Bionic Mamas

you're not losing a vagina, you're gaining a son

The Bendectin Story


Hello, Gentle Readers. Greetings from thank-God-we-are-finally-pulling-out-of-St.-Louis, aboard Amtrak’s Texas Eagle. We are running late, which I would be more annoyed about except that Sugar flew home yesterday and was so much later in so much less pleasant a way. She spent most of the day in the Detroit airport, spent $100 on a cab home from Newark, ate a soggy tuna melt from an all-night diner at midnight in our kitchen, while discovering that the freezer door had been just slightly open for the last two weeks. In contrast, I was fed a steak dinner and gelato and lay on a reasonably comfortable bed and read A Bargain For Frances to The Bean during our delay. Advantage: Amtrak.

The other reason trains rule with toddlers: no seatbelts. “The cars and trucks are going to meet their friends,” he says. (This wholesome, wooden-toy moment brought to you by several hours of puzzles on the iPad.)

The cars and trucks are going to meet their friends

Thank you for your spotting reassurances. It hasn’t come back, and there was so very little that my working theory is self-inflicted crinone-applicator wound. Mad skills. I has them.

I should have written sooner to tell you, except that I’ve had my hands full managing my father at my in-laws and wrangling the Bean. I’ve also been quite drowsy, thanks to my new best pharmaceutical buddy, doxylamine succinate, AKA, Unisom.

I’m not taking it for insomnia, though I have been having trouble sleeping for several weeks. I’m taking it because remember how I was puking in trash cans? Well, it turns out this stuff is a whiz at sorting out nausea, and, get this, it is category A for pregnancy. Category fuckin’ A, y’all. Do you know how many things are A? Not bloody many, thanks to the difficulty of ethically arranging the kind of studies the FDA requires for that designation; it’s pretty much folic acid and this stuff.

So why didn’t anyone mention this to me (or maybe to you) before now? Doxylamine in combination with B6 used to be used by 40% of pregnant Americans, as a drug called Bendectin. There were at least 25 studies and two meta-analyses, which basically say: this does not cause birth defects. But if Bendectin wasn’t a teratogen, it was, says a friend of my father’s, a lit-ogen: that is, it caused law suits.

According to dad (whose business this is), about 3% of babies have a serious birth defect of some kind. No one likes that. A certain number of parents sued the makers of Bendectin. And even though the science is absolutely, uncommonly clear on this subject, law suits wear a company out. Eventually, the drug was taken off the market simply because its maker tired of defending it in court.

Meanwhile, some corners of the popular press believe that smoke always means fire, and jumped happily on the Blame-Bendectin Bandwagon (also the name of my new ska band). Bendectin is used in a third of pregnancies of children with birth defects! Well, if it was used in 40% of pregnancies, excuse me if I think that’s good news — if 40% of all pregnant women took it and it’s only present in 33% of cases of birth defects, that almost sounds protective, the was I figure it. Anyway, the magazines said, you can make something just as good at home: just combine half a tab of doxylamine with some B6…. *headdesk*

Folks, I gotta tell you, this stuff is great. I haven’t tried combining it with B6 yet, because I haven’t been able to find the B6 in small enough doses. But half a unisom a night, and I have almost no nausea, let alone reasons to defile public transit property. Twice now, most recently two days ago, I’ve decided to stop taking it, and both times my body has made me aware in no uncertain terms what a stupid decisions that was. Morning sickness definitely still in effect, when not masked.

I keep re-googling this, convinced that anything I’m getting this much benefit from must be terrible for babies, even if I did learn about it from my OB’s website. Eventually, I asked myself why I was so anxious about it, given that I take my nightly singulair without concern, and there’s hardly any data at all on that one. I think the answer comes down to thalidomide and the curse of Eve.

Did you see a lot of thalidomide documentaries as a kid? I did, or at any rate, the ones I saw made a big impression. And I think my psyche stored away somewhere the idea that what happened to those children was not just a horrible accident but a judgement of sorts on their mothers, for trying to escape a natural but unpleasant part of pregnancy. Chalk that up to one more subtle way ideas of the natural as applied to women’s experience are always ready to become a cudgel.

The unisom is kicking in now, and Little Rock comes early in the morning; I must to bed. But y’all: what we need more of is science.

14 thoughts on “The Bendectin Story

  1. You’re lucky. Unisom didn’t do squat for me even with B6.

    And FYI the Bendectin lawsuits led to a very important us Supreme Court case about scientific experts (Daubert).

