Fire In The Blood: When Your Genes Predispose You To Infertility and Other Conditions

Mother,daughter and granddaughter

“What’s his genotype and blood group?” the doctor asked, and I drew blank. I looked at my four year old son’s face and then it dawned on me that I hadn’t done those two tests for my younger twins, and they were already four years old.
“Why are you looking at his face? Is the answer there?” The doctor continued jokingly and I confessed that I hadn’t found out the information. He then pointedly asked me what my genotype and blood group were and that of their dad’s. When I told him, he simply urged me to get the tests done, so they know earlier.
You wonder why all these one thousand questions. Well, my younger son hadn’t been feeling fine and I had been putting off the hospital run, because we have been frequenting the hospital of late sef. Let’s just say I joined the “Faith Stretchers” club, Nicole founded (*side eye*).
Running some errands this week, I took him along and asked for cold medication for him at a pharmacy. Instead, the pharmacist suggested a malaria test. While waiting for the result of the test, the doctor saw us and discovered that, while his own body was warm (not the normal range), his fingers and feet were extremely cold, meaning blood wasn’t flowing in that direction. He immediately directed that I wear a pair of socks on his hands and feet.
He made it worse when he said his heartbeat was too fast. My imagination went haywire. If I had the answers to the genotype and blood group question, then he might be able to determine if that was normal for his genetic makeup, and what I could do about it in the future. While I wait for Saturday to come, so we can check his heart rate again, I’m wishing I had a stethoscope and it is a struggle not to place my ear over his heart or take his pulse every other minute. Anyways, while I worry, he is busy enjoying himself. How he does it, I don’t know.

That incident gave me a fresh perspective on genetics and how it influences every aspect of our lives. I could see that the doctor visibly calmed down when I told him my genotype and that of my husband’s. If the answers had been less than desirable, I’m sure we would have been sent off to a lab to do some more tests.
Some people know from when there are very young, that having children might be an issue and I have heard and read so many experiences along that line too, where women just have this nagging gut feeling that something isn’t right with their reproductive life.
And some aren’t like that, they only get to know sometime later or early in life that their genetic make-up has predisposed them to some conditions; infertility, breast cancer, fibroids, premature ovarian failure, and even polycystic ovaries syndrome inclusive.
Breast Cancer

Hollywood actress, Angelina Jolie is one of such woman. Practically all the women linked to her in her family; mother, aunts, had been diagnosed with breast cancer and had even died from the condition. She got proactive and got a double mastectomy to reduce her risks.
Even closer to us is the story of one woman from the North. Her story was shown on TV several years ago, whilst marking the breast cancer month. She had a history of cancer in her biological family; her dad died of prostate cancer.
With the fear of cancer now very close to her, she got her pap smear done regularly. She said when they found infections, she got treated and she was fine down there almost all the time. Like the thief that it is, cancer did not come the way she expected it. She had breast cancer instead.
She had merely been undressing when her hands touched her breasts and something felt hard. Checking again, she found a lump in her right breast and that was how the journey into diagnosis and chemotherapy started for her. As at the time that documentary was shot, she had been a few years free of cancer. Apart from the stories of these women, which registered in my head, their inability to describe the pain they felt, both from the cancer itself and chemotherapy was heart breaking. All agreed on one thing though, they wouldn’t wish the pain on their enemies.


African American mother kissing her baby boy
One of the rudest shocks one can get is to realise that one’s dream of having children will remain a dream, due to factors beyond one’s control. As I wrote in this article, the true test of one’s fertility is actually getting pregnant and carrying to term. So, it was a rude shock when Toun, whose story I was told by a friend, found out that task was going to be a herculean one for her. To become a mom, she would have to look at other choices.
And then, like scales peeled from her eyes, she realised that half of the women (mother, aunties on both sides of the family) directly related to her were moms of an only child. Even her uncles weren’t spared. Toun was in fact an only child. The maximum number of children they had was two, and they were often very close in age.
The reality was, her family comprised of mostly parents of only children. It was normal, at least while growing up. She had cousins but the significance of that occurrence just dawned on her, when she was TTC. It couldn’t have just happened like that, it was genetic.
By the time, it got to her turn, the pool was almost dry. There were two possibilities; either the older generation got married a lot earlier, or she got married later, which isn’t so true for the 26 year old bride that she was.

After being told the usual platitudes; “Stop stressing”, “It will happen when it will happen”, and the numerous other ones, she went to see a doctor, who put her and her husband through some tests and discovered it was a case of dual factor infertility. Low sperm count on one hand and premature ovarian failure on the other. One can be boosted but there was almost no remedy for the latter.

Auto immune diseases

Asides from conditions that directly affect one’s fertility as premature ovarian failure, some auto immune diseases like lupus, type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, Graves’ disease, multiple sclerosis, or rheumatoid arthritis are known to impair fertility.
It’s not exactly known why these immune system disorders happen, but they seem to run in families (genetic predisposition) and sometimes are linked to environmental factors or previous infection. Immune reactions may be localized or involve whole bodily systems, and tend to run in cycles of flare and remission. Members of one family often infect each other with different autoimmune diseases, likely due to close proximity of living.
From my research, autoimmune diseases are far more common in women (approximately 75% of cases) and are often diagnosed during childbearing years.
There may be several reasons why females are affected more than males including the fact that we have stronger inflammatory responses. While this usually works to our benefit, however these inflammatory responses can easily go overboard than with men therefore triggering an autoimmune disease.
Women’s sex hormones are thought to play a role as many of these conditions seem to flare and calm down along with hormonal fluctuations, which can be caused by menstrual cycle, or even pregnancy.
Symptoms differ for each individual, and likewise so do the medical treatments. A lot depends on which autoimmune disease a person has and the severity of symptoms.
Whatever be the case, whatever it is that our genes predisposes us to, we will keep hoping that it brings us goodness and nothing else.
So ladies, baby dust to you, regardless of the diagnosis.



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