What did you give us? Fears over drug given to young Scots mothers forced into adoption
By Marion Scott
July 25, 2021, 2:05 pm
Unmarried mothers who were forced to give up their babies were given a controversial drug now linked to cancers and life-changing conditions passed on to future generations. A synthetic hormone, developed to mimic oestrogen, was given to young mothers to dry up their breast milk after their babies were taken for adoption, leaving them at increased risk of developing rare cancers of the reproductive system. Even now, few know the powerful drug Diethylstilbestrol (DES) has been linked to a number of breast and vaginal cancers. And it has been shown to cause gynaecological abnormalities and infertility in the children and grandchildren of women given the pills. A major US study found that the daughters of women who took the drug were 40 times more at risk of the rare vaginal cancer adenocarcinoma, eight times more likely to suffer neonatal death, and almost five times more likely to have a premature baby. The study also highlighted increased risks with early menopause, infertility and ectopic pregnancies. The sons of mothers who had taken the drug, which was marketed under the names Stilbestrol, Stilboestrol and Desplex, were also at increased risk of infertility and testicular cancer. The drug, often referred to as just DES, was widely used and marketed throughout the world for a variety of uses, including preventing miscarriage, until 1971 when a Boston scientist first confirmed the deadly links after finding a cluster of young women developing rare vaginal cancers. The drug was sold by a number of manufacturers who have since settled US litigation cases for billions of dollars but little or nothing has been done to highlight concerns across the UK.
Calls for inquiry
Forced adoption campaigners are now demanding a public inquiry and investigation into the health of women given the drug as well as their children exposed to its wide-ranging effects while still in the womb. Marion McMillan, 73, from Paisley, who was forced to give up her baby boy in 1966 simply because she was unmarried, said she was ordered to take 16 tablets a day for almost a week after she gave birth in a mother and baby home. Now dying with cancer, she said: “I’ve met many forced adoption victims over the years who were all given the same drug to dry up their breast milk as quickly as possible after they’d given birth. It was seen as an inconvenience once we’d given birth so we were told to take the tablets, which were handed out like sweets. I was given four, four times a day until my breast milk dried up and I was sent home. Looking back, I fear I was given an overdose of very powerful hormones. Nobody ever explained what they were or whether there were any side effects. I was just ordered to take them, and as a very vulnerable, frightened teenager on my own and disowned by my horrified parents, I had nobody to ask and nobody to protect my best interests. Like the thousands of other forced adoption victims, I simply did what I was told.”
McMillan claims like many other victims she was denied painkillers, there was no stitching after the traumatic birth of her son, and she says she has been plagued by gynaecological problems ever since. More than two years ago she was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma, which has spread from her lungs to her liver. She has so far defied the terminal diagnosis she was given following aggressive chemotherapy. It took 40 years before she was eventually reunited with the son taken from her, unaware that as she searched for him, he was looking for her. She met husband George after returning from the mother and baby home, and the couple went on to have a family together. The campaigner, whose heartbreaking story brought tears to politicians in the Scottish Parliament last month, has spent decades terrified that the drugs given to her had affected any of her three children. She said: “I was horrified to learn those drugs can cause increased risks of cancer and a number of other serious health issues in the children I had after my firstborn, and I’ve agonised over that and warned them to be vigilant. But it terrifies me that so little has been made public about this medical scandal, and I fear most of the women given this drug will have no inkling of the consequences. I was diagnosed with terminal cancer just over two years ago and I’d like to know whether the drugs I was given played any part in what’s happened to me, and the very least all those other mums and their children deserve is to know the truth about the risks they were exposed to and a check done to see how their health is.”
McMillan, who is due to meet Children’s Minister Clare Haughey along with other campaigners, is calling for a public inquiry so all the health risks and human rights abuses they suffered can no longer be “swept under the carpet”. She said: “For almost 60 years the 60,000 women who were forced adoption victims have been treated as if we are Scotland’s dirty little secret when our only ‘crime’ was that we were not married when we became pregnant. But this is no longer just about challenging the morality of society at that time. There are extremely serious health implications that must be addressed for the women who were given this drug and the generations of their children who may be suffering the lasting effects. The health time bomb is ticking and the government cannot continue ignoring what was a truly dreadful part of Scotland’s history. Very few women given those drugs will even know the danger we were exposed to, or the effect on our children and grandchildren.”
