I will never forget a carpool ride I had about eight years ago. There were five of us all crammed into a sedan on a way to a meeting. I was sitting in the back middle because I am the person who is ALWAYS asked to sit in the back middle, but that’s beside the point.
Somewhere along our ride, the driver happened to mention that she had two adopted children. “Do they know they are adopted?” one of the passengers asked. “Yes, of course,” the driver said, “We celebrate their adoption every year, in addition to their birthday. We want our girls to know where they came from and to be proud of their heritage.” The passenger who had asked this question seemed very interested, almost overly so. He kept asking the driver more and more questions about how she was raising her girls and how they felt about being adopted. And eventually, he broke down and told his story.
It turns out that he was adopted but had only known for a couple of years. He had grown up always thinking that his parents were his biological parents, and his sister, his biological sister. When he had become an adult, he had gotten married and began having kids of his own. Then, suddenly, one of his daughters turned ill. I mean, extremely ill, and so he and his wife began taking her to specialist after specialist, trying to figure out what was wrong. A lot of the questions the specialists asked them had to do with their ancestry, as the doctors tried to narrow down the possibilities of what could be wrong. Meanwhile, his parents knew that their granddaughter was sick. They knew that they were seeing all of these specialists, and they knew what types of questions were being asked of them. And still, they said nothing. Luckily, one doctor was able to determine what was causing the little girl’s illness. She received the treatment that she needed, and everything ended up being fine.
But shortly thereafter, at a family gathering, the grandparents decided to come clean and tell the man that he had been adopted. He was enraged. Yes, he was upset for not knowing for all those years, but he was even more upset because they had, in his mind, put his daughter’s health on the line. He felt that the doctors would have reached a diagnosis a lot sooner if he had been able to answer the questions about his ancestry correctly. Instead, he discovered that he had been inadvertently steering them in the wrong direction.
Hearing this man’s story really stuck with me. Even though I didn’t have children of my own at that time, I certainly could understand how the man felt. All parents want is to make sure their children are safe and healthy, but this man wasn’t able to fulfill his basic desire because he didn’t know the results of his DNA.
If you have spent any time on my blog, then you probably know that even though I am the Simply Natural Mama, I am also a big proponent of having your genes tested. The gene testing I had done almost three years ago saved my life because I found out that I have a breast cancer mutation. Now, with that knowledge, I am able to do all sorts of preventative measures, and hopefully, I will never be diagnosed with cancer.
But testing for breast cancer was the only type of gene testing I’d had done that is, until recently. My family all decided to test their genes through 23andMe, mainly just for fun. If you are not familiar with 23andMe, it is an online company that offers DNA testing. You sign up and choose to do either the Ancestry test ($99) or the Health+Ancestry test ($199), and then they mail the kit right to your door. Enclosed are step-by-step instructions and a plastic test tube. You fill up the entire test tube with saliva by repeatedly spitting in it, seal it up, place it back in the box, and then mail it back with the self-addressed label. Next, you wait patiently, or not so patiently, for 6-8 weeks until they email you your results back.
My husband’s sister was the first to do it. If you had asked her, Erik, or any of their family where they were from, they would have said, “Sweden.” But Chelsey’s results showed that she was a mixture of many things, including Scandinavian. But most surprisingly of all, it showed that she was Ashkenazi Jew. And so was Erik, and so was their mom.
After hearing all of these results, I was talking about it with several of my friends, when one of them asked me if I was also Ashkenazi Jew. I said no, that I didn’t think so. (But then again, at the same time, if you had asked my husband’s family a couple of months ago, they would have said no too.) And because of that, she encouraged me then to get tested as well. You see, Tay-Sachs, a terrible neurological disease, is caused by a mother and father both having a mutation of the HEXA gene. And Ashkenazi Jews have a higher prevalence of this mutation.
So I quickly signed up to do 23andMe, and luckily, I do not have the Tay-Sachs mutation. But the whole experience got me to thinking about that car ride from eight years ago. Without gene testing, we are all like this man who didn’t know he was adopted. We answer medical questions about our ancestry to the best of our ability, but at the end of the day, we don’t know for sure. We are usually just repeating what we’ve been told, and what we’ve been told could be wrong.
And what about me? What were my results? Well, they solidified my feelings even further. You see, I have grown up my whole life being told that I was Irish, French, and German. And what did 23andMe say? That yes, I was British-Irish, and French-German, but it also said that I was Sub-Saharan African. In other words, black. It is less that one percent, but it is still a part of what makes me, me. And I would never have known without the test.
Now, if my daughter ever gets sick (which I hope she doesn’t), but if she ever does, I will be able to answer the specialist’s questions, down to the percentage. And that gives me peace of mind.
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