Questions that intended parents face when looking to surrogacy are many. But perhaps the most important, and frequent, are how the process affects your future child.
Once given the diagnosis of infertility, many hopeful parents struggle with the all to real fear that this diagnosis can create. Although options and treatments are becoming better understood and perfected each year, many parents still must rely on surrogacy to start their process to parenthood.
The Definition of Surrogacy
Surrogacy is simply the method that hundreds of thousands of couples use each year when they are unable to carry their own child. Surrogacy is when another woman carries or gestated, the child for other people. In traditional surrogacy, the surrogate mother and the intended father provide the genetic material (egg and sperm) for the child. This technique can result in some less than desirable legal grey areas when it comes to parental rights. So, this practice has largely become outmoded. Replaced instead, with gestational surrogacy. Gestational surrogacy occurs when the surrogate mother is implanted (via in vitro fertilization) with a lab fertilized egg (embryo). This embryo is usually produced by combining the egg and sperm f the intended parents in a lab setting. Should one, or in some cases both, parents be unable to use their own genetic material, donor materials may be used. In gestational surrogacy, the surrogate mother has no genetic link with the child she is carrying.
Surrogacy itself can present parents with dozens of dizzying questions. How much will it cost? Will you need to travel? How to find a surrogate? But perhaps the most important question is the question of how it can affect the child later in life. Despite more than a handful of studies being done within the last 20 years, misinformation and confusion abound. Few concrete conclusions have been made to help address this question. However, many studies contend something that appears to be in stark contrast to popular belief. That, children born via surrogate have been shown to actually exceed some of the expectations of development and surpass their peers.
How Does Surrogacy Affect the Child?
In an impressive study, performed over the course of three years, researchers found some interesting links between children born via a genetic/gestational link (natural conception), Genetic link (intended mother egg donation for surrogate), and no genetic/gestational link (surrogate and donor egg).
In the first-year assessment, the researchers focused on the psychological development and adaptation of the parents. This was because the children were still a bit young to provide accurate information. Researchers found that parents of surrogate born children actually responded and adapted better to the psychological demands of parenthood better than those of the natural conception families.
The next investigational stage happened on the children’s second birthdays. Researchers focus on the mother-child bond as well as the child’s cognitive development and psychological adjustment. Mothers of surrogate children showed a more positive mother-child relationship. Whilst the fathers reported lower levels of parental stress than those displayed and reported by their naturally conceived parent peers. The parents of surrogate children seemed to be responding to their roles more positively than other parents. But, there are no discoveries in development and adjustment amongst the children.
In the third year of the study, researchers once again assessed cognitive development and psychological adjustment of the children, while simultaneously looking into parent-child relationships. Again, the parents of the surrogate born children displayed higher levels of warmth and interaction.
Following the conclusion of the first three years of the study, all participants were requested to follow up with researchers at year seven of the child’s development, in order to continue data collection. At year seven, nearly all of the original families agreed to further data collection. Of the families that participated, researchers again assessed mother-child relationships and the psychological adjustment of the child. Researchers found no significant differences among the children’s psychological adjustment or cognitive development across the three groups. The change they found, however, rested in the mother-child relationships. Mothers of surrogate born children are less positive in mother-child interactions than those of natural born couples. Despite these frictions present at age seven, research has found no detriment to the children’s development at this stage.
Conclusion of the Golombok
The Golombok study may suggest that parents of surrogate born children may display higher levels of positivity earlier on. But difficulties that are experienced during the conception and adolescent phases may be more pronounced in families that are built in unconventional ways. Despite these issues, however, it doesn’t seem to negatively affect the children’s development at that stage.
How does Surrogacy affect the child: Continuation
There is little research being conducted outside of this study on surrogate born children. But several studies have been devoted to the adjustment of children born to homosexual couples and those who were adopted. These studies may serve to tell us a little bit more about how children that are born via unconventional methods or are a part of unconventional family’s fare throughout adolescent development.
A meta-analysis conducted in 2005 took a closer look at internationally adopted children and the impact it had on the children’s development and behaviour later in life. The study concluded that while adopted children, both domestic and international, showed a higher incidence of behavioural problems, it wasn’t significant amongst the population. Which suggests that the majority of adoptees have a positive adjustment.
In a study that looked at the attachment security of children born to unconventional families found high and healthy levels of this type of security. Researchers compared 70 children, ages 6-12 born into homosexual families and weighted their findings against 317 children born through conventional means. Researchers concluded that there were no significant differences in attachment security between lesbian and gay households and conventional heterosexual households.
What the Data Tells Us
What we can hope to learn from this data is that, while unconventional methods are sometimes required to build a family- it does not, in any way, make that family unconventional. Familial constructs may differ in gender and conception. But what matters, in the end, is that parents raise children in ways that represent that affection. Surrogate born or conventionally conceived, all children have the ability to thrive and develop normally in a loving household.