Civil law expert George Clark of Quantum Claims said the government had a duty to investigate: “The government must find a way to fully assess just how widely these drugs were administered, and health authorities must be able to follow-up with health checks. Everyone affected must be given the full information available on all the known side effects so they can be vigilant and seek treatment if necessary.”
MSP Monica Lennon, who has led Holyrood’s Cross Party Committee on Women’s Health said: “It’s bad enough that SNP ministers have tried to sweep the mental health impact of forced adoption under the carpet. The physical impacts must be brought into the light too, including the potential link between cancer and drugs women were made to take to stop their breast milk. A formal apology from the Scottish Government would finally acknowledge all of the damage inflicted on the mothers and their babies, and unlock a full investigation into these cruel and sinister practices.”
DES was developed by British biochemist Edward Charles Dodds in 1938. Dodds never intended it to be used as a drug and didn’t patent it, allowing more than 200 drug companies around the world to manufacture DES. Increasingly concerned over the many uses DES was being prescribed for, Dodds spoke out fiercely about the use of synthetic hormones due to the unknown effect they can have on the body and future generations. Diethylstilbestrol, known as Stilbestrol in the UK, was initially thought to prevent miscarriage and help with period pain. It was also used for a number of other issues, including preventing women growing too tall. It was even used as chemical castration, administered to Enigma hero Alan Turing to “treat” his homosexuality as an alternative to prison. The side effects were awful and Turing would later take his own life. In 1970, a Boston doctor identified links between the drug and rare vaginal cancers in young women and after a Food & Drug Administration alert, it was gradually withdrawn except for small doses used to treat prostate cancer in men. Despite huge settlements in the US to victims, very little is publicly available in the UK. Australia’s forced adoption victims asked their government to act during the country’s official apology in 2013, but are still waiting.
Hollywood writer Caitlin McCarthy is about to cast her film Wonder Drug which will tell the story of how DES was given to millions of unsuspecting women with devastating consequences for generations of children.
McCarthy, 50, said: “I only discovered when I was 35 that I was a victim of this drug. It was given to my mother before I was born and of course she, like so many other women around the world, had no idea she’d been given it or what the consequences would be. I’m what is known as a DES Daughter, although the effect of the drug continues down through generations, too. I have structural differences in my cervix, and need regular check-ups as I’m at increased risk of breast and vaginal cancers. I was extremely lucky to be diagnosed when I was, during a routine operation, simply because the doctor I had was experienced in recognising the effects of the drug. It was devastating, not just for me but also for my poor mother Ann who immediately felt terribly guilty even though she had no idea she had even been given DES in a prenatal vitamin treatment. After the shock of what I’d been exposed to subsided, I began researching how this happened and discovered DES was given to millions around the world. My film exposes the fortunes made by the drug companies, and those who turned a blind eye and did little to warn victims even when the cancer links became clear in 1971. For over 40 years this scandal has been shrouded in silence even though so many people and at least three generations are affected. Everybody has heard about Thalidomide. But hardly anyone has heard about DES. I aim to change that.”
McCarthy is calling on governments around the world to alert women who were given the drug and for health checks for them and any children they have since had.
She said: “It’s desperately sad DES was given to victims of forced adoption who not only suffered by losing their babies, but their health and the health of their other children has been put at dreadful risk because of this drug. It’s a tragedy that this happened at all. But the resounding silence that surrounds it is one of the biggest medical scandals of all time. The silence cannot be allowed to continue. People deserve the truth. They need help and support. Governments cannot continue ignoring this issue. It saddens me and angers me that in all these years there has been no proper apology from either the drug companies or the watchdogs who were supposed to prevent any of this happening. When the first links with cancer were first identified in 1971, the Food & Drug Administration could have issued a ban and taken action so the rest of the world would sit up and react. Instead all it did was issue an alert and little notice was taken. That was shameful. In 2011, the FDA finally admitted DES was a ‘tragedy’. But they still did not apologise.”
