Marketed to millions of women in the mid-20th century, a synthetic form of estrogen (DES) was “later found to cause miscarriage and a rare form of vaginal cancer in girls exposed in the womb,” reports Amanda Arnold.
“Advocates today say the legacy of DES reveals an unspoken gender bias in the medical industry—one that still persists today,” Arnold says.
Su Robotti is 59 years old and unable to have children. She has, in fact, never had her period due to undeveloped sexual organs. Su’s mother was one of approximately five to 10 million women who took the first-ever synthetic estrogen, while she was pregnant in 1954. Hailed as a drug to help prevent miscarriages, DES was pervasive at the time, Arnold notes, and found in everything from prenatal vitamins to daily pills.
It also eventually made its way into the blood of the mother’s fetus. Over time, children born to women who had taken DES during pregnancy developed abnormal reproductive organs as well as an elevated risk of various forms of cancer. “DES daughters” and “DES sons” and their children are still living with the consequences of their mothers’ sometimes unwitting use of DES.