    • Thanks for the tip — that was interesting to read about. Wikipedia assures me that decision hasn’t lead to a lot of pseudoscience being tolerated in courtrooms, which I’m a little surprised to hear.

  2. Ooh! Oooh! Frances books! I love Frances books! And then he wrote Riddley Walker! Maybe not read that one to Bean. He can ‘discover’ it in his teens.

    Not loving the evil freezer door. Oh, the infinite malice of inanimate objects.

    Speaking of which, Crinone applicators have now unnerved me, the amount of women who have accidentally stabbed themselves with the stupid things. Should I be hoping for pessaries instead?

    The Bendectin sounds blessedly wonderful. I twinkle in its general direction.

    • Whoa, I had no idea about all this other Hoban stuff. I must to the library upon my return home.

      The Bean, something of a junior diplomat, reports loving Frances, too. Well, what he actually said was, “Frances is one of my favorite books. Do we have any books about poop?”

      I basically prefer the crinone to the coochie bullets of yesteryear, except that it takes up so damn much space in my luggage. I do blame the bullets for the extremely friable cervices and therefore much blood, even if they aren’t sharp themselves. The only real downside to the crinone I find is that the leftovers are pretty gross and do require manual removal. I think the bullets dissolved more. I do feel guilty throwing out that huge applicator every time, though.

  3. Unisom really worked for me. I would take it, eat dinner, not puke, and sleep. Glorious.

    • It’s pretty magic. The only downside I’m finding is that the morning grogginess is a very poor match for my present inability to stomach coffee or tea. Maybe I will try taking it earlier in the evening.

  4. Pregnancy talk! Pregnancy talk! So glad something is bringing you a little relief-ish business. The thalidomide explanation makes a lot of sense to me. THERE COULD BE A KILLER AROUND EVERY CORNER.

    The Bean is gorgeous, as he always is. I like how he is so woodentoytasticly vintage that he can’t even tolerate color photography.

    • Because we care so much about his delicate cognitive development, we are Making The Effort to not let him see color at all until at least age four. We didn’t even ease into sepia until 18 months, and his appreciation for light…well, I just think if other parents knew what a Gift it is to let their children explore the world in its purest form (photons), they’d Make The Effort too, you know? Of course it’s been hard, but really caring is, don’t you agree?

      • I KNOW. The AAP (a body that we should all trust, all the time) recently issued new guidelines about exposure to color (not before age 2) and I feel like this is just a NO BRAINER. I mean, I try not to judge other parents, but when I see tiny babies looking at GREEN or YELLOW, it’s really hard not to say something. I just gently hand them a card to my etsy store with the light filtering contact lenses for newborns.

  5. Love the Frances books. 🙂 They were C’s childhood favorites and I bought one for her birthday each year until we had all of them. They also wrote _The Little Brute Family_, which is a gem.

    The Bean continues to amaze with his cuteness and flexibility on long voyages.

  6. Thank you for this post!!
    I’m 6 weeks pregnant, just starting to battle morning sickness.
    Your post led me to some googling, and I found this –
    Apprently, this April, the FDA re-approved “bendectin” (doxylamine succinate and pyridoxine hydrochloride – a.k.a. B6) under a new name, for morning sickness. Category A.
    I’m a little mad at my doctor for not knowing this, (and for recommending category C phenergan as her first choice) but I want to spread this news far and wide – would love it if you’d post this for others to see!

  7. There’s an excellent book called Dark Remedy which talks all about thalidomide. It’s actually used now to treat various things, including leprosy, which I find amazing. Obviously they don’t let it anywhere near pregnant women anymore (thank god). But funny how things can be found a use. And glad that you’ve found one that works for the nausea!

  8. In fact I think it is now pretty much impossible to get something Category A, because one of the animal-studies steps is of course giving huge doses, and then *of course* there’s ‘proven harm in animals’ because 100x the RDA of carrots would probably cause birth defects too, and there goes your double-blind study because the university’s liability insurance laughs hysterically every time someone suggests it.

    Did you know the FDA is revamping pregnancy categories and adding a breastfeeding one? In, like, whenever they get to it, so I’m guessing next decade sometime. They have finally woken up to the fact that registries and such are DATA too. And that nobody is ever going to do a double-blind pregnancy study ever again.

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