National Infertility Awareness Week

A baby boom is coming. How can couples prepare?

For Jewish families, it starts with testing for certain genetic diseases.

The nursery at the Bikur Cholim Hospital in Jerusalem. Photo by Flash90.
The nursery at the Bikur Cholim Hospital in Jerusalem. Photo by Flash90.
Karen Grinzaid
Karen Arnovitz Grinzaid

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly transformed the daily lives of people around the world. We live in a new normal, and the long-term effects of this challenging time remain to be seen.

As people spend their days trying to find the positive, some are trying new hobbies or organizing their homes. By now, they have established a daily rhythm around being indoors with their quarantine partners.

But even for the well-adjusted, we are all dreaming of what the future may hold after this crisis passes. For some, that includes starting a family. In fact, with the extra time some people have during the shelter-at-home directives, reports have predicted a baby boom in the next nine to 12 months.

Beyond the obvious, there are some essential steps a couple can take when starting to plan a family, including securing vital information that can help them take the journey safely together. Genetic screening before having a baby is one of those essential steps. This testing provides couples with knowledge, and knowledge is power.

JScreen is a national online genetic-screening program based at Emory University School of Medicine’s Department of Human Genetics. The program tests for more than 200 different genetic diseases and provides follow-up genetic counseling to discuss test results, helping couples navigate the journey towards a healthy family. Thankfully, genetic testing through JScreen is conducted from the safety of one’s home. With its simple spit test, it provides a safe and confidential way to get tested. In the age of social distancing, this is now more important than ever.

JScreen is there for couples who are trying to conceive and even for those who are already pregnant. At a time when many OBGYNs are limiting office visits, JScreen’s online service is invaluable, sending copies of test results to individuals and their doctors.

Medical professionals agree that everyone with Jewish background should be offered genetic testing before having children. Previously, many people thought that such testing for family planning was solely for Ashkenazi Jews. Today, it’s increasingly clear that Jews of all backgrounds are at risk for having children with genetic diseases and should be screened. This includes individuals with Sephardi and Mizrachi ancestry (such as Persians, Syrians and Bukharians), as well as interfaith couples.

JScreen’s test is primarily for diseases inherited in a recessive pattern, meaning that a child can only have the condition if both parents carry the non-working gene for that condition. With recessively inherited diseases, each child of two carrier parents has a 25 percent chance of inheriting two copies of the non-working gene and having the condition. Typically, people who are carriers of recessive conditions do not have symptoms because they have only one copy of the non-working gene. The only way to know if you are a carrier is to get tested. JScreen also screens for several X-linked conditions that can be passed from a carrier female to a child who may have symptoms.

Starting down this road can be scary, but knowledge truly is power. While planning to start a family is an exciting and life-changing decision, each couple has to chart their own path towards a healthy family. The information provided by this easy, at-home, spit test can truly provide results that help people plan for the health of their future children.

Karen Arnovitz Grinzaid, MS, CGC, CCRC, is executive director of JScreen.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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