The Cherished Child: Parenting after Infertility
I was talking with a woman last month who was in the midst of trying to decide about the next step on her infertility treatment journey. They have been trying to conceive for three years. She told me that what kept her going was knowing that they had so much love to give to a child. “One thing I know for sure is that when we finally have kids, they are going to be the most loved children in the world.”
There is some evidence that she’s right. Parents who have struggled to conceive make very good parents. Research shows that families created with the help of fertility treatment compare favorably with families that conceived without treatment, especially after the first 12 months. There is some research that infertility patients are more anxious during pregnancy and their child’s first year of life, but the anxiety usually passes after that. Parents that conceive through IVF tend to be more protective of their children; more child focused; and show greater warmth towards their children. These studies have been small, but this supports what I see in real life.
Parents who chose to adopt rather than stay in infertility treatment also make great parents. Studies show that adoptive parents invest more time and financial resources in their children than biological parents and “evidence a high level of strength in terms of warmth, communication, discipline, and cohesion.” Researchers speculate that “One of the reasons adoptive parents invest more is that they really want children, and they go to extraordinary means to have them.” Amen to that.
I have to admit that I worry about the effect of over protectiveness on kids, but I think our entire generation of parents is over protective, not just parents that conceived or adopted after years of trying. I don’t think we have a good grasp on how to weigh relative risks. We are overly worried about low chance risks such as stranger abduction; as a result we micromanage our kids’ lives because we are afraid to let them out of our sight. The older my kids get the more I believe that children need to learn certain lessons from failure and falling and figuring things out on their own. But that is the subject of a different blog.
Parents that have had to struggle to become parents sometimes have a hard time giving themselves permission to have the normal feelings of frustration that comes along with parenting. (See last week’s blog about a mom through surrogacy and donor egg.) They may feel let down after all the years of anticipation. They may think they don’t have the right to complain about being tired, or wishing for a day to themselves, or craving time to wash their hair and shave their legs. But fortunately, these feeling also usually pass with time. Most parents of two year olds and teens feel pretty darn entitled to their frustration, regardless how they got their kids.
Infertility can affect the quality of parenting in two ways. Infertility treatment results in a disproportionately large number of multiple births, and much research supports that parenting twins and triplets is much more stressful on parents. Also, subsequent attempts at infertility treatment for a second child can add significant stress on parents. I’ve not seen research on whether already having a child reduces that stress somewhat. I would also like to see more (any?) research on how parents of kids conceived through higher levels of infertility treatment (donor egg, surrogacy, etc.) fare as their children age, but I suspect they’re doing just fine because they too have so much love to give a child.
Everyday I see and hear from people who have struggled for years to create their families. I don’t know whether these kids are “the most loved in the world”, but I can certainly say that they are a very cherished group, and being cherished is probably the greatest gift we can give our kids.
Image credit: Sharon Drummond