At the age of 14, Helen wasn’t bothered by the fact that she was born via surrogacy.
“My mom is still my mom. My dad is still my dad,” she told UK researchers who conducted a study of the mental health and well-being of children born through egg donation, sperm donation and surrogacy. Helen is not her real name.
“I was talking to someone at school and they said they had an accident,” 14-year-old Simon (also not his real name) told researchers. “I know I wasn’t an accident, I was really wanted, and it makes me feel special.”
Parents worry their children may experience difficulties as a result of learning that getting pregnant via assisted reproduction can stop worrying — the kids are fine, according to the study published this week after two decades in the business.
“When we began this study more than 20 years ago, there was concern that the lack of a biological connection between the child and the parents could have a detrimental effect on their relationship and the child’s well-being,” said lead author Susan. Golombok, Professor Emeritus of Family Research and former Director of the Center for Family Research at the University of Cambridge in the UK.
The study found that at the age of 20, children born via egg or sperm donation and surrogacy were psychologically well-adapted, especially if parents told the children about their date of birth before the age of seven.
“What this research means is that having children in different or new ways doesn’t actually interfere with how families function. The genuine desire for children seems to trump everything — and that’s what really matters,” Golomboc said.
Clinical psychologist Mary Riddell, assistant professor of psychology at Penn State, called the study “important, in that it represents research that has been conducted over a long period of time.”
However, Riddell, who was not involved in the study, said the findings don’t exactly apply to the US because surrogacy can be practiced differently in the UK in several ways.
Surrogates in the UK, whom some children call “belly mummies,” may well become part of the family, co-parenting the child they helped bring into the world, according to Golombok’s 2020 book, “We Are Family: The Modern Transformation of Fathers and Sons.”
“In the UK, intended parents often know about their surrogate prior to surrogate conception, whereas in the US, commercial surrogates are often matched through agencies and have no prior relationships with the families for whom they are carrying children,” Riddell said.
It’s also common in the UK to use “partial” surrogacy, Riddell said, in which the surrogate is impregnated with the intended father’s sperm and is therefore the biological mother of the child.
“Here in the United States, gestational surrogacy, where the surrogate mother has no genetic connection to the child she carries, is more common and is thought to be likely to have lower psychological and legal risks,” she added.
The study, published Wednesday in the journal Developmental Psychology, followed 65 children — 22 born via surrogacy, 17 via egg donation and 26 via sperm donation — from infancy to age 20. The researchers spoke to the families when the children were 1, 2, 3, 7, 10 and 14.
The study found that young adults who learned about their biological origins before the age of seven reported better relationships with their mothers, and their mothers had lower levels of anxiety and depression.
However, children born through surrogacy had some problems in the relationship around the age of seven, “which appears to be related to their growing understanding of surrogacy at that age,” Golomboc said.
“We visited the families when the children were 10 years old, and those difficulties disappeared,” she said. “Interestingly, the same phenomenon was found among internationally adopted children. It may relate to facing identity problems at a younger age than other children.”
Developmentally, children begin to notice and ask questions about pregnancy between the ages of 3 and 4, said clinical psychologist Rebecca Berry, MD, an assistant faculty member in the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at New York University Grossman School of Medicine.
“To satisfy their curiosity, they will start asking questions about the children and where they come from as a way of trying to understand why they are here,” said Perry, who was not involved in the study.
Children under 7 years old They’ll already have a basic understanding of genetics, said Lori Bach, a professor of psychology at the University of California San Francisco who specializes in infertility and family building, and may be surprised to learn that they are not genetically related to one or both parents. .
Our current thinking is that it’s best for parents to share the story of donor conception with their children at a very early age, so that if you ask their child when they become an adult when they learned they were a donor, Bach, who was also not involved in the study, said via email that they would respond that they “know.” always”.
She added, “This allows the child to grow up with the information, rather than learning it later in life, when it comes as a surprise or shock and could damage their trust in their parents and their identity development.”
When it came to maternal anxiety and depression, there were no differences between families formed via surrogacy and egg or sperm donation and families with children born without assisted conception. The study found no differences in the mothers’ relationships with their partners at home.
However, mothers Golomboc said those who fathered children via donor eggs reported less positive family relationships than mothers who used sperm donation, likely due to insecurities about not having a genetic connection to their children.
The study found that young men who became pregnant through sperm donation reported poorer family connection compared to those who became pregnant through egg donation. Golomboc said this is probably due to the great reluctance on the part of fathers to disclose that they are not a genetic parent.
Only 42% of parents who conceived via a sperm donor disclosed the child’s birth date by the time their children were 20, compared to 88% of parents who became egg donors and 100% of parents who used surrogacy.
When asked, many of the children said they were not worried about how they would be born.
“A lot of kids said ‘It’s no big deal.'” I have more interesting things going on in my life,” while others said “it’s actually something special about me. “I love talking about it,” Golombok said. “I think it’s really good to hear from the kids themselves and I don’t think any other study has done that.”
Once told, the child needs to revisit the date of birth from time to time, Golombok said, so parents need to make sure that any conversation continues.
“There’s an idea that parents will tell the child and that’s it. But you need to keep having those conversations to give the child a chance to ask questions in an age-appropriate way as they get older,” she said.
Many parents In our study, children’s books specially designed for this purpose were used,” Golombuk added It can bring the child’s story into the narrative.”