Oscar-nominated director Matia Karrell aims to premiere Wonder Drug next year. McCarthy said: “I hope the film will get people talking. The silence has already damaged millions of lives. It has to end.”
Ministers urged to apologise to victims
Marion McMillan will urge the Scottish Government to give a formal apology to the victims of Scotland’s forced adoption scandal when she meets a minister this week. She will see Clare Haughey on Thursday when she will ask the minister for children and young people to encourage the Scottish Government to apologise. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she felt “deep sadness” over the issue and would consider an apology after Labour MSP Neil Bibby raised the cases of Marion and 60,000 other Scottish mothers. Meanwhile, MP Lisa Cameron, who sits on Westminster’s all-party Health Committee, said the revelations about the drugs given to victims were deeply concerning: “This is yet another disturbing, hidden aspect to the forced adoption scandal. I’m raising questions in the House of Commons and have written to the Scottish health secretary.”
The Scottish Government said: “We have enormous sympathy for the women and families who have been harmed by Stilbestrol.”
It will “highlight this issue” with UK drug watchdog the Medicines Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which said in 1973 the Committee on Safety of Medicines wrote to doctors to advise against using the drug to treat pregnant women. In 2002, the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology reported 14 cases of cancer linked to the drug. It said: “Women who believe they may have been exposed to DES in utero and are concerned about the risks of vaginal and cervical cancer should be offered careful monitoring by annual colposcopic examinations.”
Nanny still looking after couple’s surrogate baby 10 months after birth
Kristie Baysinger, a nanny from Texas, took to TikTok to share the heartbreaking story of 10-month-old surrogate baby Alexander in a video that has been viewed almost one million times
By Paige Holland Showbiz Audience Writer
17:14, 17 JUN 2021Updated17:18, 17 JUN 2021
A nanny who was hired to look after a couple’s baby has revealed how she ended up raising him for the first 10 months of his life. Kristie Baysinger, a nanny from Texas, collected baby Alexander from his surrogate in Oklahoma after his parents were unable to fly from the UK to pick him up due to coronavirus restrictions. But little did she know she’d still be caring for him almost a year down the line. She shared the heartbreaking story of how rewarding, yet challenging it has been in a TikTok video that has racked up almost one million views. In the clip, she explained: “My agency called me and said: ‘Hey, can you come pick up this new surrogate baby from this surrogate who does not want to take him home?’ So, we went to Oklahoma to pick him up.”
However, the process of getting a social security number has been “a struggle,” she admitted. We’ve been getting no feedback. We’ve called social security administration and they say we’re in the loop just like everybody else is. We’re just doing our best over here and just raising this little boy and just being as sweet as we can until he can return home to his parents.”
She went on to say how they’re waiting to see whether his parents can get their passports sorted so they can come and pick him up, if not she’ll be travelling to Scotland with Alexander and her family to “help with the transition.” “They miss him terribly and want to see him, and they talk to him daily,” she said.
“Hopefully his social security gets here soon so that I can apply for his passport and we can get him back home.”
In another video, the nanny, who is a mum of three children, said that she treats Alexander like one of her own kids. She explained: “We give him all the hugs and love and attention and everything that he needs so that he can grow. We don’t hold back, he’s spoiled, he’s loved, and played with, and sang to. Just like he was my own kid.”
Since being posted, the original video has racked up more than 113,000 likes and hundreds of comments from people who were heartbroken by the situation. One person said: “This is the saddest situation ever. Poor baby when he has to go to strangers who are his actual family by no fault of their own.”
Another added: “Poor baby. The trauma he is going to go through once he’s away from you. Breaks my heart just thinking about it.”
While another wrote: “So sad his parents are missing his first year of life.”
“Why is abortion illegal??? In my opinion all birth mothers who gave up children WILLINGLY belong in jail. I would rather have been aborted. This existence of not being apart of two families and being unable to have children of my own is unbearable.”
