Quick and Dirty Genetics Test

I have atypical cystic fibrosis (CF). It is a homozygous recessive genetic disorder classified as a dread disease. In plain language,  "homozygous recessive" means it takes two copies of the gene to have the condition, one from each parent, and "dread disease" means it is a horrible thing to live with.

My oldest son also has atypical cystic fibrosis. So I know firsthand both how awful it can be to suffer from this condition and how much of a burden it can be to raise a child afflicted with it. I adore him but I would not wish this condition on my worst enemy. I also would like to eventually Get A Life.  Thus, I would strongly prefer to not have another child with CF.

I am 48 years old and have two grown sons, so I am not really planning on having more kids.  But I am not post-menopausal, I am divorced, I can no longer take birth control pills, and I have a history of getting pregnant ridiculously easily:  My first child was a surprise package and we only skipped birth control two or three times to get my second.  This was in my twenties, before I was diagnosed with CF, at a time when my health was not that great and my periods were both anemic and very irregular.

I was diagnosed with CF just before I turned 36.  I have spent the last 13 years getting healthier. At age 40, I began having non-anemic periods that were regular like clockwork, which went on for about five years.  They are less regular these days but still non-anemic.  Thus, I suspect I am more fertile now than I was in my twenties.  Until I am post-menopausal, risk of pregnancy remains a concern.  My ex had a vasectomy after we had two children, but then we got divorced. So, I thought birth control was a solved problem for me but it really wasn't.

I have been celibate for medical reasons for a bit over 8.5 years.  I expect that status to change someday, possibly in the near future. I am increasingly contemplating how to re-incorporate a romantic life into my life, given a long list of stubborn challenges which can easily capsize my plans to Get A Life.  I don't want to just swear off romance forever.  I don't like that solution. But I don't want to be stupidly cavalier about it knowing that it has real potential to destroy my life and I have spent a lot of years and paid a very high price to try to Get A Life.

When I got married, I had no idea I had a genetic disorder. So it had no impact on my choice of spouse or my decision to have kids.  Most people with CF agonize over such decisions. Because we were done with having kids and my ex had already had a vasectomy, I didn't face that psychological stage until I was divorcing.

Because CF is homozygous recessive, I am incapable of having a child who is not at least a carrier.  I am guaranteed to pass on a defective gene. Thus, avoiding CF is entirely on the father. If he is not a carrier, the child will not have CF. Period. If he is a carrier, the odds of the child having CF are 50%.  So it is not the roll of the dice. It is the flip of a coin.  The odds are just scarily high that a man who is a carrier will father a baby with CF on me if I turn up pregnant.

Given those facts, my dating preferences skew towards non-carriers. I really would strongly prefer to not get involved with a man who is either known to be a carrier or at high risk of being a carrier. My best understanding is that the alleles for CF are still being cataloged, thus even the most comprehensive test available (which cost about $5000 13 years ago at Stanford) cannot conclusively prove that a man is not a carrier.  It can only prove that the odds are long against him being a carrier.

However, there is a quick and dirty way to determine that without spending thousands of dollars, enduring a blood draw, etc. Cystic Fibrosis is much more common among Caucasians (and ethnic Jews, as I understand it) than among other ethnicities. Thus, ethnicity is a quick and dirty genetics test for "dating" purposes.

From The CF Foundation:
The chances of being a carrier of one CF mutation or having CF (with two CF disease-causing mutations) depend on your race and ethnicity. CF gene mutations are most common in Caucasian Americans (white people whose ancestors or family are from Europe).
In the U.S., the number of people who carry a CF gene is about:
  • 1 in 29 Caucasian Americans;
  • 1 in 46 Hispanic Americans;
  • 1 in 65 African Americans; and
  • 1 in 90 Asian Americans.
In the U.S., the number of people who have CF is about:
  • 1 in 2,500–3,500 Caucasian Americans;
  • 1 in 4,000–10,000 Hispanic Americans;
  • 1 in 15,000–20,000 African Americans; and
  • 1 in 100,000 Asian Americans.
I don't exclude white men or ethnic Jews from consideration as potential romantic partners.  This is not about racism.  A Caucasian or ethnic Jew who had a vasectomy is perfectly a-okay and I did sleep with a white man with a vasectomy during my divorce (I mean other than my husband). But my preference in romantic partners tends to skew non-white because with non-whites I don't feel a lot of pressure to have a very serious talk about my deadly medical condition the minute they start flirting with me.

In other words, when a white man who does not know me starts flirting with me, I start going "Oh, my god! Oh, my god!" and wondering if he has had a vasectomy. I don't do that with non-whites. I suppose I could buttonhole white men and ask them to please spend $5000 (or more) on a genetic test in order to put them in the "long shot" category before I will so much as have dinner with them.  But that's kind of crazy. For my purposes, ethnicity serves as a quick and dirty genetics test to determine whom I can be relaxed around and whom I need a whole lot more information from before I consider them as potential romantic partners.

I am writing this because people who don't understand genetics accuse me of being a racist for preferring the company of non-white males. It isn't racism.  If I ever get a tubal ligation or if I am still looking for a romantic partner when I am post-menopausal, I will be happy to no longer care about ethnicity.  Until then, I expect to continue to just be more comfortable being chatted up by guys who are clearly, at a glance, much less likely to be carriers -- just in case we do sleep together, and oops, a baby results.

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