Don’t Spit in the Wind. Spit in a tube!

wholekitRecently I have been writing about my experiences with getting my DNA test information from 23andMe.  They sent a test for me, Mother & Grandmother. Three generations of tube spit.

Truth be told it has been emotional and educational. I have learned more about my own genetics than I ever dreamed and it has also brought me closer to both my Mother and Grandmother (in unusual ways). There is something beautifully tangible about being able to log on to a network and see the genetic map of your family looking back at you. Even more valuable has been the community within 23andMe. Everyone there is just as curious about what makes them tick as I am. It is a whole new frontier.

The fantastic thing is that now ONE OF YOU will get to know what it is like to be a part of the 23andMe community. That’s right it’s a giveaway!! 23andMe is going to give a free DNA test to one of my readers. (That’s a $399 value that includes access to detailed information about your traits, family background and health predispositions.)

So here is how we are going to do it: Leave a comment answering the following question: How and why would winning DNA testing be significant for you?

I will do a random drawing to select the winner (via randomizer.org). The contest is open to legal residents of the USA, ages 18 or older and the winner is responsible for any applicable taxes.

For a complete list of rules go here: https://www.23andme.com/bloggergiveawayofficialrules/

Comments will close at midnight (EST), June 29th.  PLEASE make sure you double check your e-mail addy so I can contact you if you are the winner.

My Grandmother’s Check List

Convincing an 87 year old woman to spit into a tube might seem like a daunting task, but my Grandmother loved it. Sure it took her the better part of a morning to fill the tube and she somehow managed to do it an the most lady-like of ways, but she embraced the “assignment” with as much vigor as she could. You see my Grandmother is an awesome marriage of two kinds of geek: ancestry geek and science geek. When I told her that I wanted her to spit in a tube so that we could compare all of our DNA and learn about our family’s history THROUGH science she was thrilled.

But here is also where I tell you that my Grandmother has been battling Alzheimer’s for over seven years. And this is also where I share that it is a giant fear of both my Mother and myself that we will one day face our own battle with this horrible disease. In her lucid moments (and she was absolutely lucid the day we explained what 23andMe is and how she could participate) she also worries about what health ailments will be carried on. When speaking of her Alzheimer’s she is sad and angry.

When we got GM’s genotype results back Mother and I examined them differently than we examined our own results. For starters one of the main reasons why Mother and I were so keen on finding out so much information was so that we could begin preventative care where we saw necessary. We could research and study and be on the look out. In terms of GM’s results it was a bit of a check list, and possibly our way of verifying how “accurate” results could be.

Now I say “accurate” because just because your genes reveal a predisposition does not make it an actuality. But that is sort of what Mother and I were looking for. Just what did GM have in her genes and what, at 87, did she end up having to deal with.

The first thing we read were GM’s disease risks, and this is pretty interesting, of the two disease risks indicated GM has neither. HOWEVER, her children do. Within her traits we found several items that were absolutely true: GM does have brown eyes and she does have amazing muscle performance. The biggest, “oh wow she SO has that” moment was when we saw that GM was at a very elevated risk for ulcerative colitis. In fact GM did suffer with a very rare kind of colitis. It nearly killed her as it took YEARS to be diagnosed.

It was seeing that elevated risk that made Mother and I appreciate 23andMe more than we thought we could. If only…if only we had access to this information a decade ago. Maybe we could have spared all of the horrible years of pain and discomfort that GM faced while searching for her colitis diagnosis.

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A New Generation of Pregnancy

Recently I wrote about the fantastic stretch-marks that I achieved during my pregnancy with W. And really, they were truly fantastic. And when I wrote about them I happened to mention that I obviously was going to get stretch marks because my mother had them during her pregnancy. Well now it turns out that I misspoke and my mother would like me to clarify that she did not get any stretch marks when she was pregnant. In fact she had a very easy and mellow pregnancy with me. It feels a bit weird that I just assumed that my experience with pregnancy would be a mirror to that of my mother’s experience. Isn’t that how it is supposed to go? Aren’t we just following in the same path?

I went back to my genome results from 23andMe, this is something that I find myself doing more and more as there is always something new to see, or a new survey to complete. I dove into the health and traits section that is specifically geared towards pregnancy and went through each trait comparing and contrasting my data with the data available based on the tests of both my Mother and Grandmother. You would think that we would be, at the very least, somewhat similar, but it turns out, when it comes to our DNA we are pretty different.

