BACK in January, I got an email from a producer at Radio BBC 4 with the title: ‘BBC Radio 4 documentary – DES, the wonder fertility drug that caused cancer down generations.’

I’d never heard of DES, or Diethylstilbestrol to give it its full name, a synthetic form of oestrogen. It’s estimated it was given to over 10 million women worldwide between the years of 1940 and 1971. I’m far from alone in never having heard of this drug. It’s often called the silent thalidomide.

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The consequences of DES have been wide reaching and generational. DES mothers, daughters and now granddaughters, as they are known, suffer from infertility, genital deformities and can develop rare forms of cervical and breast cancer as well as immune, pancreatic and cardiovascular disorders.

These side effects were the exception rather than the rule, but because often women were told they were prenatal vitamins many had no idea they were even given the drug. Simply, it’s impossible to know how wide-reaching the repercussions actually are.

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Initially, DES was hailed as a miracle drug. It was synthesised by Sir Edward Charles Dodds in 1938 with the best intentions who never intended for it to be used on pregnant women. So good were his intentions that he didn't patent it.

But when drug companies discovered it could be used to treat livestock and then a host of other conditions in humans, it began to be handed out widely to women.

The first print advertisements show happy farmers with their chunky, healthy heifers which then gave way in later years to sparkly-eyed babies and menopausal women slumped in chairs.

It was used widely for many purposes, to stop women from miscarrying, to treat premature labour and for menopausal symptoms.

In Australia, it was prescribed by private doctors to stunt the growth of girls from more affluent families and stop them from bearing the ‘psychosocial’ harm of being too tall.

In Scotland, most shockingly, it was given as a postnatal treatment to women who had already endured forced adoption for being unmarried to dry up their breast milk. A cruelty upon a cruelty.

Elizabeth Ann, my BBC Scotland producer, said she approached me because I had an interest in women's health and due to my own health conditions, she thought I might be able to bring an additional layer of empathy and understanding to the documentary and discussions with these women.

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And as the project progressed, and I learned about decades, generations, of hidden medical misogyny and gaslighting, I was stunned and angry.

In the months making this documentary, I went from knowing nothing about this drug or these women, to feeling surges of rage on their behalf hitting me like angry seas against a cliff face.

Time and time again, I learned something that I found so astounding, so absolutely irredeemable that I wanted to go and storm the gates of Holyrood myself to demand an apology for these women.

A simple ‘sorry’ is all they seek, an acknowledgement not just for themselves and future generations, but also for their mothers who were so badly treated by the medical institutions who were meant to care for them.

One of my recorded interviews was with Caitlin McCarthy, a DES daughter, educator, award-winning screenwriter and campaigner.

I was in Glasgow Southside, she was in Massachusetts, and though there was no video, we slipped easily in warm conversation as two women of a similar age and interests are apt to, punctuating our conversation with laughter, discussion of tartan outfits, when she's next in Scotland, the whisky I’ll buy her.

Caitlin found out she was DES affected during a visit to a specialist gynaecologist because of precancerous cell activity. By chance, her mum had joined her that day to have lunch with her afterwards.

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When her mother recalled she had been given prenatal vitamins (she had been trying to give her child the healthiest start in life) they found out about the consequences of DES together, holding hands, reeling with the news. Two days after her own diagnosis, Caitlin sat down and started the film script for Wonder Drug, a way of coping with the news; it's now in production.

So, where is the outrage you might wonder for a medical scandal of this size? There has been acknowledgement in the US, Australia and other parts of Europe but it is still to come here in the UK.

There is certainly an industry knowledge of what this has done to generations of women and there are DES daughters involved in tireless campaigning.

In Scotland, there was a hearing in 2022 about both the forced adoption scandal and the consequences of the use of DES on these women.

But despite the unwavering efforts of campaigners like Marion Scott, one of the few journalists to consistently cover this issue, the Scottish DES daughters and Monica Lennon MSP, the momentum for an official apology seems to have slowed, perhaps because of lack of public awareness, and therefore pressure.

My hope is that with films like Wonder Drug and this documentary, given the unvarnished but but wholly accurate title, ‘DES: Poison in the Womb’ will allow these women's voices to be heard and that in turn, we will hear, at the very least, an apology from the Scottish Government for what these generations of women have gone through.

When that apology does, as it must, come, the whisky will be on me and I’ll raise a glass to these women, so strong and resilient in the face of all they have gone through fighting for themselves, their mothers and their daughters.