In the last several decades, more than 3 million children have been born with the help of an anonymous donor or gamete donation. These children are often raised by two parents, with whom only one of which they are biologically connected. “Those who become parents through assisted reproductive procedures involving gamete donation tend not to tell their children about their donor conception; thus, the majority of children conceived in this way remain unaware that the person they know as their father (in the case of sperm donation) or their mother (in the case of egg donation) is not their genetic parent,” said Susan Golombok of the Centre for Family Research and faculty member of Politics Psychology Sociology and International Studies at the University of Cambridge in the UK.
But what impact does this have on the child? Research has shown that adopted children benefit immensely from learning about their biological origins at an early age. “Family therapists have also argued that secrecy may jeopardize communication between family members and result in a distancing of some members of the family from others,” said Golombok. For instance, the non-genetic parent may not want to reveal the truth to the child for fear of damaging the relationship they share. Therefore, Golombok recently led a study to determine what affect disclosure would have. She said, “The aim of the present study was to examine the impact of telling children about their donor conception during the preschool years on psychological adjustment and the mother-child relationship.”
She interviewed families who conceived children either with egg or sperm donation, as well as families of naturally conceived children. Using mother interviews as well as psychologist reports, Golombok gathered data at four different points between the child’s first and seventh birthdays. “Although mother-child relationships were not found to be more negative in gamete donation than in natural conception families, these relationships were found to be less positive,” said Golombok. She noted that the largest differences in positivity in the mother-child relationship were found in those gamete families who chose not to disclose the genetic origins to their child, resulting in less warmth and mutuality. She added, “The ﬁndings of the present study similarly suggest that assisted reproduction families may beneﬁt from disclosure to children about the nature of their conception before they enter school.”
Golombok, Susan, Jennifer Readings, Lucy Blake, Polly Casey, Laura Mellish, Alex Marks, and Vasanti Jadva. “Children Conceived by Gamete Donation: Psychological Adjustment and Mother-child Relationships at Age 7.” Journal of Family Psychology 25.2 (2011): 230-39. Print.
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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