Why I spat: My 23andMe Spitting Experience

Well, the launch is finally here, and now I can divulge my 23andMe secret:  I am a founding member of the 23andMe pregnancy blogging community.  And no, I am not making another, related to the pregnancy part of that announcement.  Those days are gone.  That ship has sailed.  This uterus is CLOSED for operation.  I have been pregnant — so I qualified for the job. (Yes, it’s a job: full disclosure, here.)

What will I be doing?  Posting at least once a week.  Getting involved in the forums.  Participating in surveys. Basically being a part of an incredibly cool, potentially medically influential company that really, truly, wants to make a difference in women’s health – and in health care in general. (No pressure, but if you’re pregnant, you can contribute to some pretty cool research related to women’s gestational health by participating too. Click here.)

If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to get your genome tested (and full disclosure: as an employee, I had it done for free.)  read my post, below.  And check out this video, to see what it’s like to Spit!

And now – the post:


Genotyping. The whole thing has a kind of futuristic feeling. Like I should be wearing a silver jumpsuit and sitting in a white laminate Pod, eating simulated food, while a computer calculates the precise moment at which my offspring will appear and completely disrupt my life.

But genotyping isn’t science fiction. It’s here.

Part of me feels a little “don’t ask/don’t tell.” What if I find out something terrible? Like I have a tremendous chance of developing a particularly awful disease, or that I’m genetically related to that horrible mother at my kids’ school who’s always telling everyone what a “genius” her kid is, or that, in all likelihood, I will never, ever, be truly thin. I’m not sure I want to know.

Take, for instance, the possibility that my genes indicate that I will never be thin. Will I use it as an excuse to scarf down a pint of ice-cream with a chocolate-chip cookie chaser? Or if I am genetically related to that mother – will I feel obligated to ask her to join me for Thanksgiving dinner, thus increasing exponentially the possibility of my suffering a sever bout of indigestion? Or, in a completely unfunny scenario, what if I find out I have the breast cancer gene? Will I live in fear for the rest of my life? Will I opt to take preventative action? Who knows?

But I’ve never been one to shy away from the truth, to eschew knowledge and go through life in blissful ignorance. So I do want to know as much about myself as I can. But more than that, I want to know about how I came to be who I am.

My mother’s family consisted of her, her brother, and her parents. Every other person in her extended family was killed in World War II. My grandparents never wanted to discuss their painful past, which left me with little to no information about where that side of my family came from. Maybe genotyping could offer some sort of snap-shot of them that I don’t have, and maybe my genetic picture will help fill in the blanks in my family’s medical history.

My own family consists of me, my husband, and our two children. Like most mothers, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for my kids. (At their request, I even put on a cat costume this Halloween. And trust me, a forty-three year old mother in a tight cat-suit with ears does not make anyone meow.) Maybe learning about my own genetic make-up will give me the information I need to keep my children healthy, help them grow.

I might find out things I don’t want to know. But the thought that I might find out something horrible is outweighed by the possibility that I might find out something useful. Or even that I may help someone else by contributing to research that could lead to breakthroughs in any number of medical fields. I could inform myself, know what I need to do to help me and my family live long productive life. Plus, I could and find out if it’s true what my Great Uncle Nat always said: I’m related to Harry Connick Jr. Cousin Harry!!! I love you!

If I find out, however, that I will never, ever, be truly thin. I may have to ask for a refund.

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