When children are told they were born via assisted reproduction can affect outcomes, study finds
At age 14, Helen wasn’t bothered by the fact she was born via surrogacy.
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“My mum is still my mum. My dad is still my dad,” she told UK researchers conducting a study on 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 were an accident,” 14-year-old Simon (also not his real name) told the researchers. “I know I was no accident, I was really wanted, and it makes me feel special.”
Parents worried their children may experience difficulties as a result of learning they were conceived by assisted reproduction can stop fretting — the kids are just fine, according to the study published this week after two decades in the making.
“When we began this study more than 20 years ago, there was concern the absence of a biological link between the child and the parents could have a damaging effect on their relationship and on the well-being of the child,” said lead author Susan Golombok, professor emerita of family research and former director of the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge in the UK.
However, at age 20, children born via egg or sperm donation and surrogacy were psychologically well-adjusted, the study found, especially if parents told the children about their birth history before age 7.
“What this research 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,” Golombok said.
Clinical psychologist Mary Riddle, an associate professor of psychology at Pennsylvania State University called the study “important, in that it represents research conducted over a long period of time.”
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However, Riddle, who was not involved in the study, said the results aren’t completely applicable to the United States because surrogacy can be practiced differently in the UK in several ways.
Called “tummy mummies” by some of the children, surrogates in the UK may become part of the family, participating in the upbringing of the child they helped bring into the world, according to Golombok’s 2020 book, “We Are Family: The Modern Transformation of Parents and Children.”
“In the UK, intended parents often know their surrogate prior to the surrogate pregnancy whereas in the US, commercial surrogates are often matched through agencies and don’t have prior relationships with the families for whom they carry babies,” Riddle said.