Secrecy May Hurt Donor Insemination Families
Keeping Secrets From Children Born by Artificial Insemination May Cause Problems
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
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
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
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