July 5, 2005
You'd think that after several centuries in the melting pot of the world, my ancestors might have mixed up the gene pool a little. Our idea of diversity seems to be the English marrying Irish. I haven't shaken things up much myself, choosing a mate with skin pasty as mine, whose geneaology is about as thrilling.
This promotes the passing of recessive genes. While I don't mind the thought of a blue-eyed, blond-haired baby, I'm afraid of our passing some less desirable traits.
A Call from the Doctor's Office
Last Tuesday, my doctor's office called with results from last week's blood tests. When I got a message to call the nurse, I was certain she just wanted to tell me I am Rh-negative. I already knew that. No big deal.
So I was quite calm during our thirty minutes of phone tag. When we finally caught each other, she mentioned the Rh-negative thing, then continued, "Your genetic screening came out great on all of the 86 markers but one. Nothing alarming, but you are a carrier for cystic fibrosis. This doesn't mean your child is going to have it, but we need to do a blood test on Tom."
"Okay," I said, nonplussed. "But can you tell me a little bit more?"
It turns out that 4% of the population are carriers for CF. Most people don't know they are carriers, because you won't produce a child with the disease unless you make a child with another carrier. If both you and your partner are carriers, the chance of having a baby with CF is 25%. It's the most common genetic disorder among caucasions, particularly those of northern European descent.
After talking to the nurse, I didn't feel worried. So maybe I fall into the 4% category, but there's a 96% chance that Tom does not. When he got home, I told him he'd need to go in for a test. "Are you worried," I asked.
"No, not really," he said. We went to bed, where we both tossed and turned.
The What If's
Andrew Lloyd Weber has it right: "Night-time sharpens, heightens each sensation... Darkness stirs and wakes imagination..." Lying in bed-- or, shall I say, spinning in bed, since my worst queasiness comes at night-- my mind began to race:
- Since carriers of CF are usually caucasions of northern European descent, doesn't Tom stand a greater chance than the general population of having the mutated gene? After all, he's in the highest risk group.
- People who get devastating news about their children are just normal people. Like us. Why shouldn't it be our turn?
- I've always thought about adopting. Maybe that's because we'll need to adopt the rest of our family?
As I drifted in and out of sleep, I couldn't shake the thoughts. By morning, I was convinced our baby would have the disease. Before breakfast, I had thrown up.
As the day wore on, I collected myself. After all, the odds are in our favor. The most likely scenario is that we'll get back Tom's results this week with a sigh of relief. We'll wipe our brows and forget any of this happened.
And you know what? Dealing with these fears hasn't been all bad.
Really, there's something heartening about being brought back to the basics of family life. Whether our baby is sick or well, Tom and I have much love to give and the security of a stable home. Isn't that what it's all about?
I don't even have to change my hopes for our child. Over the past month, I have often asked myself what I want for him or her. My first thought was "healthy and happy-- if my child grows into a healthy and happy adult, I will be satisfied." But I knew that wasn't right.
Then it came to me in the words of an 8th century prophet. I read his words and -- bam!-- that was it. That is what I want for my offspring. That is my hope. Whether our child has cystic fibrosis, a mental disability, or is born in perfect health, none of those things can deter from my prayer for this baby:
"To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with his God."