Teens Born Via Sperm/Egg Donation or Surrogacy Are Doing Fine

Dawn Davenport


How are donor conceived kids and their parents doing

Are kids conceived thru 3rd party reproduction (donor sperm, egg, embryo, or surrogacy) less attached to their families and are their parents less happy?

People have speculated for years that families and children conceived through third party donation (donor sperm, donor egg, donor embryo, and surrogacy) would be less attached, have different parent-child dynamics, and be less psychologically adjusted than families and teens that were conceived. The research is beginning to come in to answer that question.

Teens Conceived Thru 3rd Party Reproduction

As the mom of teens and beyond, I’m wary of research on “how the kids are doing” that looks at young children—even elementary school aged children. If we want to really assess the impact of third party reproduction on the kids and families we need to follow these children and families into the teen years and beyond.

Adolescence is where kids start wrestling with their identity and the bloom is off the parenting rose—so to speak. If we are going to see differences, it is more likely that these will appear during adolescence. Fortunately for us, some of the research is now coming in.

One longitudinal study has been following 88 families formed by third party reproduction matched with 57 families formed through natural conception for 14 years. The families covered donor sperm (31), donor egg (28), and surrogacy (29). Both the mother and the adolescent were interviewed and asked to fill out questionnaires.

The researchers used standard measurement tools to assess:

  • Parent psychological well-being,
  • Parenting and family functioning, and
  • Adolescent psychological adjustment

In other words, it was a well-designed study. The number of families studies wasn’t large, but that is common in longitudinal studies.

Families and Kids Are Doing Just Fine

No significant differences were found between families who conceived through donor insemination (sperm donation), egg donation and surrogacy compared to those families who conceived naturally.

Some have expressed concern that families formed via third party reproduction would differ in parenting quality, attachment, and psychological adjustment. The results of this study and others indicate that these families are highly functioning in relation to parent psychological well-being, and the quality of adolescents’ relationships with their parents. Parents who used donor sperm, donor eggs or surrogacy are not more likely to reject their child or have increased strain in parent-child relationships at adolescence. The teens did not differ from naturally conceived teens, regardless whether they knew how they were conceived.

Have the Teens Been Told How They Were Conceived

The researchers also wanted to know how the teens who had been told of their conception were doing and if they differed from the teens that didn’t know.

Some of the third party reproduction parents in the study have disclosed to their children how they were conceived: 39% of donor sperm families, 64% of egg donation families, and 86% of surrogacy families. Some were told as young children and a few were told over the age of 10. (3 DS families, 5 ED families, and 1 surrogacy family told their children when they were 10 or older.) I’m not surprised by these percentages because they reflect what we see at Creating a Family as well.

Adolescents who were aware of their conception showed a clear understanding of it, with the majority expressing a neutral or indifferent attitude. They did not differ in their psychological adjustment from those teens conceived via third party reproduction who had not been told or those teens conceived naturally.

And this my friends, is what we’ve been saying all along. It is not a big deal to children whether their parents used donor egg, donor sperm, or a surrogate. The big deal is having been lied to by not being told. I wouldn’t be surprised if the full impact of not knowing their medical history hits these adolescents as they enter their adulthood, but I doubt it will effect their psychological adjustment or relationship with their parents.

For a really great discussion of all the existing research on how donor conceived families, single mom families, lesbian families, and families made possible by surrogacy are doing, listen to this interview I did with the wonderful Dr. Susan Golombok, one of the preeminent researchers on these topics.


Do the results of this study surprise you at all? What can we do to encourage more families who conceive via donor egg, donor sperm, or surrogacy to tell their children?

Other Creating a Family Resources You Will Enjoy


First published in 2015: Updated in 2017
Image credit: Grant

10/05/2017 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Blog, Infertility, Infertility Blog | 7 Comments

7 Responses to Teens Born Via Sperm/Egg Donation or Surrogacy Are Doing Fine

  1. Avatar Birth Moms Today says:

    Working in the adoption field I always wondered if there had been conclusive research done on the differences of loss felt by a child placed for adoption verses a child born from a surrogate or donor situation. I wondered the effects of both the Birth mother and her child in a surrogate experience. I know all too well the joy and grief that accompanies the adoption choice and couldn’t help but wonder about other parent child loss scenarios.

  2. Pingback: Teens Born Via Sperm/Egg Donation or Surrogacy Are Doing Fine 10/05/2017 | by Dawn Davenport | Infertility & Adoption Counseling Center, LLC

  3. Avatar narilynn says:

    How can you say it’s no big deal to be told that one or both of your parents does not want to raise you? How can you say it’s no big deal to be told that you may never know how many brothers and sisters you have or what their names are?

    You think everything is fine as long as they are told early and that the information itself is no big deal because their absent parent did not want to take care of them, and never has taken care of them, so they won’t miss what they never had.

    If people won’t miss what they never had, then people who are not parents, who for whatever reason have not had any kids, won’t miss the kids that they never had and never took care of right? How can you have an expectation that someone needs to mourn the loss of someone that never even existed except in their mind yet simultaneously hold the belief that it is no big deal for someone to have a real parent in existence who does not want to and has never taken care of them?

