Monday, January 3, 2011

Genetics and the adopted girl*

The rites of passage from girl to woman are often celebrated amongst the women of a family. Sharing stories about their first period or how all the woman of the family start developing breasts at an early age; comparing pregnancy symptoms and cravings; knowing who has been diagnosed with breast cancer; anticipating the family’s average age of menopause. These shared connections help the young women of the family know what to expect and help them to feel that they belong to their group of women. The older women take comfort in passing on knowledge that will help the young ones grow and hopefully avoid disease.

Adoption takes away those connections. Sure, the rites of passage can still be celebrated, but the shared genetic relationship is lost. My mother could not have anticipated that I would start to develop at a young age, since that was not the case for the women in her family. I have no idea if I have an increased risk for breast cancer, since I don’t know if the women of my family have it or not.

A few nights ago I ended up at the emergency room, doubled over with abdominal pain. Many hours and many tests later I left with a diagnosis of uterine fibroids. Now fibroids do not appear to be hereditary, but it really made me think about all the things that I don’t know about potential health problems (this is what happens when you are in pain, have had no sleep and are sitting around a waiting room for hours on end). I’m not going to run out and get a full genetic work up just to see what possible diseases could be lurking in my DNA. I’m not the type to have a preventative mastectomy. From what I’ve learned from House, a full body scan on anyone is going to show up some sort of anomaly, so don’t go looking for things till they are a problem. But at the same time, having some inkling that you might be more prone to certain things can be helpful information when it comes time to try and make a diagnosis.

*I realize that genetics and the lack of medical info affects boys/men too. But it does seem that women have many more genetically shared medical “things” simply due to the reproductive nature of their bodies.
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