Assisted Reproduction and the Parent-Child Relationship
The University of Cambridge recently published a study called, “Love and Truth: What Really Matters for Children Born Through Third-Party Assisted Reproduction.” It compared the parent-child relationship between families created through assisted reproduction (like IVF and surrogacy) and families started with unassisted reproduction.
It's natural to start a journey to surrogacy with tears, fears, questions, and worries about the process, but what about what happens after?
What is the process like? What happens after we take our little one home?
How do I make sure my child knows they are loved, regardless of whether their DNA matches mine or my spouse’s?
How do we navigate the tough conversations as they grow up?
Will they have questions about what the surrogacy process was like?
The Cambridge study took some of these common fears and questions and observed and interviewed 51 egg and sperm donation families, surrogacy families, and a comparison group of 80 unassisted reproduction families.
The study focused on two main concerns:
Are nongenetic parents more distant or hostile toward their children?
Will the secrecy (or openness) about the child’s genetic origins harm a child’s psychological well-being?
Here's what they found when they studied these families as the children were 1, 2, 3, 7, 10, and 14.
Assisted Reproduction & Early Childhood
The road to assisted reproduction often stems from loss, fertility struggles, or the desire for a same-sex couple to have children with one or both partners’ genetic materials. People believed the social and psychological factors that limit a couple’s ability to conceive a child together, unassisted, would reflect in parent-child relationships that were somehow less meaningful and deep.
However, the Cambridge study found that mothers of infants born through surrogacy often exhibited higher levels of warmth, enjoyment of parenthood, and emotional involvement with their 1-year-olds as compared to mothers who conceived unassisted.
Similarly, mothers of surrogacy-born 2-year-olds also showed higher levels of pleasure and lower levels of anger, guilt, and disappointment in their children, which leads to more positive relationships. And parenting quality was higher across the board in all unassisted reproduction-based families.
And from the child level, there were no differences in wellness or psychological problems between the children in any of the groups.
Middle Childhood: the Parent-Child Relationship
Around age 7, children start to understand more about “how babies are made.” Along with that comes more education and understanding around the concept of family, how certain people are related to you, and how you define who your family is.
This is the time when a child will be more interested in learning of their own origins. And assisted reproduction parents have to face some tough choices: do I tell my child the full story of their conception or do I keep it from them? How much do I tell them and when is the right time? These are things that can affect certain parent-child relationships from this point on in the child’s life.
Mother-child relationships where the circumstances surrounding an assisted conception were not talked about freely and openly tended to have less warmth, sensitivity, and quality of interaction. But this may be due, in part, to these parents’ naturally less communicative parenting style.
As for surrogacy-based families, however, the communication about the child’s journey into this life was much more open. This is likely because parents in these situations have same-sex couples (who don’t have a way to conceive unassisted) or mothers who have no evidence of a pregnancy.
Around this age is when the psychological problems of surrogate-born children begin to outpace other groups in the study, a phenomenon also found in adoptive children, but this typically only lasts until about age 10.
Adolescence is the time when children start exploring their identity, and family is a big part of that. The difficulties that these parent-child relationships faced came from questions about the unknown. For example, they may struggle with the idea that they aren’t biologically related to both parents, and the possibility of other half-siblings existing somewhere.
The mothers who chose to be open about their surrogacy or other assisted reproduction journey have actually been shown to help their children develop a more secure sense of self. Mothers in surrogacy families also showed “greater acceptance of their children, less negative parenting, and more positive family functioning” when compared to unassisted families.
When these children were interviewed about the impact the surrogacy journey had on their lives, most expressed no concern. Those who knew about their origins early (around preschool age) were shown to have more positive family relationships than those who were given full disclosure when they were older.
Families Can Flourish No Matter How You Choose, Build, or Birth Them
Overall, assisted reproduction families were shown to have high levels of family functioning and child adjustment all through the child’s growth. It’s truly about communication. If you are a parent who desires to be honest and open with your children, regardless of their birth story, you will have a rich and positive parent-child relationship. Biology plays almost no part in any child’s identity: it’s due more to how they're treated and perceived within the family unit.
More and more families are choosing surrogacy as their route for creating the family they’ve always wanted. Are you interested in starting your own surrogacy journey as an Intended Parent? Check out our services or call All Families Surrogacy today at (503) 936-7960 or send us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org