Terry (not her real name) was diagnosed with epilepsy as a child and she was prescribed Depakote to help treat her seizures. She was still taking the drug during the first and second trimester of her pregnancy - her son was born in 1998.
“My doctors recommended that I stay on Depakote, reasoning that it couldn’t harm the fetus and that Depakote birth defects rarely happen,” says Terry. “But I did my own research and found out so many things that can happen so I didn’t care what the doctors said. Besides, I hadn’t had a seizure in about three years. During that time, I was weaning myself off it - before I got pregnant my doctor had already started lowering the dosage, so I figured why not stop taking it altogether...”
Terry can’t imagine what could have happened if she had continued on the same dosage throughout her entire pregnancy. Even with a low dosage and stopping it in her third trimester, Terry’s son was born with Depakote side effects: he had an extra pinkie toe and no cartilage in either ear, which made his ears “floppy.”
“As well, when my son was born he had a fever, wasn’t eating and was generally unresponsive so he ended up in the hospital for a week,” Terry explains. “When he got older and started school, I had him in disability classes: It was hard for him to focus and he was emotionally troubled with anxiety problems so he couldn’t concentrate. In the past six years, I have taken him to several therapists. I figured if anxiety problems are clouding his mind we could fix them and he could get better.
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“That is pretty much it. He went through a lot of pain these last few years. The therapists told me that the anxiety happened a lot with mothers who took Depakote during their pregnancy. I talked to the surgeons who operated on his ears and toe, and they said it could come from the meds I was taking; it was rare but it does happen, and it was definitely not a genetic issue.
“When I was pregnant, Depakote didn’t have anything on the label saying ‘Do not take when pregnant.’ I just figured it wasn’t good for a pregnant woman to be taking a medication like that. Back then, it was pre-Internet so I had to research from the library. Now I see online so many Depakote lawsuits. It is infuriating. And sad.”