The true story of Cheryl Buchanan
In simpler times, before psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry gained their stranglehold on human life, this would have been considered perfectly normal to all concerned. But, by the mid-90s, when Cheryl was 15, it had already become commonplace for doctors to prescribe mood altering chemicals to suppress annoying behaviour and to enforce lighter moods in place of the standard doominess that often comes with the realisation of physical mortality.
Cheryl’s parents wanted to do the best for her and assumed their doctor could be trusted to help. She became hooked on the antidepressant Prozac, a psychotropic product whose interference in the chemical systems of the body tends to increase depression and suicidal thoughts as well as risking the death of the patient from ‘serotonin syndrome’, in which levels of the chemical become too elevated.
It was all that was needed to get Cheryl on the psychiatric treadmill. Far from being happier as a result of the drugs, she made her way from NHS to private ‘expert’ and back again to be told the old story about a ‘chemical imbalance’ in her brain that would need ‘correcting’ with antidepressants.
Once again, her trusting parents agreed to the ‘treatment’ to help their daughter. Cheryl however slipped further from control of her own senses into the limbo of chemical half-life.
Her entry into adulthood was further marred by the loss of several family members to cancer. The drugs were no help. Her persistence in being desolated by these events, even under the influence of the drugs, resulted in admissions to psychiatric establishments along with a couple of labels from the rag-bag of phony conditions – unspecified ‘psychosis’ and ‘bipolar disorder’ – and an ever mounting armoury of pharmaceutical toxins, including Diazepam, Citalopram and various sleeping pills.
The end result of all this treatment was the almost complete loss of her grip on reality. The one thing she did know was that she had to get herself back. She was aware that the poisoned person she had become was not her. She was still in there and spoiling for a fight.
When she got out of the grip of the institution, she set about getting herself off the chemical cocktail. Although she maintained the Citalopram, by comparison to the all-out assault on her senses caused by the mind boggling mixture, she began to feel something more like human again, and able to lead something like a normal life.
She found a steady partner and before long they were ready to try for a baby.
As soon as the pregnancy was confirmed, she visited her doctor, as recommended on the product info sheet, for advice on whether to continue taking 60 mg of Citalopram.
In scientific circles, it’s not new news that antidepressants pose serious risks for unborn children, including a number of ‘life-threatening’ conditions and a high risk of ‘defects’.
Yet Cheryl’s doctor not only instructed her to continue taking the drug at its present level, but issued notes to the same effect to the hospital midwives monitoring her case.
At the 12 week scan, Cheryl received the devastating news that her baby was experiencing a number of defects, including a cystic hygroma (an abnormal growth, usually on the head or neck), a diaphragmatic hernia (a normally rare condition, occurring in fewer than 1 in 2500 births, in which the diaphragm has a hole in it, with possibly another organ having passed through it), and a cleft palate.
A termination was offered, but Cheryl felt she and the baby were already in it together and would see the thing through. There seemed nothing they wouldn’t be able to handle. The hospital suggested further testing for other possible abnormalities including the chromosomal marker for Down’s syndrome.
So she was sent for a CVS (chorionic-villus sampling) procedure, which involves testing a sample of tissue from the placenta. The procedure is not without its own risks, including the possibility of infection and leakage of the amniotic fluid that provides the safe environment for the baby in the womb.
The CVS came back clear of those things it is able to test for, so Cheryl was elated by the thought that she knew the worst and could cope with it. Both Down’s and Turner’s (a condition affecting girls, in which they are inclined to be short in stature and limited in terms of reproductive organs and menstrual cycle) syndromes had been suspected, but were not found.
Then came the 20 week scan that rocked Cheryl’s world. She had been willing her baby daughter on with every fibre of her being, the challenges ahead accepted as part of the mission she had set herself.
But the scan revealed multiplying problems. Cheryl was aware that the baby hadn’t ‘kicked’ in the way common with ‘normal’ babies. Now she discovered that the baby was paralysed and would only survive, if at all, connected to various life-support systems.
In increasing desperation, she made the rounds of specialists, determined still to give her baby a chance at life, but no help came, and it was impossible at last to ward off a growing sense of hopelessness and the overwhelming sense of guilt that comes from feeling you have let down somebody it is not in your power to help. She could not have done more, but thoughts of doubt and betrayal were difficult to push from her mind.
