You’ve just met with your obstetrician for a routine check-up in your first trimester when your physician says you are being referred for genetic counseling. If you have never been to a genetic counselor or even heard of genetic counseling, this might sound concerning to you, especially as it relates to your pregnancy. You might be saying to yourself, “Why do I need to talk to someone about my genetics when my family is healthy? Is there something the matter with my pregnancy?” In this week's post, we will go over a few of the most common misconceptions about genetic counseling and why you should welcome your first genetic counseling appointment!
Myth #1: The purpose of genetic counseling is to prevent genetic diseases and abnormalities.
Fact: There is no way to completely prevent a genetic disease or disorder, nor is that the point of genetic counseling. Your prenatal genetic counselor is meant to guide you through the complex decision making process that is involved with prenatal genetic testing. They can estimate the risk of your pregnancy developing a genetic condition to help you make more educated health decisions in terms of disease management or surveillance.
Myth #2: My doctor referred me to a genetic counselor because there is concern about my pregnancy.
Fact: Most often, this is NOT the case. Several national medical organizations (American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics) recommend prenatal genetic counseling as the routine standard of care for all women in their first trimester of pregnancy. Hence, your obstetrician is looking after your best interests by sending you to a genetic counselor who can talk to you more in depth about testing options at this point in your pregnancy. It is true that a small number of patients are referred for genetic counseling because there is concern about the pregnancy. However, your doctor will let you know if your counseling session is routine or not prior to your appointment.
Myth #3: Genetic counselors help people understand their ancestry.
Fact: Genetic counselors ask about ancestry, but don’t do testing specifically to figure it out. Family history is used to better understand you, your ethnic background and any genetic risks related to the facts you convey to your counselor. It’s true that certain ethnic groups have higher chances of carrying or developing certain disease. However, in recent years it’s been determined that while this may be a factor in genetic risks, anyone can be at risk for any type of disease.
Myth #4: A genetic counselor will advise people on whether or not to have children.
Fact: No genetic counselor will ever tell you to have children or not! This decision is always up to you. Your counselor is there to support you and help you understand the possible outcomes and testing options.
Myth #5: Genetic counselors help couples have a child with desirable characteristics.
Fact: Genetic counselors don’t have anything to do with “desirable traits” or “designer babies.” They are more concerned with health, longevity and quality of life.
Additionally, your genetic counselor is there for you as a resource and support system in any decision you may make related to you or your future children’s health and management. Sometimes it might be difficult to get a hold of your obstetrician when you really need them, so don't hesitate to reach out to someone else who is invested in your care too, your genetic counselor! Your counselor is there for you. They may not always have the answer right away but will do their best to find it for you and clarify any other misconceptions you may have about what to expect during this exciting time in your life!