For the past week or so I have been speaking with a mother who terminated her pregnancy because she was told her fetus had severe birth defects. That woman, who at present I can't name, was taking Paxil. It's a future story for this blog.
About two weeks previous to the Paxil contact, I received an email from Cheryl Buchanan, another mother who had a similar story to tell, this time the drug involved was another SSRi, citalopram, also known as Cipramil and Celexa.
I asked if she would like to write a guest post for my blog, she agreed. I'm glad she did because she writes beautifully.
I really don't have much to add to Cheryl's story other than I admire her for speaking out. Far too many of these birth defect cases are settled by pharmaceutical companies in courts throughout the US. To bring such cases to Great Britain is notoriously difficult, such is the pharmaceutical industry's stranglehold on the UK government policy to fund such litigation.
In the US, the same pharmaceutical companies are sued, they settle with the plaintiff on the proviso that the plaintiff keeps quiet about the terms of that settlement. By keeping these 'gagging orders' in place it allows them to continue pushing the drug on pregnant mothers, it allows them to to quicken their pace to the end of the statute of limitations... meaning that no other cases can be brought against them.
By not allowing such litigation in the UK, or by the government putting blocks on legal funding for these types of cases it could just be the chink in the armour for activists like myself and for those who wish to seek justice.
No pharmaceutical company likes it when they are accused of putting pregnant women at risk, they don't like it when they are accused of forcing the hand of women to have abortions either.
I believe the following will help more and more mothers speak out.
This is Cheryl's story...
God lent me my child, physically, for 23 weeks. Now she is back in the arms of the lord but also tucked away in my heart for eternity. She never got to take her first breath, I never got to see her smile or hear her cry. My child was born, and died, at 23 weeks gestation of pregnancy. I was told she had severe abnormalities which meant she was incompatible with life. There was no explanation as to why it might have happened, the words "it just wasn't meant to be" did not console me, they angered me. Why did God choose my child, what had we done to deserve this? I was so angry with God, but I placed blame for it on myself. I hated myself for failing my child. For nine years I gave myself hell, mentally berated and tortured myself. I thought if I stopped feeling so bad, my daughter might think that I didn't love her as much. Now I am suffering in a different way, I discovered not long ago that my child may have developed congenital abnormalities because of a medication called Citalopram, which I had been prescribed before and throughout pregnancy. Shockingly I also discovered that I am not alone and every day pregnant women are still being prescribed antidepressants.
Since I was a child I suffered from anxiety, as a teenager I was prescribed Prozac (Fluoxatine), due to being bullied at school. I took them on and off for a few years, my family went through a series of bereavements, I did not cope very well. I was admitted to a psychiatric unit 3 times at the age of 22. I was diagnosed with psychosis and Bi-Polar disorder. Looking back I know now it was caused by grief, I did not have Bi-Polar disorder. I was given the usual concoction of anti psychotic medications (Risperdal, Olanzapine,Effexor). I was unwell for around a year but got off of the medication, was in a good place mentally and had the support of my lovely partner. Then suffered more bereavement in our families. This time I did not let the grief overwhelm me as it had done before, this time we decided to do something to try bring some happiness back into our lives, we decided to try for a baby. I informed my GP who prescribed folic acid for me, I was also taking prescribed Citalopram, at a dose of 60mg, a dose which is no longer prescribed as its known to cause heart problems in adults. The GP told me it was fine to keep taking it so I carried on, completely oblivious to the damage I was about to do to my unborn child.
Within a couple of months I discovered I was pregnant, the time flew in until the 12 weeks scan, I so exited to see my baby for the first time, I had no fears, didn't know that it was possible for things to go wrong, now I realise how incredibly naive i was. The sonographer was carrying out the scan, pointing out my daughters heart, head ect but then stopped and became very quiet, I asked what was wrong but she excused herself from the room, went to get a consultant to speak to me. That was the beginning of the end, after only 12 short weeks of existence they could already tell me daughter was very ill. The scan, and subsequent scans, detected a series of anomalies. The most severe of which included suspected diaphragmatic hernia or eventration, long bone immobility (I had never felt her move but as this was my first pregnancy I didn't know, I had nothing to compare it to), a cystic hygroma, unilateral cleft hand and microgynathia. I was also told that she might have brain damage which would explain the fact she didn't (or possibly couldn't) move.
The post mortem revealed half of my daughter diaphragm was absent, her lungs were very small, some of her organs had moved up into the thoracic region. Her neck had webbing, nose was small, chin recessed. No one could tell me why this had happened, my consultant tried his best, geneticists looked at my files but no one had a reason why my baby's development had gone so catastrophically wrong. I was thoroughly reassured citalopram was not to blame. My daughter was cremated two weeks after her birth, it was all arranged by the hospital, we had a service for her at the crematorium and I will never forget the image of her being carried down the aisle in her coffin, going through the curtains to be cremated. I wanted to run over and stop them, grab my daughter and run away. Previously I hadn't thought it possible for any human to ever experience the amount of pain I suffered and survive.