The consultant had told Cheryl that any life the baby would have would be one of constant pain and suffering, but the promise of life – any life – was still enough to keep her hope alive.
At 23 weeks, her daughter was born. She had already given up the struggle for survival the previous day. A post mortem would reveal that she had no diaphragm at all and would not have been able to breathe.
No explanation for the baby’s afflictions was given to Cheryl; there was no discoverable genetic cause and no link was suggested with the antidepressant drugs, though Cheryl herself had reduced her intake by a third in response to her own common sense desire to obviate any risks. The expert verdict: ‘Just one of those things.’
While she was confused and emotionally drained, some papers were pushed at her for her to sign. These would turn out to be releases for cremation of the baby’s body.
By 2013, Cheryl had another daughter who also suffered from one rare birth defect in the form of a throat restriction. Cheryl had ceased taking antidepressants as soon as she knew she was pregnant this time, whatever the doctor might recommend. She still feels the Citalopram remaining in her system was probably implicated in her second daughter’s condition. But this baby was and is otherwise healthy and due to enter her own teenage years about now.
The memory of Cheryl’s first child didn’t fade and in that same year she became aware of the so-called ‘Baby ashes’ scandal, in which cremated babies’ ashes were simply disposed of without their parents’ knowledge. Her daughter had been treated in the same way. She was told that there had been no remains, but had signed the papers at a time when her decision making was not at its best.
Now she began to fight along with other parents to get some answers and undertakings from the authorities that nothing like this would happen again.
She complained via the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator who, not only upheld her complaint against NHS Glasgow, but made a number of recommendations arising from Cheryl’s treatment, especially in being required to sign cremation forms while sedated, and so soon after the delivery of her stillborn child, and not even being allowed the option of burial.
She then obtained copies of her medical records discovering that her consultant had issued a ‘Yellow Card’ to the MHRA – Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority – in respect of her daughter’s problems and the fact that she had been on Citalopram during the pregnancy.
The Yellow Card scheme was introduced by Sir Derrick Dunlop following the Thalidomide disaster as a system to prevent future catastrophes by alerting all involved professionals. It is now available in the form of an app, which can be set to alert for specific products or procedures direct to the private individual affected by them.
Only then did she discover that others had had similar experiences as a result of taking antidepressants during pregnancy, and that nowadays the PIL (Patient Information Leaflet) contained with the drugs lists both heart defects and PPHN (Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension – a result of the stunting of lung development) among risks.
CCHR has seen how the psycho-pharmaceutical alliance is again recommending people not to worry about taking this medication throughout pregnancy, once more putting the emphasis on selling dangerous products rather than helping or enhancing people’s lives. Real studies increasingly lift the lid on this cynical disregard for life.
Women’s bodies go through major and complex chemical and hormonal changes during pregnancy. The callous spiking of this process with unsafe compounds is cavalier at best and criminal at worst.
Cheryl is still on the antidepressant treadmill – the current package is called Duloxetine in the UK and Cymbalta in the States – but she is weaning herself off it. It comes in capsule rather than liquid form, so gradual reduction of the dosage is more complicated, but can be achieved by opening the capsule and removing more of the 150 ‘beads’ of the compound on each occasion.
After 20 years under the chemical cosh, withdrawal is not for the fainthearted. Cheryl is anything but, and is doggedly clearing a path through the anxiety, nausea, dizziness and demons that haunt her at every step until she emerges once more as herself, free at last of the stupor and the living hell imposed on her in the name of ‘treatment’.
Far from being defeated by her experiences, Cheryl has emerged with a determination to right some of the wrongs that affected her: ‘I will not be a hypocrite and blindly continue taking a medication I don’t need. I’m not ‘depressed’. I’m sad, of course, and extremely angry, but these emotions are what make me human, and I have a right to feel sad at the loss of my child and everything that has come along with it.
‘I also have a right to be angry, knowing that, had psychiatry and big pharma not wormed their way into my life at such a young age, I would not be in this position just now.
‘But I cannot change the past; only use what has happened to me to try to help others.
‘I think that’s what my daughter would have wanted.’