27 Jun 2023 'The Kids Are All Right' - Study Shows Children Born through Egg Donation, Sperm Donation, and/or Surrogacy Grow Up Just Fine
A 20-year study finds that children born via egg donation, sperm donation, and/or surrogacy grow up just fine, overturning long-held assumptions that children born via assisted reproductive technology (ART) are psychologically affected and at a disadvantage when it comes to their own well-being and family relationships. The University of Cambridge study suggests that children who are born via ART are not any different than children who are conceived naturally.
In April of this year, Developmental Psychology published a study that followed 65 families with children born from assisted reproduction technology from infancy to age 20. Moms and children were interviewed and compared with 52 families of naturally conceived children. The result of the 20-year study? “The absence of a biological [genetic or gestational] connection between children and their parents does not interfere with the development of positive relationships between them or the psychological well-being of the child,” says Susan Golombok, Professor Emerita of Family Research and former Director of the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge, in a University of Cambridge article.
These findings are consistent with earlier assessments made by researchers at different stages from infancy to ages 7, 10, and 14. However, what is important to note about the final stage in this longitudinal study is that the children have now moved into early adulthood. At age 20, there is more autonomy from parents and greater freedom for young adults to explore their origin stories, identities, and beliefs. Reports show donor-conceived children have an elevated interest in their genetic ties with a curiosity deeply rooted in a basic need to know one’s identity. Although the study originally hypothesized that this elevated interest in their genetic ties would lead to higher levels of adjustment problems among donor-conceived children and relationship difficulties with their mothers, findings suggest that the absence of biological ties does not interfere with psychological adjustments in early adulthood or mother-child relationships.
Dr. Alex Robles, a reproductive endocrinologist at Columbia University Fertility Center in New York City, says that these findings mirror what he has seen in his own practice over time. He tells U.S. News, “These findings are in line with what we previously understood about these relationships and provide reassurance for people who might be hesitant about using third-party assistance to build their families.”
Telling Donor-Conceived Children Early is Key
The study also suggests that telling children about their origin story when they are young has healthier outcomes for both parent and child. While there is no perfect time to tell children the circumstances of their birth, children who are told of their origin story at an early age experience less anxiety, stress, and depression. In fact, U.S. News states that the children in the Cambridge study who were told before the age of seven scored higher on the perception of their mother’s feelings toward them, communication within the family unit, and their own well-being. Just 12.5% of children who were told about their origin story before age seven reported family relationship issues while 50% of young adults who were told after the age of seven reported family relationship issues. The article goes on to say that mothers who told their children by the time they were age seven also had more positive scores on family relations and communications along with lower levels of anxiety and depression themselves.
This study reiterates what we have reported in the past. Being honest and consistent in telling children their origin story is best. The story doesn’t have to be long, but what is important here is that it is told, with some frequency, starting at an early age, and told with simple concepts initially, growing more detailed as the child gets older. Children who are told of their origin stories often and at an early age are more likely to accept the story of their conception as a normal part of their existence and identity.
This also frees the parents of the revelation of the truth later in the child’s life which can create distrust in the family unit. “People don’t like being lied to, so adults or adolescents who find out belatedly that they were the result of donor sperm or donor eggs think their parents have told lies for 15, 20, or 30 years, and so they think, ‘well, I can’t trust you,’” Roger Cooke, an infertility specialist at Swinborne University, told The World News. Telling children at an early age also helps to avoid the possibility that they will find out from someone else, through the internet or DNA testing kits.
“It’s Not a Big Deal,” say Donor-Conceived C hildren
Children born via ART generally accept their origin stories without issue. Oxford Academic published a report from Human Reproduction that interviewed 35 young adults born as a result of assisted reproduction as a part of the seventh phase in the multi-method study. One young adult who was born through gestational surrogacy said, “It doesn’t faze me really, people are born in all different ways and if I was born a little bit differently – that’s OK, I understand.”
While another participant who was born via sperm donation said, “I never really thought about it in a way that, that like, my dad’s my dad, my mum’s my mum, I’ve never really thought about how anything’s different so, it’s hard to put, I really don’t care.”
The study also found that young adults born via egg donation were 73% more likely to report that their origin story made them feel unique, with one participant stating, “I think it was amazing. I think the whole thing is absolutely incredible. Erm . . . I don’t have anything negative to say about it at all.”
Parents being open and honest with their children about their origin stories also brought empathy to some of the donor-conceived children. As young adults, they now have a realization of what their parents went through to have them and how deeply they were wanted. “Maybe in some ways, I’ve become more aware, a bit more sympathetic to like the struggle my parents went through,” said a young adult born via surrogacy.
The multi-method in-depth study brings together 20 years of research from families using ART and not only goes against long-held stigmas but also provides encouragement for future families using egg donors, sperm donors, and surrogates. As Golombok states in Cambridge, “What this research really means is that having children in different or new ways doesn’t actually interfere with how families function. Really wanting children seems to trump everything—that’s what really matters.” In essence, the absence of a genetic link does not hinder positive parent-child relationships or a child’s psychological well-being in adulthood. The bottom line is this: honesty is the best policy, and children who are the product of assisted reproductive technology are not adversely affected by knowing the truth. As it turns out, "the kids are all right."