The Kids Are All Right and So Are Moms and Families Using ART
Some things are universal – like worrying about your kids. That’s true no matter how you became a parent. Still, some moms and dads who gave birth with the help of medically assisted reproduction (MAR) or assisted reproductive technology (ART). may worry a bit more given the lengths they’ve gone to have children. Like all parents, they also have lots of questions. This brief summary of research shows that the kids are all doing fine no matter what specific technology was used – MAR (e.g. donor sperm) or ART (e.g. in vitro fertilization (IVF), intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), donor egg, gestational carrier or surrogate).
Among the questions that research has addressed is whether IVF kids achieve the same educational performance as children born without the use of MAR or ART. The answer is yes, with no studies showing significantly poorer performance and some even better. Additionally, psychological research – some of which was presented at the 2015 American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) annual meeting – shows that families built by using a variety of techniques including donor sperm or eggs, are also doing well.
To date, studies have looked at parenting, communication and adjustment of the offspring – at different ages, among different kinds of families and using various types of infertility treatment. For example, a Cambridge, UK study examined parenting quality and the well-being of the mother and child among single parent families that used donor insemination. Half the participating mothers were single and half had partners. While the single mothers all reported some ambivalence about not having a father for their child and therefore using donor insemination, there was no significant difference in the quality of parenting or their well-being. And, there was also no significant difference identified in the adjustment of the children.
Another Cambridge study reviewed the psychological well-being of adolescents born after a variety of medical interventions using different forms of reproductive donation compared to those with none – sperm donor families (31), egg donor families (28), surrogacy families (29) and families with without medical intervention (57). Mothers and teens responded to questionnaires to determine parental psychological well-being, parental and family functioning and the psychological adjustment of the teens. There were few differences based on the MAR or ART used, and teens did not differ in their psychological adjustments. There were also no increased family strains among the children born through collaborative (third party reproduction with donor sperm or donor eggs) reproduction methods.
The very first study to examine these issues – in the UK in 2008 – showed that families with children using ART (without a genetic or gestational link between the parents) continue to function well as the child reaches early school years. Where there were differences in a mother-child relationship, they reflected more involved parenting by the assisted reproduction mothers who used egg donation and surrogacy. This may not be surprising given their challenges in becoming mothers, but their children showed positive psychological adjustment and did not differ as to family type.
As is often the case, research may inform what should be examined next. A few studies have looked at the impact of disclosure to children. Some have revealed that, in general, mothers who disclose their use of ART to their children have a more positive relationship. Some experts believe future research should collect more information from fathers as the more we know about the process of disclosure over time – from the different perspectives of various family members – the better the support for children and their parents.
“Families are families,” says Rebecca Z. Sokol, MD, MPH, former President of the ASRM. “It is reassuring to know that families who rely upon medical assistance to have children do not appear to suffer psychologically.” In fact, research shows kids and parents are doing well.
Now, you should only worry that you have – or soon will – teenagers!