Cleopatra' 'I Was Hoping for a Genetic Link to; with a Patchy Family History, Author and Journalist Sarah Ivenswas Desperate to Know Where She Came from - and What the Future Held Healthwise. the Answers, She Discovered, Were on the Tip of Her Tongue

Daily Mail (London), March 15, 2014 | Go to article overview

Cleopatra' 'I Was Hoping for a Genetic Link to; with a Patchy Family History, Author and Journalist Sarah Ivenswas Desperate to Know Where She Came from - and What the Future Held Healthwise. the Answers, She Discovered, Were on the Tip of Her Tongue


THERE HAVE BEEN GENERATIONS of abandonment in my family - anyone would think it was genetic. My mother never knew her father; he disappeared before he got the chance to see her blonde ringlets. My maternal great-grandmother walked out on her young children in the Forties, never to return. My own father left when I was 11, and I haven't seen or heard from him since. I'd always thought the damage left when a parent walks out was purely psychological (in my case, a deep-rooted insecurity: if your father doesn't want you, why would anyone else?). Thanks to a legion of girlfriends-cum-sisters and a kind stepfather, I'd always refuted the 'blood is thicker than water' idea. But, last year, sitting in my doctor's surgery in Los Angeles, where I have lived since 2011, pregnant with my daughter, I was forced to rethink what had shaped me.

I was there for a routine three-month check-up. There were so many forms to fill out, questions about things for which I was responsible (sexual history, smoking, drugs and alcohol use, whether I was taking my pre-natal vitamins) and things for which I wasn't - that is, my family history. Did I have a record of genetic problems, diseases and conditions? Well, sort of. I could tick the cancer box. My maternal grandmother had fought and beaten ovarian cancer when she was 50 and is still around now, at 85. The rest? I didn't know.

Seeing how these historical blanks could directly affect my two-year-old son William and unborn daughter set me thinking. While I took care in other aspects of my wellbeing, I was playing the genetic lottery. I last saw my father when he was 43, before he was old enough for many hereditary problems to set in. I had read about both my paternal grandparents' deaths in the obituary column of the local newspaper. They had lived into their 70s, but no details were given as to why they died. Combined with the absent parents on my mother's side, more than 50 per cent of my health history was missing. I saw not only my own future, but a more primal hope for my children's futures tied up in my genes.

Over coffee with my friend Alexander, who was approaching his 40th birthday at a speed he didn't like, we discussed how the double whammy of parenthood and ageing opened up questions about your past and, perhaps more importantly, your future.

The element test is the part, so I on that waiting 'I'm adopted and it has never bothered me before,' he confessed. 'My folks took me in as a baby and have loved me ever since. I've never felt the need to trace the people who didn't want me, or couldn't cope. I felt neither resentment nor longing. But recently I've wanted to know what I was made of. That's normal, isn't it, to need to know what timebombs are waiting for us?' He'd found a DNA test on the internet. It involved nothing more complicated than posting offa saliva sample and paying about [euro]70. 'I'm Jewish,' he said, 'which I never knew. I'm essentially healthy, but I should be wary of sugar.' He pushed his pastry to one side. 'Diabetes,' he explained.

my results The answers had been invaluable to Alexander, so I decided to follow suit, posting offsamples from myself and my husband six weeks before my due date. We would get two reports, one detailing our risks of contracting various diseases and disorders, and a second outlining our ancestry - where we came from, right back to the beginning of human existence, measuring the amount of Neanderthal (the precursor to Homo sapiens) in our make-up. Scientists had originally thought that humans and Neanderthals did not interbreed but, through DNA evidence, we now believe that Homo sapiens and Neanderthals did in fact have children together.

In moments of stress - in traffic, for example - my husband Russ reverts to a caveman, practically beating his chest in anger, so I was hoping the results would prove once and for all that he was a modern-day Fred Flintstone, who should listen to me when I complain about his social skills and eating habits. …

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Cleopatra' 'I Was Hoping for a Genetic Link to; with a Patchy Family History, Author and Journalist Sarah Ivenswas Desperate to Know Where She Came from - and What the Future Held Healthwise. the Answers, She Discovered, Were on the Tip of Her Tongue
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