This is a post on one of the adoption related groups I belong too on Facebook which really got my back up. I have been a member of various adoption groups and forums since late 2004 and am saddened that education is still as bad now as it was 16 years ago. The problem is this person knows exactly what they are getting at but from the point of view of a mother, I’m not the only one, that ‘willingly’ gave up my son as that’s how the adoption industry portrays. I do know there are mothers who really didn’t want their children and haven’t wanted reunion but they are a minority. My point is that I’m still willing to speak out that willing surrendering of a child isn’t that common and people should educate themselves. From my son’s point of view he knows what it’s like to be rejected by his father and to a certain extent by a family member.
The reality is we didn’t willingly give our children up, they were taken away / stolen because of the greed of adoption agencies and our mothers didn’t want us to be single mothers / it was shameful to have a baby out of wedlock.
Of course these days there is a big difference between the UK and the US these days as private adoption stopped in the UK. With mothers having access to benefits saw the decline of infant adoption in the UK although forced adoption still continues – forced adoptions are illegal but extremely difficult for parents to stop.
I shouldn’t have responded to the post as I still get attacked for telling the truth because people accuse me of not reading properly, in denial that I ‘chose’ adoption, I regret the ‘decision’ and so on, My response was because of the amount of people who haven’t believed the truth over the years and they will never understand the pain they cause.
“….. …. I am one of those mothers who you reduce to the act of giving birth. I, like many other mothers, chose life for my son, I wanted to raise him but he was stolen from me because my mother didn’t want a daughter to be a single mother. It was harder to adopt babies by the time my son was born as mothers knew their rights. I lost my son because my mother and the adoption agency lied to me and it was 23 years later I found out the truth. I don’t even know who signed the Consent to Surrender when he was 6 weeks old as it was very conveniently lost yet I was able to have all the other relevant paperwork post reunion which should have been given to me 23 years previously. None of the information was given by me and the only truth was a description of me and his father. It was that bad that there was two completely different jobs down for his father but he had never done either of them. Instead of spewing out your ignorance try educating yourself.”
Maybe I should have made myself crystal clear that to the world I ‘willingly’ gave my son up and been more polite at the end but I’m tired of being polite. I’m tired of people coming across as ignorant, not educating or show that they have educated themselves. I’m tired of mothers are made out to willingly getting rid of their children. On the other hand he could have been more specific – how do I know if he knows that not all adoptions will done willingly.
The response I got back was from a female:
” ….. I re-read the original post. No where does it say that all mothers gave their babies up willingly, only those that did should go to jail. Adoptees have the right to their feelings on this.”
Over the years family (my in-laws) and friends who found out, I had a son and we had connected have made ‘uneducated’ comments. I got sick to death of the ‘how wonderful’ it was that we reunited comments in particular. Other comments have been ‘it was for the best’, ‘you were young’ and so on which, in turn, has meant that I have had to be extremely calm and explain that I could have raised my son. I shouldn’t have to explain myself but it’s the only way to explain the dark side of adoption.
It’s been far easier to explain to the adoption community of the dark side of adoption. I’ve had my battles and it’s been worth me standing my ground.
I hate it when anybody says ‘it was God’s plan’ because it’s never in God’s plan that newborns are adopted. If that was true every parent would be surrendering their baby for adoption and adopting somebody else’s baby. It is as bad as saying God put a baby in another woman’s womb just so a couple can adopt him or her.
I remember my son asking me not to say anything negative about his adopters. My response back was on the lines of ‘Why would I as I don’t know them?’
Over the years I have been irritated by the DNA/nature doesn’t matter but nurture does and even a few adoptees have said that to me. If they don’t matter why do mothers feel profound feelings of pain and loss, why do adoptees want to know who they look like?
I’ve been told a few times that I’m not a mother as I didn’t raise my son with my mother being one of them. She and the others didn’t ‘get it’ that
Thankfully these days I don’t get so involved in adoption in real life online unless I feel up to it. It’s really not worth the aggravation, arguments, bad feelings or the effect on it has on my mental health.