After the cremation I was told to collect the ashes the following day, when I called I was told there were no remains. I was devastated, I just wanted something of her, something physical that said she had existed. In January of this year I found some news articles from Edinburgh that Mortonhall Crematorium had routinely been retaining baby's ashes, telling the parents there were no remains, then "interring" them in a field. Immediately I thought of my daughter, although I live in Glasgow I decided to try and find out if this practices had occurred here too. Quickly I discovered my gut instinct was right, I found other parents in Glasgow who had recently discovered their baby's ashes had to been returned to them and scattered by the staff at Daldowie Crematorium, the place my daughter was cremated. We have been working hard to convince the Scottish Government that a public inquiry is necessary, so far however, our pleas to The First Minister and Scottish Government, have fallen on deaf ears. At the moment Lord Bonomy is heading up a "Cremation Commission" looking into ways in which to change cremation practices in Scotland, also in Edinburgh Dame Eilish is carrying out an investigation into the practices at Mortonhall crematorium. Through my own investigation I asked the Princess Royal Maternity Hospital for a copy of my records from the time of my pregnancy. Now this is where the fun really begins.
Upon receipt of my records I noticed a photocopied page of something called a "Yellow Card Warning", it was sent by my consultant, to the MHRA, advising them of the outcome of my pregnancy and that i had been taking Citalopram. I was devastated when I looked through my records, I had to read through her post mortem, several letter from my consultant to geneticists and other information that realistically, I should never have had to see. I googled "citalopram birth defects" and was horrified to find that there were 385,000 search results, I also discovered the existence of Lundbeck, a Danish pharmaceutical manufacturer, the inventor of citalopram.
My blood was boiling, I had to do something so I contacted just about everyone and anyone who had a blog or website dedicated to the side effects of SSRI's. I was very lucky to have found some wonderful people, people who had suffered because of these drugs, people who had lost loved ones to them. I also contacted the Centre for Adverse reactions in Scotland (they were useless), Lundbeck were next on my list so I asked them series of questions, I don't think they answered even one of them. The majority of their reply was information I had already found on the internet, total garbage I could have copy and pasted myself. Once of the points I made to them was "My daughters lungs were a third of the size they should have been, she had pulmonary hypoplaisa due to diaphragmatic hernia. Pulmonary Hypoplaisa is a known cause of Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the newborn (PPHN), so its quite reasonable to say my daughter would have had this condition had she been born alive, had she had it, it would have been down to the citalopram." If this was to be the case then Lundbeck would have been held responsible, after all they have it stated on the Patient Information Leaflet the "SSRI medications of this type can cause PPHN". They dodged that question, just like every other one. To me, its blatantly obvious citalopram killed my child. Had she been born alive she would have not been able to breath and would have endured an intolerable amount of suffering. Lundbeck also said in their reply that when prescribing SSRI's in pregnancy "the benefit has to outweigh the risk". I do not believe, prior to my pregnancy, that I was suffering from depression, quite the opposite in fact. I would have happily stopped the citalopram had I been advised that it can cause birth defects. In fact with my second pregnancy, although I did not know anything about citalopram causing these problems, I stopped taking it the day I found out I was pregnant, I was not taking any chances. I now have a beautiful, healthy seven year old daughter but every so often I look at her and feel intense sadness at the fact I should have two children on earth with me.
At this moment in time I am a bit lost. I have been told that it will be very difficult to have a case against Lundbeck heard in court but that doesn't mean I cant try. I have to do something, my conscience wont sit still for a second, it always on at me to look for more info, ask more questions. At first I was in shock at all of this now I believe my child was "lent" to me for a reason. God must have known I would fight, not just on my own behalf but on the behalf of every parent and child affected by these drugs. He must have known the intensity of the love I would have for her, I am very blessed and humbled that he chose me. My daughters death will not be in vain, I will not back down until those responsible are held to account. In may of next year some of the Class Action Lawsuits against Forest Laboratories (a license holder for citalopram in the USA) are due to begin. I am hoping this will shed more light on the ill practice of Lundbeck and Forest, I am hoping it will pave the way for parents like myself to bring similar actions in the UK. I want to make one thing clear tho, I am not doing this for money, it means nothing to me. All the money in the world wont bring my daughter back. What I want is for SSRI medications to be reclassified as a class D drug. Also an apology, an acceptance of guilt would be nice.
Guess I better not hold my breath...
Coming Soon - GlaxoSmithKline's attorneys, King & Spalding, argue a fetus is non-viable if under 23 weeks old. A truly shocking story of injustice regarding a mother forced to abort because of birth defects caused by Paxil.