they could not handle raising a child with such profound bodily defects. Many children died before they turned one year old. Some were adopted by other families. Some stayed in orphanages until they were grown.

 

Globally, the numbers were huge. There were 12,000 children affected by thalidomide.

 

Why write about this now? Because it is only now, 50 years later, that Gruenenthal, the manufacturer of the poison thalidomide, is making an apology. Harald Stock, its CEO, acknowledged that the firm had remained silent. The Independent reports that, “He said the company had failed to reach out to the victims and their mothers over the past 50 years.”

 

A half-century of silence. Why now? Why even speak up now?

 

Perhaps it’s that finally, Gruenenthal feels it can take responsibility. Perhaps Herr Stock is a forward-thinking corporate executive.

 

Perhaps it’s because, in Australia, thalidomide survivors – legless, armless, but with abilities and brains – are, at last, filing suit in courts of law.

 

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Filed under FDA, Frances Oldham Kelsey, Health, Law, Morning sickness, Pregnancy, Thalidomide