What was it?

At first glance, it sounds like something you might hear in a science fiction movie - "Kirk, activate the Dalkon Shield!!!

Here in the real world though, the Dalkon shield was probably the worst product ever introduced upon American women when it comes to the subject of IUD’s and birth control. In just five short years after its introduction in 1971, over eighteen deaths, hundreds upon hundreds of septic abortions and countless thousands of infections that often resulted in sterility were attributed to the Dalkon Shield. When all was said and done, a class action suit numbering over 161,000 women (Most investigators familiar with the case believe this number is in fact understated) claiming personal injury was filed against its manufacturer, a company that went by the name of A.H. Robins.

What did it look like?

First of all, it was made of plastic. Now, picture if you will a bug with one large round eye in its center. On each side of its body, this bug has five legs. The tail of the bug is what makes it unique. Instead of being a single strand that would make up the tail, this bug had a tail that was consisted of many fibers (strings) that wound together to the form the tail and then was covered by a sheath. This is where the problems started.


Hell yeah, it seems that these fibers (strings) were a breeding ground for all sorts of wonderful bacteria. They were carried from the vagina, into the uterus and wound up camping out in the fallopian tubes. Once there, they were free to wreak all sorts of havoc

What went wrong?

Since the Dalkon Shield was not classified by the FDA as a “drug”, it was not subject to the same stringent testing methods that normal products of that type are subject to. Couple that with the manufacturers desire to bring the product to market quickly and you have all the makings of a potential disaster.

So what happened?

After evidence about the Dalkon Shield began to roll in, the product was re-called in 1975. (Not to be deterred, the company still shipped the product overseas to developing countries for another 10 months or so) The class action suit eventually was successful and the company was forced set aside 2.5 billion dollars in a fund set up specifically for that purpose. A. H. Robins then declared bankruptcy and was subsequently taken over by another pharmaceutical giant by the name of American Home Products. Those are the same guys that recently agreed to set aside 4.38 billion dollars in order to pay out claims they anticipate in relation to the use of fen-phen, the wonder diet drug.

I was born in 1971, to parents who weren't exactly expecting to have a child that soon after getting married (it was more than nine months after their wedding). My father had only just found out he'd been accepted into medical school, as had been his dream. That was over now. Killed twice - once in the UK when he was told he hadn't gone to the right school, and now once again, murdered by this evil growth in his wife's uterus.

Life was hard, and they were just trying to get on their feet. In an eerie pattern that I'd later repeat, they'd left their homeland for good due to lack of opportunity.

When they were finally settled, they decided that they wanted another child, and fretted, like the parents of many only children do, that having an only child might be harmful to that child.

There were many hurried doctor's visits to the home in the 70s, and a few hospital stays.

But it wasn't until a decade after my own hated and hateful appearance into this world, that one child out of tens of attempts survived.

In the interim, she had gone to see a doctor about birth control.

The thing that saved her was her refusal to listen to medical advice. By the 2nd day she said it should NOT still hurt like this, and fought tooth and nail to have it removed. Much damage was done, but she survived with her uterus intact. Many were not so lucky.

His birth almost killed my mother. Her uterus was that much scar tissue that it ruptured during the birth, barely able to create and contain life as it was. In ejecting my brother into this world it broke completely, throwing out one last gasp as it dissolved into haemorrhage and was rapidly removed in a barely-made-it life saving manouever, and thrown to a hospital floor.

He was quite loved. So happy were they to see him that when he demanded Coca Cola in his night-time bottle, it was given him, until his teeth rotted out of his head, but not to worry, they were only his baby teeth.

He broke some other kid's nose smashing it with a Tonka Truck, and they marvelled at how strong he was.

Growing up, he stole and sold cigarettes to other elementary and junior high students for a dollar each. They praised his business acumen and said he was destined for greatness.

The junior high called and called and said that he was unfocussed, didn't care about anything and was a discipline problem. They told the principal to lighten up. The same parents that screamed at their first child (at the age of 11) until three o'clock in the morning about a 64% grade in a surprise science test. That was the first time he ground hundreds of aspirin into a glass of water and sat there staring at the glass for a very long time, with the outcome of that staring going towards it being poured down the sink, but only just.

The younger child, at 12, got appendicitis and was rushed to hospital. They fretted over the potential loss of their beautiful, blond haired popular child. He awoke to a promise - if he quit smoking, they'd buy him all manner of gifts. And they did.

One night the police smashed in the door and took him away. They emptied their retirement savings to keep him from jail, refusing to believe that he could ever have been capable of stealing anything from anyone. Their first child marvelled that he was out at 2 a.m. at such a young age, when he was rarely allowed to leave the house at all, and spent his teenage nights escaping suburbia through a modem.

Her uterus is in some landfill, and her first child is three thousand miles away. She has not seen him in a decade and he has made it clear she won't again, and knows he has children, but drinks heavily when she remembers she'll never see them either. When he stopped seeking affection from her and drove away forever, she realised that she'd lost him years ago, preoccupied with drinking, smashing cutlery, and blaming things conveniently on him as she'd done.

It's a curious thing - the decay and loss that ensues, what something comes between human walls, walls of tissue, veins and blood that should nurture. When tiny, spiky arms and thousands upon thousands of small cuts fester and scar, become infected. Sometimes the most damage can come from the cumulative weight of many seemingly trivial things.

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