My life ended the day I was told I couldn’t stop my son’s adoption. Unless you have been a victim of forced (illegal) adoption you cannot begin to understand the profound feelings of loss. It is heart-wrenching and for me, I emotionally broke down and from that day forward I mask. I also lost my trust due to what my mother and the adoption agency did to me. To the outside world, I was fine but inside I was an emotional wreck. My friends used to joke I was an ice maiden towards men and kept them at arm’s length. I vowed I would never get married or have any more children as I was so scared that I would be forced to surrender again.
I became very lonely as I was too scared to tell anybody how I was feeling nor did I understand I was severely depressed. For too many years I was accused of being a drama queen, moody and that there were people who were far more in need of support. In the early days, the closest my mother came to showing she cared was when I received a letter from my son’s adopters. I broke down in tears and my mother hugged me tightly until I stopped crying. Even then I couldn’t talk and suffered in silence. Adoption is like an invisible amputation and every part of my body ached for and missed my son. It was another 23 years before I could start talking about my son’s adoption.
It wasn’t until more recent years that I realised that I suffer from P.T.S.D. although I have never been formally diagnosed with suffering from it. Doctors don’t seem to understand the trauma of forced adoption or make a connection. My son will be 39 years old this year and I still suffer from the trauma of losing him, sadly it will be with me for the rest of my life. I also have a history of self-harming as it was the only way to release emotional pain and I have tried overdosing over the years.
Since opening up about forced adoption I started educating people about the effect of forced adoption on mothers. It really was tough going for the first couple of years particularly when I got the courage to state that the term birth mother is offensive. I had never heard of the term until 2004 having joined up with adoption forums and groups. It is a stupid term because mothers don’t just give birth they go through nine months of pregnancy. Fathers don’t go through pregnancy or giving birth so it’s a ridiculous term to give them. It’s also stupid to give the extended family the ‘birth’ title as they can’t collectively go through pregnancy and childbirth. The real truth is it’s a term invented in America to make adopters feel better about themselves and came over to the U.K. A couple of years ago I had a disagreement with a friend at bible study as she referred to herself as a birth mother. I asked her not to as it’s offensive to mothers who have surrendered a child and why the term was created. She really didn’t ‘get it’ and used the argument that as she had had children that made her a birth mother. I explained why the term was invented but if all mothers had always been referred to as birth mothers it wouldn’t have bothered me. In the end, I got so annoyed I had to walk away from the situation. We have never talked about it since.
I am still friendly with other mothers who have surrendered babies. adoptive parents and adoptees although these days we keep in touch on Facebook. We all still learn from each other for all sorts of reasons.
I was pregnant at the age of 19 years old and knew I was pregnant after I had split on bad terms with the father of my son. Even so, I knew I wanted to raise my baby and I had a job so I knew I could afford to raise my child. I was scared and didn’t know how to tell my parents but eventually, they had to know.
It went badly and my mother was determined that my baby was to be adopted but I refused to agree to it. My father didn’t say much at all, he simply let my mother get on with it. It was a horrible time and I suffered from low self-esteem and lacked confidence. I didn’t even see a social worker from the adoption agency until after my son was born. All I knew was that I wanted to be a mother and raise my child.
Infant adoption was slowing down by the start of the 1980s but it didn’t stop social workers from being pushy over babies being adopted. I was one of many mothers over the years who were pressured to surrender without knowing my rights. My mother made me feel worthless, I wouldn’t be a good enough mother yet I was capable of looking after my niece. She was born just over two months before my son was born. My mother continually put me down and made threats such as;
I would be kicked out
I would lose my job because I would be homeless
I wouldn’t be able to get rented accommodation
I wouldn’t be able to get any benefits
My son would be taken off me because I was homeless so I may as well agree to the adoption.
It was relentless brainwashing to try and convince me adoption was the best option. The first time I saw the social worker I told her I didn’t want to give my son up and it was my mother who was all for adoption. She said she would put a stop to the adoption but ‘it would be a good idea for my son to go into foster care until I got myself sorted out’. I did manage to see my son once before I left the hospital and I will never forget that.