By on October 11, 2018

Understanding the Research about Parent-Infant Relationship Quality in Families Created by Egg Donation
Carole LieberWilkins, MFT

Last week I had the privilege of attending the meeting of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine in Denver, Colorado. It was at this meeting that recent research was presented from the University of Cambridge. For over a decade, Dr. Susan Golombok and her colleagues have been on the frontline of researching families created through egg, sperm, and embryo donation, as well as surrogacy. Most times, when intended parents or donors want to know the data about how “alternatively formed families” are doing, it is Dr. Golombok’s research that is cited. This year, Dr. Susan Imrie, a part of Dr. Golombok’s team, presented the paper titled, “Parent-Infant Relationship Quality in Families Created by Egg Donation”.

Immediately following Dr. Imrie’s presentation of this important research, I received an email with a link to an online article containing a highly negative and sensational title. The article distorted the research and simplified the complex results, which were disturbing to some prospective parents and those already parenting via egg donation. Had I not just heard, first hand, the actual research presented by the person who conducted the study, I might have had a completely different thought about its conclusions. This despite being aware that media frequently don’t get things right.

Then I was made aware of yet another online article on the same research. This article was slightly less sensational, but still focused on the negative. Neither of these media focused on the fact that these families are healthy and happy and that their relationships are thriving and ‘normal.’ They also didn’t talk about the fact that there was almost no differences between families created through egg donation and those created through IVF with the mother’s egg. That would undoubtedly not make headlines.

I asked Dr. Imrie to write something to clarify the reality of the research, what it said and did not say. This research is a snapshot in time of families where infants are an average of 11 months old. If you are already a parent, take comfort in exploring your own feelings and your own relationships with your children. This will give you confidence that your own family is thriving. If you need help continuing the process of resolving the way you became a parent, seek help for it. That is normal. Most of us struggle to get to parenting without our genetics. That does not mean your relationship is somehow damaged! As Dr. Imrie stated, families formed through donor conception are doing as well as any family created the easier way.

Here is her statement. The bold text is my emphasis, not hers.
Feel free to reach out to me if you have further questions.
Carole LieberWilkins, MFT
familybuildingclw@gmail.com

I’m a researcher at the Centre for Family Research in Cambridge UK, and for the last five years I’ve been working on a study with parents who used fertility treatment to conceive. I’ve been concerned this week about some of the inaccuracies in the press coverage of the study and I’m grateful to Carole LieberWilkins for giving me the chance to reach out to the PVED community and set the record straight.

The headline in the British newspaper, the Daily Mail, that ‘mums who use egg donation find it harder to bond with their baby’ is not what we found in the study. What we actually found was that egg donation (and IVF) parents and their babies were doing really well. Egg donation mums and dads were warm, emotionally connected and sensitive parents with high quality relationships with their babies. We did find some differences between egg donation and IVF mum and babies in how they were playing together, but these differences were very small and were within the range indicating very good relationships. Both egg donation and IVF mums were interacting with their babies sensitively and were creating a great environment to help their babies learn about the world. A handful of mums in the study did talk to us about finding egg donation challenging in the early months but this wasn’t the case for most mums that we spoke to. (Carole’s note: This is normal. Resolving genetic loss is a process and does not end the day we become a parent.)

I’ve also seen a CNN headline which said that egg donation mums lack confidence in their parenting; this also is not accurate. What we actually found was that older mums had slightly lower confidence in their parenting skills than younger mums, but on average all mums had pretty high confidence. Again, we’re taking about very small differences.

I think it’s important to stress that the press coverage focussed on the couple of areas in the study where we found small differences, rather than looking at the overall pattern of findings which showed that families with babies born through egg donation were very similar to those who hadn’t used donor eggs.

At the Centre for Family Research we have another study where we’ve been following families through egg donation over a 14-year period. Parents and teenagers are also doing really well in this study, with great relationships and no signs of problems. If you look at the overall patterns of results from both of these studies it’s clear that families through egg donation are thriving.

In our research at the Centre for Family Research we talk to parents (and children) in many different types of families, and what we find is really consistent. What matters for children’s wellbeing is the quality of family relationships, not what the family looks like or how the family was made. Children are most likely to flourish in families that provide love, security and support, and that’s exactly the environment that families in our studies are providing for their children.

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1 Comment
  1. Reply

    Marna Gatlin

    October 11, 2018

    Thank you for taking the time to,reach out to the community and hopefully put their minds at ease.

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