The largest genotype discrepancy happens to fall within two biggies of the pregnancy health world: pre-eclampsia and something iI had never heard of before, intrahepatic cholestasis.

Pre-eclampsia was something that I was anxious about during my pregnancy. I knew of several women that had developed it and all had to deliver earlier than they would have liked. I knew it was serious. Big time.

And wouldn’t you know that at my very first official OB appointment I had high blood pressure and was then flagged to watch for pre-e for my entire pregnancy. It seemed like at every appointment there was something of a warning. Early on set of edema around month five. High levels of protein in my urine around month 6. Every week that I went in I braced myself for the words, “you have pre-eclampsia we have to deliver NOW.”

Thankfully I never heard those words and was able to carry my son to term (and then some), but my anxiety about pre-e was always there. And oddly enough it was there without any sort of familial tip off that it should be. My Mother didn’t have any issues, nor did my Grandmother. And now that I am looking back at my genotype results and what sort of things I am at higher odds for I feel incredibly validated.

There, in the mix of health traits and risks, is something that us utterly unique to MY DNA: I have a G at a specific marker where my Mother and Grandmother have an A. That G simply means that I have a substantially higher risk for developing early on-set HELLP (pre-eclampsia). And while I did not have an actual, official diagnosis during my pregnancy my body certainly behaved like it was going there.

I wish I had these results before I became pregnant. In a weird way I feel like it would have comforted me, or at the very least it would have made me feel less shy about calling in to the OB’s office with complaints about my edema. Having a predisposition does not make it an actuality, but it totally makes it something to be on the look out for. I have to wonder if my earlier anxiety about pre-eclampsia was there because my body knew before my mind did that it could happen.

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Picking and Choosing

If you met me and walked around my house looking at family portraits you might remark on the size of my family. You might then be surprised to discover that the family in the photos are not really family. Oh sure we share some genetic links and have names for each other like “cousin” or “aunt”, but the closeness that I feel should define a family does not define ours. Instead things like grudges and conflicting politics and distance and hurt feelings have damaged most of the shiny veneer that glosses over the biggest portrait from the early 80’s. We are a family, but instead of being grounded by roots we are like a series of clippings from one plant, scattered across the nation in various murky glass jars.

My particular “jar” shoot contains my Grandmother, my Mother, myself and now my Son. But rather than isolate ourselves alone on a shelf, we have tried to inch closer to other jars, other families. Because even though our genetic family is not close, we still crave the closeness of like-minded people.

Within our group of collected friends are people that are so close, so tight, so comforting that they feel like family. This notion has been a part of my life since the beginning as most of the women that I grew up calling “Aunt” are in no way related.

I also grew up with an interesting knowledge of ancestry and celebrities. Well certainly not all celebrities, but if someone in the movies had a surname that was also in our family tree we began to identify with them as a relative. Not in a show up at their door way, but more in a, “So and So is in a movie this weekend. Let’s go see our cousin!”

Ready for another family quirk? My Grandmother’s last name is Smith and whenever we see another Smith, whether it is at a doctor’s office or playing in the super bowl we nudge each other saying, “we are probably related”. Think of it as a home game version of the classic chorus of John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.

One of my giant fantasies about being part of the extended 23andMe “family” is that one day I discover someone on-line that really is family. In my mind it would be a simple “click here to find out if you are related to someone”. And then there would be like a pool of people all waiting to get to know you, all fresh starts, all distant cousins.

I also hope that by understanding the information revealed in my genetic analysis by 23andMe that I might some day find out what really links a family- because it certainly isn’t just in the DNA. Right?

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He looks just like you.

“He looks just like you!” I hear that the first time most friends see my son. And truth be told, he does. He has my eyes, my face shape…but he also has my Grandmother’s nose and my Mother’s dimples. It makes me wonder what else he has from us beneath the surface. How similar are we?

If someone from your family also purchases a kit from 23andMe and elects to share their data with you a new world of comparison is revealed. On the 23andMe website you can literally compare genes.

I am currently sharing my information with my Mother and my Grandmother. Within the genome sharing section I can compare all of our genes and compare how similar we are too each other. Compared to my Mother we are 84.40% similar. Interestingly enough I am just a tad more similar to my Grandmother.

