Children of Egg and Sperm Donors Benefit from Early Disclosure

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

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • jason


    November 28th, 2011 at 11:58 AM

    don’t see how this is any good..the relationship is gonna be strained if the child knows it and saying it all at a very early age will only make the child feel like he is growing up with strangers.

  • erin b

    erin b

    November 28th, 2011 at 3:57 PM

    Why should these kids have to know anything if they are growing up in a loving home that is their family? One parent is theirs biologically, and the other is in every way possible. I always think that disclosing something like this to a child who is not ready to heard it is a really bad idea.

  • Louis


    November 28th, 2011 at 11:47 PM

    Picture this-A complete family with both parents loving the child a lot.Now the child does some usual not-so-harmful thing and the parents are a little upset and make the child sit and face the wall.

    Now if the child does not know about one parent not being the biological parent,he or she would take this as a punishment from the parent.

    But if the child does know,there is room for him or her to interpret this event as happening because the parent is not their real biological parent.Dont you think so?

    So now tell me what is better!

  • Reeny


    November 29th, 2011 at 5:23 AM

    Why should a child have his past denied from them just because we might be afraid of how they would react? I think that I would be even more afraid of them finding out later and then being mad that you withheld such critical information from them.

  • geoff


    November 29th, 2011 at 10:27 AM

    If I have a child through this method,I would wait for a good time & tell the child about it while still reassuring how both me & my partner love him or her.

    It is much better than the child finding out the same later on.It will just shatter a child to come to know of it.The child may feel cheated & even be unable to trust his or her own parents form then on!

  • Norma


    November 29th, 2011 at 12:51 PM

    This is so curious that the moms and their offspring tend to have a lesser relationship if the mom is not the biological parent. You would think that this would be a parent who DOTES on the child rather than pushes him away with a bad relationship! Otherwise why go through all of this time and expense to conceive a child?!? The only thing that I can think of is that families like this who are trying so hard to protect the child from their secret may indeed build this wall around them that is hard to penetrate for the child, and therefore the relationship between them becomes strained.

  • meg


    November 30th, 2011 at 8:21 AM

    we didn’t tell or son he was conceived through an egg donation until he was 13.we felt he needed to be old enough to be understanding of something like this.

    it may take sometime but letting it out is better.never hide it,because truth will come out one day.

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