    Is telling someone that they are infertile or that their spouse is infertile no big deal if they are told early and often? If the doctor tells them right away and does not sugar coat it does that make living life with that reality glorious? They wind up making the best of the situation while dealing with the situation that is not fair or just. They might decide to have a kid outside their marriage with someone other than their spouse just so they can have a kid but that is not what they really wanted to do, it’s the best they could do the closest they could get given the crappy unfair situation. It’s not that they don’t love the kid they end up with but they would still like to be able to have what they wanted originally and what is fair. Well is it that unreasonable to think that a person might love who raised them because it’s the best they can get in a crappy situation?

    Here in your own words is another post. For the purpose of gaining insight and empathy I’ve swapped the viewpoint to that of a person whose parent is absent subsequent to donating gametes.

    “A hidden secret””that few want to admit is that some” people “still grieve the” parent “they never had” in their daily lives”…the” parent that made them and did not want to raise them. “These feelings of grief often catch” people “by surprise. And just as often fill them with guilt.”

    “They are happy. They love” whoever raised them. “They are grateful and thankful and all the other “__fuls” that they should feel. But still, amongst all this fullness, there is a whole in their heart for the” parent who exists but “that never was” there for them but is” very much in their hearts and mind.”

    “Many” people “feel shame and guilt in the face of this grief… a sense of being disloyal to” people who raised them that they love. “What a confusing place to be.”

    “Grief is a Process, Not a Switch

    You may always feel the loss of” being raised by the parents who made you and the family you actually belong to “or having”genetic” parents raise you, “but it need not be overwhelming. You also need not feel guilty. Carole LieberWilkins, a therapist specializing in adoption and family building options, summed it up well”

    And here I flip the view point on Carol Lieber’s words from the same post.
    “The hardest thing about reproductive loss is saying goodbye to someone we never said hello to. Our sadness and depression over the loss of our genetic parent is grief. But unlike the grief we feel when a real person dies, separation grief means saying goodbye to someone who is alive but absent by choice, not death. When there is an actual death, we have ritual around it. We have funerals and wakes, or we sit Shiva, and make social calls. We go to church or temple, and often light candles. People bring casseroles to our homes and say, “I’m so sorry for your loss.
    But when we are told that our parent did not want to raise us in order to give some other person a child to raise, when we need to confront that we were given to someone who does not look like our parent, is nothing like us, and we realize we may never hear our grandparent laugh, or see our partner’s intelligence reflected in us, no one brings us a casserole and no one says they are sorry for our loss. Worse, they tell us we did not loose a parent because they never acted like a parent and they are just a donor and we are their donation. There is no name to give to a person who created us for they refuse to recognize them as our parent, even though we feel exactly like a real person who has lost a parent because we have. That’s because the parent is so real to us because we came from them and they are our our parent even if they refuse to admit it and don’t realize it.

    Just realize that telling early your still telling a thing that is a big sad traumatic deal and there is no way to put a positive spin on the situation of not being raised by a biological parent anymore than you can put a positive spin on not getting to have a biological child.

  4. Avatar Jen says:

    So good to hear important and helpful research. Even if there are problems we have responsibility to know so we can help the kids. Hope more of these studies going on. On a slightly related topic talking and telling, struggling to find nice not too graphically medical story books on egg donation to tell our small boys. Any ideas? Had seen one with a duck who shares her eggs but can’t remember title.

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      More studies are going on. Make sure you listen to the last Creating a Family show we did with Dr. Susan Golombok last spring. Great show and her groundbreaking research on donor conceived families. Also, we have a list of books for explaining egg donation to kids. https://creatingafamily.org/infertility/suggested-books-for-adults-and-kids/

      • Avatar narilynn says:

        Well thanks for posting what I wrote. I really hope you will apply your words of “grief is a process not a switch” to people who lost out on being raised by one or both biological parents and who lost out on being raised among their maternal and paternal relatives and who lost the ability to know and be known by their maternal relatives during their formative years and likely after them as well. Not all will grieve but it should be anticipated as it’s the likely reaction to loss. If someone is put into a position where something of theirs is kept from them the likely reaction is not happiness it is sadness and pretending that it won’t bother them is naive. You have to remember that you are not telling them something about their conceptions your telling them who they are and are not related and you are explaining the absence of half their family. Conception has zero to with the thing actually being told and using that word turns your truth telling into a lie and the tellers into liars; the people raising them did not conceive them together using someone else’s gametes…one of them can’t have kids with the other they did not conceive a child together one of them conceived a child with someone else who is their other parent and that parent is absent on a contractual agreement. If your going to tell the truth don’t do it and make it sound like the people raising them conceived them. If biological relatedness is unimportant don’t pretend to be biological parents by implying they conceived or reproduced or that they are through some sllippery loophole biological parents if the biological ceonnection ended when the pregnancy ended (and no breast feeding someone else’s offspring does not make a woman that kid’s biological mother).

    • Avatar narilynn says:

      If the duck shares her eggs and they don’t hatch all she shared was eggs. If someone made an omlette and that was the end of it then all she shared was eggs. If the eggs hatch and ducklings come out she shared her eggs and then her ducklings.

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