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Secrecy May Hurt Donor Insemination Families

Keeping Secrets From Children Born by Artificial Insemination May Cause Problems

WebMD Health News

Aug. 4, 2004 -- Not telling children that were born as a result of donor insemination about how they were conceived may create tension and problems in the family later on, a new study suggests.

British researchers found mothers in families that told or planned on telling their children about how they were conceived using donor sperm and artificial insemination had more positive parent-child relationships than those who did not plan on telling.

For example, the study showed that disclosing mothers reported less frequent and less severe arguments with their children and viewed their children as less of a strain compared with nondisclosing mothers. The study also showed that disclosing parents viewed themselves as more competent parents than nondisclosing parents.

Although the study suggests that keeping secrets about donor artificial insemination may cause problems, researchers say the differences found in the study "did not represent dysfunctional relationships in the nondisclosing families but instead reflected particularly positive ratings in the disclosing group."

The findings appear in the July issue of Fertility and Sterility.

Nondisclosure May Cause Problems

In the study, researchers interviewed and polled 46 families in the U.K. with a child aged 4 to 8 years old who had been conceived using artificial insemination with donor sperm and evaluated the quality of the marital relationship, parent-child relationship, and the child's psychological adjustment.

By the time of the study, 15% of the couples had separated or divorced, but researchers found no differences in the separation/divorce rate between disclosers and nondisclosers.

Among the marriages that remained intact, there were no significant differences in marital functioning, such as mutual enjoyment, confiding, arguments, or other aspects of the relationship, and most couples reported a satisfactory relationship.

But in analyzing the parent-child relationships, researchers found differences between disclosers and nondisclosers on several measures:

  • Warmth and involvement: Nondisclosing mothers perceived the child as being more of a strain than disclosing mothers.
  • Conflict and control: Nondisclosing mothers argued more with their child than disclosing mothers.
  • Parents' perceived competence: Disclosing parents perceived themselves as more confident than nondisclosing parents.

The children's psychological evaluation revealed no significant differences in the number of psychological disorders between the two family types. But the nondisclosing mothers reported higher levels of conduct disorders among their children than the disclosing mothers.

Disclosure May Benefit Mother-Child Relationships

Researchers say it's been argued that secrecy about the child's donor conception status will cause tension in the family and interfere with communication between the parents and the child.

They say the more harmonious interactions between mothers and children in the disclosing families found in this study suggest that disclosure about donor insemination may benefit the mother-child relationship.

"The lack of difference in father-child relationships between the two family types indicates that nondisclosure may have a greater impact on the mother's relationship with the child than on the father-child relationship," write Emma Lycett, PhD, of City University in London, and colleagues.

But researchers note that openness doesn't necessarily produce better family functioning. They say another explanation may be that mothers who are inclined toward openness and disclosure may adopt a more relaxed approach to parenting in general and are less likely perceive their children's behavior as troublesome.

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