My time at the Human Genetic Center.

I found out a year ago that the variation of the BRCA gene, which gives women a hereditary risk for breast and ovarian cancer (on top of usual risks), was found in a tested family member. I decided after this past pregnancy to get tested. I like having information, and I don’t think I’m the type to obsess if it is positive for the gene. I really just need a kick in the ass to do the self exams.

Anyway… I went with Bebe this week to Hadassah Hospital’s genetics department to get a consult with a genetics adviser/researcher, along with the blood test.

The funny thing about going to a genetics clinic with your baby is… well, you’re a bit of a live case study. Anything’s open for inspection: “Oooh, your baby looks Asian! Must be something from your Sephardi side, yes?”

The other funny thing about this clinic in particular was, it being focused on women’s issues and being fully staffed by women, well, the baby was a big hit. Bebe was held, coo’d at, fussed over. I was offered to take care of anything I needed to and leave her there. I’m 99% sure the offer was real. I’m not one of those types of women, so it always comes as a shock to me when people want to hold other people’s babies. Like, really want.

The family history stuff is always interesting. We built a tree and took down what I knew, related solely to breast and ovarian cancer. Genetics is very cool to me. Being in Israel and learning genetics is even cooler because it can get so personal. For instance, there’s a possibility my family isn’t genetically Sephardi; the gene mutation is pretty much an Ashkenazi thing, though they’ve recently started finding it in Sephardim, which made my case interesting to the researcher who wants to meet up again when the results come in.

Lastly, I signed a waiver to donate my DNA to cancer research. I thought on it for a few seconds; the idea seemed troubling: A rogue scientist + my DNA = millions of little me clones running around, destroying the Earth. Then I stopped giving my DNA so much credit and signed the form.

 

Genetic testing, Jewish style.

I have no idea how genetic testing works outside the Jew-on-Jew baby-making bubble, but for us in the family it’s a fascinating tour through Jewish history.

We went today to get checked out, just in case. I’m a mutt from one Turkish/Bulgarian parent and one Eastern European chulent mix parent. This automatically helps decrease the chance of conceiving a child with the typical Eastern European all-in-the-family diseases, but you never know. My husband is a hybrid of Romanian/Austrian and Polish genes.

Now, what do all those details matter, right? If you’ve thought like me your whole life, you’re thinking, Ashkenazi or Sephardi? Spit it out. But actually, they really ask about the specific countries your parents and grandparents are from. After the nurse gets all the details, she enters them into this giant chart; your genes go in the grid and then your partner’s genes go into the grid accordingly. Then she matches them up and checks out what the chances are as well as which of the many tests you should take.

So a rough sketch of this chart looks something like this:

I couldn’t believe it. I thought this was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. It’s like a map of Jewish exile and diaspora throughout the ages.

We were handed a printed form of about six tests to take and thankfully, we passed through all of them without any high risks. I guess in humans, mutts are valuable to have around. Unless you’re Hitler, of course.