I find this scientific spell out fascinating as it pretty much validates a decades long running joke within our family that I am JUST like my Grandmother. We like the same foods, we have the same outgoing personalities, and we both have freakish needs to be early.

I have always thought that since I am like Grandmother that my kid would grow up with a personality like my Mother’s. It would only be fair that she be rewarded with a Grandson that was an adventurous, tree-climbing, barefoot walking playmate when she had to endure years of my annoying clock watching.

But when you are talking genetics, just who will my son favor?  Will he have the same endurance that Grandmother and I have or will his circadian rhythm match my Mother’s?

I am curious about who my son will become, but worry that I won’t let him just be without trying to make every quirk or trait a direct link to someone in our family. Will anything just be his? At what point does uniqueness come into play.

What if he spat into a tube and we sent it off and eventually found out that he has sky-high genetic compatibility with one of us? If he were to know that information would it change the way he grew up?

I will admit that when I was younger being told that I was just like my Grandmother was not an ideal for me. When I was a little girl my Grandmother was an overwhelming force. She was involved with so many organizations, often as the head, and commanded a lot of respect. She loved to cook but hated anyone being in the kitchen with her to slow her down. She was tough, unyielding, and bossy.

If someone told me that I was just like Grandmother I would stop what I was doing and do the opposite. If she was zagging then by Jove I would zig!

But eventually, as I grew into my own person, I was able to see where the overlaps were. Sure she was stern where I was, well, not- but at the core we both wanted to be liked and valued. And while she liked the kitchen to herself and I liked an audience, we both liked to cook and entertain.

I have been thinking a lot about at what point my son should be given this extra bit of information from our genetic family tree. It seems harmless to tell him that he has my eyes, but I worry about telling him about some of the more hard-wired genetic links. I mean at what point do you share the family’s history of depression and dementia? And by sharing do you help or hurt? Does knowing about a genetic predisposition hamper organic growth?

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Optimism and me

This weekend my Mother and I watched Michael J. Fox’s special on optimism. Irony of irony we watched it after having a bit of a conversational blowup (my way of saying I instigated a fight) and dripping in sweat. Have I mentioned that our air conditioner has decided not to work? Have I mentioned it happened on late Thursday thus making the next available appointment for assistance to be Monday afternoon? Have I mentioned I live in Florida and that we are currently in a heat wave? As in 90+ five days in a row.

So there we sat, in our den, with the blinds closed tightly keeping out the sun and the ceiling fan whirring around on warp speed. Mother reclined with an ice pack on her chest and I mopped sweat from my everywhere while trying not to pass out from the warmth generated by my adorable baby.

In other words we were in quite the right place for a TV special on optimism.

And wouldn’t you know, as the program progressed, I did find that my mood had lightened. I found that I was not as oppressed with the heat. I found that I was able to talk to Mother without picking a fight. Half way through the program Michael brings up the question about whether or not optimism is genetic. He believes it is and then goes as far as to tell his wife that if his kids aren’t optimistic, well then it is all her fault.

And while 23andMe is still in research mode as far as genotyping a happy gene, they do offer an interesting survey regarding optimism. I took the survey (go science, go!) and now know that, like the majority of other people that took the test that I am of average optimism. But it made me wonder about the 23% that found out that they are more optimistic than average and the 18% that has been told that they are less optimistic than average.

If I told you that I feel like you are just not a happy person wouldn’t that depress you?

When I was pregnant with W I was very aware of when I was optimistic and when I wasn’t. While I was dealing with infertility and having to bounce back after each failed cycle I was told by many people that I just needed to think positive, have hope, visualize success. All things that made me want to scream. But when I got pregnant I worried that if I didn’t exist in a state of permanent glow and bliss that I was going to doom myself with pessimism.

It’s a kind of manic place to be when you are constantly trying to freeze frame a correct state of emotions. And is the person who is freaking out on the inside but grinning on the outside having a better quality of life?

Still I tried to be happy even when I wasn’t. I had this notion that I was passing off my energy via some sort of pregnancy osmosis and that if I laughed the baby would, if I cried so would the baby. It was a logic that I felt was solid based on the fact that other people’s emotions affect me pretty deeply. If I see someone upset I get upset, if I see someone grinning their ass off you can bet I will start to smile.

