Helen was 14 years old when she didn't care that she was a surrogate.
"My mum is still mine." She told UK researchers who were conducting a research study on the mental well-being and health of children born via egg donation, surrogacy, and sperm donor that her father was still her dad. Helen is not the real name of this woman.
Simon, a 14-year old boy (also not using his real name), told researchers that he had been talking to a friend at school who said he was an accident. 'I knew I wasn't an accident. I was wanted and it made me feel special.
The study, which has been in development for two decades, shows that the children are fine.
When we started this study, more than 20 year ago, there were concerns that the lack of a biological connection between the child and parents could negatively impact their relationship, and even the wellbeing of the child. Lead author Susan Golombok is a professor emerita of Family Research and former director of Centre for Family Research, University of Cambridge, UK.
The study found that children who were born through egg or sperm donations and surrogacy are psychologically well adjusted at age 20. This is especially true if their parents informed them about the birth history of the child before they turned 7.
This research shows that the way families function is not affected by having children in a different or novel way. Golombok stated that the desire to have children seemed to be more important than anything else.
The study was deemed important by clinical psychologist Mary Riddle. She is an associate professor at Pennsylvania State University.
Riddle, a researcher who wasn't involved in the study said that the results weren't entirely applicable to the United States, because surrogacy is practiced in different ways in the UK.
According to Golombok 2020's book, "We Are Family: the Modern Transformation of Parents & Children", surrogates may become part the family and participate in the upbringing the child that they helped bring into this world.
In the UK, intended families often know their surrogate before the surrogate's pregnancy, whereas commercial surrogates in the US are often matched by agencies and do not have prior relationships with families for which they carry babies.
Riddle added that 'partial surrogacy' is more common in Britain, where surrogates are impregnated with sperm from the intended father, and therefore are the biological mother of their child.
She added that gestational surrogacy is more common in the US and is thought to have fewer psychological and legal risks.
Early communication with a child can help.
The study published in Developmental Psychology on Wednesday followed 65 children from birth to age 20. This included 22 surrogates, 17 egg donors and 26 sperm donors. The study also included 52 families that did not receive any help. Researchers interviewed the families at the ages of 1, 2, 3, 6, 10, and 14.
The study found that young adults who knew their biological origins by age 7 had better relationships with their mothers and that their mothers' anxiety and depression levels were lower.
Golombok noted that children born via surrogacy experienced some issues with their relationships around the age of 7. 'This seemed to be related because they were more aware of surrogacy by this age', he said.
She said, "We visited these families when the kids were 10 and the difficulties had vanished." "It is interesting that the same problem has been seen among international adopted children." This may be due to the fact that they are forced to deal with issues of identity earlier than other children.
Children begin to ask questions and notice pregnancy at the age of 3 or 4, according to clinical psychologist Rebecca Berry. She is an adjunct faculty in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Grossman School of Medicine, New York University.
Berry, a researcher who wasn't involved in the study, said that 'to satisfy their curiosity, they will begin to ask about babies and how they got here as a means of trying to understand what brought them to this place.
Children as young 7 years old will have an understanding of genetics and may be surprised to learn that they are not genetically related to either parent, according Lauri Pasch a professor of psychology at the University of California San Francisco who specializes on infertility.
Pasch, a researcher who wasn't involved in the study but was contacted via email, said that the current belief is that parents should share their story of donor conception as early as possible with their children. This way, if they were asked when they became adults, if they had learned they were donor-conceived, the child would reply that they "always knew."
She added that this allows children to learn the information as they grow, rather than later in life when it may come as a shock or surprise and could hurt their confidence in their parents as well as their identity development.
There are a few differences
In terms of maternal depression and anxiety, there was no difference between families formed through surrogacy or egg or sperm donations and those with children who were not assisted in conception. The study also found that there were no differences between the relationships of mothers with their partners in the home.
Golombok explained that mothers who conceived their babies using donor eggs had less positive relationships with their families than mothers who conceived via sperm donation. This was likely because of insecurities over the lack of genetic connection between them and their children.
The study found that young adults who were conceived through sperm donations reported less family communication than those who were conceived via egg donation. Golombok suggested that this could be due to the greater reluctance of fathers to reveal they are not genetic parents.
By the age of 20, only 42% of parents whose children were born via sperm donation had disclosed the child's history. This compares to 88% for egg donors and 100% for parents who have used surrogacy.
Many children responded that they didn't care how they were born.
Many children replied, "It's no big deal." Others said, "I've got other interesting things happening in my life," while I replied that I have more interesting things to do. Golombok stated that he enjoyed talking about the topic. It's nice to hear directly from the kids themselves. I don't believe any other study has done that.
Golombok advised that once the child has been told about their birth, they should revisit it from time to time.
There is this idea that parents will tell their child, and then nothing else. She said that you should continue to have these conversations with your child to allow them to ask age-appropriate questions as they get older.
Golombok said that many parents who participated in the study used children's books designed specifically for this purpose. Then, they can bring their child's story into the narrative.