DES : A Deadly Drug – Ashwara Pillai


My name is Ashwara Pillai and I am currently reading Get Me Out  by Randi Epstein. This book discusses the history and the importance of pregnancy.

In my last blog post I discussed Dr. Sims and his approach on pregnancy. Today I will be discussing about a drug that women used in the 1900’s.


Back in the 1900’s, pregnant women had no way to search up information on what they shouldn’t and should eat. Ladies now, have the internet and better doctors but back then, they only had their own personal information and luck. In 1938, pregnant women starting taking high doses of an estrogen called diethylstilbestrol. These women hoped that with this drug they would not get miscarriages but sadly, it does not prevents miscarriages and harms the baby exposed to it.

Unfortunately, DES ( shorter from of diethylstilbestrol ) was a form of a deadly and rare vigilant cancer. This cancer struck one in every 1,000 mothers who took that drug. On page 129, Epstein explains what had to be done to DES cancer survivors

” Some have had their vagina, uterus, and fallopian tubes removed.”

Many women who have been effected by DES, have had mutiple miscarriages. DES also gives every mother vaginal adenosine. This drug creates malformed reproductive tracts, like an incompetent cervix ( a cervix that does not close tightly to hold a baby ). Not only does this drug affect the baby, it affects the mother.

On page 131, Epstein gives us a look on how a DES mother would have felt, knowing she harmed her baby.

” You can’t imagine what it’s like to think that with the best of intentions, you might have poisoned your child; their life might be in danger because of something you did. You blame yourself. You can’t imagine facing your child and telling them “

Even after many years that showed solid evidence of DES being absolutely terrible for you, women continued to use it. There was even proof that DES was given to chickens and cows to make them grow tastier meat faster.  But finally, DES was banned in 1959 for use in poultry, and not for humans.

But the question was, why did women take a drug they barely knew about? Obviously they couldn’t search it up, but shouldn’t they worry about the consequences? This is because women thought the placenta was a barricade, it would protect the baby at all cost. But in reality, many things can sneak its way into the placenta. There have been many studies showing that tiny molecules can slip thorough the placenta. In the late 1900’s a french physiologist names Francois Magendie, injected drugs in pregnant dogs and later saw the drug in the fetus. Later, a Swiss physician conducted an experiment the proved that even when the mother takes aspirin, it can get into the fetal blood system.

I feel like the women that have had technology and other resources are much luckier than the women in the early 1900’s and way before than. Now we have unlimited amount of things that can help women in their nine months of pregnancy and we know the risks. But back then, they took what ever they thought would help. Everything has a bad side, there will always be consequences. This DES drug killed many babies and women, and if they just had the information we have now, there lives could be saved. Instead of looking back at this incident, we should make sure that it never happens again. Like I said, we have great resources and information that can guarantee you a healthy baby.



Old ad that says DES prevented Miscarriage 

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