2 months ago, I sat up all night, grimly holding my son. He was fretful, coughing so hard that he would vomit after each bout of coughing. He couldn’t sleep and I held him up so he wouldn’t choke on his own vomit. It was a bitter night and his ailment was kind of my fault. Because he got it from my genes.
Genetic Predispositions. A fancy way of saying you inherited something from your ancestors. Like Upper Respiratory illnesses. Or predisposition to Cancer, Asthma, High Blood Pressure. Or Sickle Cell Disease. Why is this knowledge important? Because it’s a huge part of your health makeup and knowing it can help you get the treatment you need faster or make certain lifestyle choices better. Doctors are not Babalawos, they can only work with what info you give them. Saying “My Grandad died of a heart attack and so did my dad” will alert your Dr that the men in your family have a health alarm clock in their bodies and you, Dad, have to be watchful. Because it’s taboo and we Africans sometimes labour under the strain of positive religiousity: “if I don’t talk about it, then I take spiritual power away from it and it will never happen”. Add that to our cultural norms of rejecting anything outside the norm and you have people wholly unaware they had genetically close lines of relatives who had mental illnesses.
There is a branch of Medicine called Diagnostic Medicine and I feel it should be called the basics of Medicine. In Nigeria, it isn’t taught too well so we jump to assumptions and stick to it (“I know your tests came back negative for Malaria but I will still treat it”, how many times have you heard that before). Genetic Predispositions are part of your diagnosis, having a history of High Blood Pressure in your family is crucial to inform your Doctor during antenatal visits. HBP is a silent killer of pregnant women.
Remember my son’s coughing? I told my husband before we got married that my family was prone to Respiratory illnesses. I underestimated how bad it could get, from simple things like dust (even a dusty potato close to my face makes my nostrils hurt) to Sinusitis to coughing bouts so strong you vomit to build-up of fluid in the ears, causing Childhood Deafness if not corrected by surgery on time. Yep.
Please start asking your parents for details of themselves and their siblings. “How did Aunty so-and-so die?”. Not a macabre question, just common sense. “Why is Uncle so-and-so acting like this or why is he hidden away?”, “What happened to my grandmother, what is wrong with Dad?”
And full disclosure to whomever you want to marry, before marriage. Full Disclosure! No-one will forgive you if you tricked them into marrying you, knowing full well there were health implications. I am a fan of RCCG’s marriage course because I have realised we practise a lot of self-deceit and outward deceit as humans. God will not use lies to work a miracle.
I recall a story about a couple. The man freely disclosed he was AS. The woman saw that he was a catch, listened to unwise counsel that “God will perform miracles, go to this church, become a church worker, tithe like so, all will be well” and lied that she was genotype AA and they could marry. A month after the wedding, she knelt down to confess her AS status, babbling about how the Lord ordained them to be together because her pastor said so, they should confess positive words on their future children, there was genetic testing available in Lagos and all will be well. The husband stared at her in horrified silence. For every pregnancy, they had to test and each test cost N200,000. Each tested SS and thus they had abortion. 3 abortions later, whilst the wife cried and prayed in church, the husband packed his things and left. He could not forgive her deceit and he could not keep doing things he couldn’t live with.
Knowing your genetic predispositions is not a curse. It will only help you. It’s the most sensible thing in the world and and an important section of your medical history. We are the best position to help ourselves before hospitals come in. Ask those tough questions, write it down somewhere, make smart choices concerning them (my friend adopted healthy rating standards way before it became popular due to knowing her family’s medical history).
And please let your doctor know this information. Pregnancy is a very delicate time, it’s best to go in prepared.