Research published in the journal Fertility and Sterility has shown that the quality of parenting and psychological adjustment of egg donation families is generally on a par with that of donor insemination (DI) and IVF families. Mothers and children from 17 families created by egg donation, 35 families created by DI and 34 IVF families were interviewed as the children approached adolescence.
The research team, who at the time of the study were based at the Family and Child Research Centre at City University in London, compared the responses of the families to interviews and questionnaires. The participants are part of an on-going study into the development of children from families created by assisted conception, at three centres across the UK. The research team was assessing the parents' marital and psychological state, the quality of the parent-child relationships, the father's contribution to the parenting and the children's socio-emotional development. The team had previously interviewed the same participants when the children concerned were 4.5 years old, finding that egg donation was linked to greater parental psychological well-being compared to the other methods of assisted conception looked at, as well as adoption, and that none of the children had psychological or developmental problems.
In the latest study, the researchers - Doctors Clare Murray, Fiona MacCallum and Susan Golombok - found no differences between the children from egg donation and IVF families. Children from the families created by egg donation were 'well adjusted' socially and emotionally, and the parenting skills did not significantly differ between the groups. However, there were some differences between the egg donation and DI families, which the researchers anticipate reflect 'lower levels of sensitive responding of egg donation mothers toward their children compared with DI mothers'. They found that DI mothers had a tendency to become more 'emotionally over-involved' with their children than egg donation mothers. However, the differences in these factors was relatively small, suggesting that none of the mothers interviewed were functioning badly. While the children of these families were also all functioning well, the researchers did find that children born from DI were more likely than egg donation children to experience bullying at school. The team suggests that 'having a mother who is more likely to be over-involved might render children more vulnerable to negative reactions from their peers'.
In their conclusions, the researchers suggest that the differences between the different types of families may in some way reflect the different pattern of genetic relationships within them, or be linked to secrecy surrounding the use of donate gametes. Children lacking a genetic link to one or both of their parents, they found, were unlikely to be told of the method of their conception, with only 17 of the egg donation children and two of the DI children having been told of their origins. Children born following IVF using the parents' gametes were far more likely to have the method of their creation explained to them, with 26 of the 34 children being interviewed having been told. The researchers suggest that one reason egg donation and DI parents do not inform their offspring is perhaps because they themselves experience more social stigma or that they believe it would be harmful for the children to learn about their origins.