When conducting your initial research on egg donation you were most likely focused on the short-term process like how to find the right match for your family. But now you might specifically want to know more about the long-term experiences of parents and children in families created using egg donation once the baby arrives.
As a fertility psychologist, I often get asked what it feels like to have a baby born via egg donation, and if the baby will feel like their child or if they will be able to bond. In this guide, we’ll go over several studies that illustrate the parent-child relationship in families created using egg donation, and hopefully give you peace of mind!
Infant days: bonding with your donor-conceived child
No matter how your child is conceived, the answers to these questions are not black and white. Because just like any other pregnancy, some parents immediately feel a parental connection, even while their child is in-utero. And for some it may take months post-delivery. And even once the baby arrives, it can be very normal to feel uncertain about having a baby using someone else’s DNA. But these feelings tend to dissipate. A recent study conducted in 2020 found that women who were pregnant via egg donation had concerns about whether the child would feel like their own, but by the end of the first year, they felt secure and confident as the child’s mother.
Early childhood: relationship satisfaction
In terms of parental psychological health, studies have established that egg donation parents are psychologically well-adjusted in terms of their levels of depression, anxiety, parenting stress, and relationship quality with their partner. They also reported lower levels of parenting stress compared with IVF and sperm donation parents when children were ages three to eight years old. And, egg donation mothers reported greater relationship satisfaction than IVF and sperm donation mothers. Similarly, fathers' depression scores did not differ between family types, but egg donation fathers reported lower levels of anxiety than comparison groups. At age 12, no differences were found between family types in mothers' levels of depression, anxiety, or relationship satisfaction. So basically, parental psychological health is not much impacted by how their baby was born.
Another study also found no differences between egg donation, sperm donation, and natural conception mothers or fathers in levels of parenting stress, depression, anxiety, or relationship satisfaction when children were one year of age. At ages two and three, no differences were found between family types for mothers or fathers on any of the psychological health measures. When children were age 10, egg donation mothers did not differ in their scores for maternal distress compared with sperm donation or natural conception mothers.
A US-based study of 31 egg donation families with a child aged six months to five years found that when assessing family interactions, the sample scored lower than norms on conflict scores, and higher than norms on cohesion scores. Meaning, parents whose child was born via egg donation had better perceptions of interpersonal relationships within the family than a normative sample.
Parents whose child was born via egg donation had better perceptions of interpersonal relationships within the family than a normative sample.
Another study found that egg donation mothers expressed greater enjoyment in motherhood and greater warmth toward their infant than natural conception mothers, and greater pleasure in proximity to the infant. Greater emotional involvement with the baby was also found among gamete donation parents compared with natural conception parents.
How do children feel about being donor-conceived?
What about the emerging research on donor conceived children’s perspectives of the quality of their relationships with their parents and their own psychological well-being? The European Study of Assisted Reproduction found children conceived through egg donation to be well-adjusted in terms of their socioemotional development at ages both three to eight years of age and at age 12.
Relationship quality collected using a semistructured interview designed to obtain children's perspectives on family relationships indicated that children in egg donation, sperm donation, and natural conception families viewed their parents similarly in terms of their affection, harshness, and anger. No differences were found between groups at either age in children's interview ratings of maternal or paternal warmth and affection, availability, or amount of interests/activities shared with parents. Unlike in natural conception families, egg donation children did not report a decline in shared activities with their mothers and fathers between the two timepoints. And in another study, when children were asked about whether they would change anything about their family, the vast majority said that they would keep their family the same as it is, suggesting contentment with their current situation.
When [donor-conceived] children were asked about whether they would change anything about their family, the vast majority said that they would keep their family the same as it is, suggesting contentment with their current situation
Longitudinal research shows that children born via egg donation do not differ in their psychological adjustment from children born through other forms of assisted reproduction or through natural conception. At all timepoints egg donation, children were similar to comparison groups of behavioral and socioemotional adjustment and in adolescence they showed similar scores for self-esteem and positive psychological functioning.
Overall, studies that have looked at the long-term outcomes regarding family well being and the quality of relationship between parent and child indicates that families conceived via egg donation function well in terms of child adjustment, parental psychological health, and parent-child relationship quality. Some researchers conclude that this may be because those who continue to have fertility treatments despite failures may have strong coping skills and thus may not be as affected by everyday parenting issues. With regard to the quality of parent-child relationships, researchers have consistently found a high quality of parenting relationship between parent and child across studies.
Dr. Saira Jhutty is a licensed clinical and industrial organizational psychologist in private practice specializing in fertility. She is also a Founding Medical Advisor for Cofertility, and has spent the last 11 years focusing on assisting people build their families using third-party reproduction. Dr. Jhutty’s expertise lies in the evaluation of and consulting with potential surrogates and egg donors, and meeting with intended parents to discuss their decision to use alternative methods to build their family. In the past, Dr. Jhutty worked as Director of Surrogacy and Egg Donation at Conceptual Options, previously leading all gestational carrier and egg donor assessments there. Through her work with Cofertility, Dr. Jhutty provides guidance to ensure Cofertility remains at the forefront of ethical standards, including egg donor screening, intended parent counseling, and support for donor conceived children and families. For all members of Cofertility’s Freeze by Co egg freezing programs, she also makes herself available for office hours, through which members may ask questions directly within our private community.
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