New Study Says Genetic Defect Depends on the Woman's Age: Worst Article I've Ever Read

I popped on the news feed before bed - (highly recommend against this) - and a study reported by National Public Radio appeared with this headline: With Gene Disorders, The Mother's Age Matters, Not the Egg's.

I read the article and felt like an idiot. I understood nothing. Now, I've read an awful lot about Down syndrome: the history, the risks, the reasons, the odds, and the science. The funny thing is, I read this article by NPR several times and still didn't know what it said. The facts to support the conclusion made no sense; the facts didn't sound like facts; and in addition, the writing was so convoluted, I couldn't follow from one sentence to the next:

"Birth defects and genetic disorders are often caused by chromosomal abnormalities, which happen when either the mom's egg or the dad's sperm contains the wrong number of chromosomes. Proteins called crossover proteins help chromosomes sort themselves out.

The chromosomes are like dance partners, says Ross Rowsey, a doctoral student and lead author on the paper, and these crossover proteins help them correctly pair up.

'If those dance partners aren't connected, it is just as likely that they will pull to the same side of the ballroom as to the opposite side of the ballroom,' he says. When the chromosomes aren't matched in pairs, that can lead to trisomy, or one extra chromosome, as in Down syndrome, or monosomy, just one chromosome, as in Turner's syndrome."

What? Dance partners? And, notice the headline says women's age is the determining factor, yet this article says it is dependent on the men's age and the woman's age. Why isn't men's age in the headline?

I had my son after the age of 35.* Of course, I know that "fault" is not associated with a genetic defect child. My son is my child for reasons I may never know: eggs, sperm, age (of the mother and father), environment, stress, karma. What dictates which child we bring home from the delivery room? Most children with Down syndrome are born to women less than 35 years of age because they have more children. Most likely there is a connection to the woman and the man's age in the determination of the cell's structure. Look long enough on the Internet and almost any theory can be confirmed.

I decided reading any more scientific reports at that hour was dangerous. I forgot about it, until the news scrolled by the same story, again. Unusual, I thought. I clicked. Beneath the story were comments by people as confused as I was:

"There is pretty good evidence that there are other genetic abnormalities that accumulate with age unrelated to the chromosomal dance. Please consider issuing a correction."

"Agree 100% - horrible title & confusing article for science-minded folk, no less."

I don't need genetic counseling. I never blamed myself for my son's Down syndrome. That would be like searching for fault because my duaghter has brown hair or a crooked tooth. For our family, the genetic defect looms large at times and many moments goes unnoticed. Science reporting has a choice on how it chooses to issue these "findings." The last thing a mother - of any age - needs to hear is sloppy reporting that is confusing and tosses out facts without any consciousness of how they affect the person who's facing this for the first time. Learning more about Down syndrome is vital to the success of the growth of the children and their families. Preparing emotionally and physically for the challenges ahead faced with solid, clear information. Putting the latest scientific "finding" up without a lot of background depth hurts more than it helps.


*Most children with Down syndrome are born to women less than 35 years of age because they overall have more babies. Yes the odds do go up for women as they go up in age. They also, as a group, have less babies. 


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