And now when W is calm or excited a part of me feels like I helped brew him that way from within. And if he grows up optimistic I will be happy. Kind of like how our Moms have always told us, “I’m happy if you’re happy.”

Want to know if how you measure up with optimism? You can find out within the survey section of 23andMe.

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It’s more of a turquoise than a blue.

Something you will start to hear about all the time after you give birth is the oddly phrased “Baby Blues”. I have been asked about the BB’s by every health care professional that I have encountered in the four weeks since I delivered WW. The nurse at his pediatrician’s office, the lab techs at my OB’s office – they all want to know how I am feeling, if I have the “baby blues”.

You would think this sort of constant asking would bend towards annoying, but to be honest every time someone asks I feel really relieved.

I have only very recently come to terms with the fact that depression is just going to be a part of my life. It has affected pretty much everyone in my family for as long as I can remember. I managed to delay an actual diagnosis of it until I was fully ensconced in my care giving role for my Grandmother. Then it hit me pretty hard.

We had just moved to Florida and I was dealing with sorrow over my infertility, moving away from good friends, generic malaise over being single in my 30’s, and mostly drained from the tedium of taking care of GM.  I was crying daily and for no obvious reason. I had no desire to leave the house, meet new people, or even change my clothes.

It took a lot of strength to realize that I needed help. When I finally made an appointment to sit down with my stoic family doctor I knew I would not make it through coherently. So I sat down and wrote down everything that I felt was going wrong and how ill equipped, emotionally, I felt to deal with things. Ten minutes into my appointment my doctor had diagnosed me with something called Caregiver’s Depression. The diagnosis came with medication, which I consumed for two months until all of my emotions were numb. Then I stopped taking them.

A year or so later I was again swallowed up by depression. This time I felt pretty aware about the cause- a miscarriage. A miscarriage after an IVF that I had saved and saved for. So with the bleeding came this horrible doom and gloom feeling that I could never afford to try again, that I would never become a Mother. I went back to the doctors (this time a new one) and after listening to me we started a dialogue about depression. We also discussed depression and hereditary- which was oddly calming. This doctor felt that I could possibly determine what medication would be most effective for me based on the medication that other members of my family were on.

So I went on a different medication and within a month I started to feel like I could breathe again. I was still sad, but the sadness was not taking over every moment of my day. I felt like I could make it through. I continued taking the medication (with my doctor’s approval) through my next round of fertility treatments (a frozen embryo transfer).

But once I found out I was pregnant I felt like I needed to stop the medication. Not because someone told me I should, but because I had a desire to make my body as free from medicine as possible.

And I did pretty well for the first and second trimester. I was a bit anxious about all things related to the pregnancy, but it felt like a normal kind of anxious. And then I landed in my third trimester and everything became unhinged. I felt like I was going to be the worst mother ever. I felt like everything was a mistake. I felt like my entire world was out of my control. (This also coincided with Grandmother’s health seriously declining- so I was stressed from all sides of life)

At a routine OB visit around 28 weeks I “confessed” to my doctor that I was feeling really anxious and that I was worried that I would have post partum depression big time. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to find any joy in the baby or life as a Mother. I worried about everything. So we talked about the medication that I had been on before and we decided that it might be best to go back on the meds. (The meds are on a safe list for meds to take through pregnancy and breastfeeding)

And again, within a month, I was back to feeling better. I no longer felt like my world was caving in and I felt better equipped to face the changes that were just around the corner.

But once I gave birth I felt like a countdown clock began ticking. Every morning I wake up wondering if it will be the day that severe post partum depression will find me.

I was surprised to discover that my 23andMe genetic analysis did not show a genetic predisposition for depression. Knowing that it is something that I have in common not only with Grandmother, but Mother as well makes me wonder if there is a marker there that just hasn’t been, well, marked.

I am still waiting for post partum depression to find me. I know that it can, even as I arm myself with medication. But in a way I am not as afraid of it as I feared I might be. In every other circumstance depression has blindsided me. Now I feel like I have a well-lit flashlight at the ready to keep the darkness at bay.

But I wonder about other women that have a family history of depression. How do they make it through their pregnancy? Are they just as anxious about post partum depression? I also look forward to 23andMe doing more research on depression and pregnancy.  For now I don’t feel blue. It’s more of a turquoise.

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