A growing number of people fulfill their dreams of starting a family using egg donors, sperm donors and surrogate mothers. But they often struggle with a set of non-traditional questions. How will we bond with a child that's not totally ours? How will grandparents and other family members react to this unorthodox genesis? Will society treat these children differently? Experts say finding answers to such questions is key to raising happy and healthy children.
Kim Paleg was in her late 30s when she and her husband began trying to have a second child. "I just continued to having miscarriages," she says. "So, by the time we got to the fertility specialist, our options were somewhat limited because I was getting older. So, the fertility specialist recommended using an egg donor."
Egg donors are young women who -- for a fee -- provide eggs for infertile couples. Based on a short physical and medical description of women who worked with their fertility specialist, the Palegs chose a donor. Several eggs were artificially inseminated with her husband's sperm, and implanted in her womb. Doctors hoped at least one would grow. As often occurs with this procedure, Ms. Paleg ended up expecting twins.
She says it was not until the last months of pregnancy that she started to feel attached to her babies. "It made sense to me because it wasn't an ordinary pregnancy," she says. "It was very different from the way I had felt when I had my first son. I think by the last few months I felt as attached as I could have. I was very nervous about having twins, but less nervous about whether I was going to love them or whether I was going to feel about them the way I felt about my first child."
The Palegs are among an increasing number of couples who are having children with outside help: from egg donors, sperm banks, surrogate mothers, technicians who perform in vitro fertilization or other treatments like gamete intra-fallopian transfer.
Diane Ehrensaft is a developmental and clinical psychologist. "In a 6 year period, from 1996 to 2002, the number of babies born using some form of assisted reproductive technology increased over 100%. It was actually a 120% increase," she says.
According to Ms.Ehrensaft parents of these children often struggle with many concerns. "Is my child going to be O.K?" they would ask themselves. "Is there any risk to my child for being born with these new scientific procedures? Will my child bond to me? How will the world receive the children?"
In her book, Mommies, Daddies, Donors, Surrogates, Professor Ehrensaft writes that children conceived through reproductive technology are more likely to have a feeling of being different, just like adopted or foster children. "Some people refer to children conceived using egg donors or surrogates as half adopted because there is an outside person who doesn't raise the child who's responsible for half the child's genetic makeup," she explains. "But then there is a parent right in the house under the same roof who indeed is the genetic parent of the child. What's different for these children than adopted children is, number one, they have two parents who always intended to have them and set out in this way to have them. Number two, these are children who are made of science not sex."
And it shouldn't be a secret. Diane Ehrensaft says in many cases it's better for parents to tell their children how they were conceived. "Tell the baby as soon as the baby is born so you get used to telling the story and it rolls off your tongue," she recommends. "By the time the baby can understand words, it's already a familiar story."
She also says that support from the extended family, especially grandparents, is an important force in raising self confident and happy children.
Kim Paleg, whose twins are now 8 years old, feels fortunate that she got encouragement from her family. "My sisters were very supportive," she says. "My father whom I had also thought might have some feelings about them not being his bloodline, also, had no concerns at all. He was also very supportive and loving of the babies. And it's never been an issue for anyone in the family."
However, psychologist Diane Ehrensaft says not all grandparents are accepting. "On the other end of the spectrum are grandparents who literally disinherit their children or grandchildren because they find these ways of having babies unacceptable," she says. "And if the babies don't have a blood tie to them, they don't accept the babies as being part of their families."
Professor Ehrensaft says everything suggests that children conceived with the assistance of a donor or surrogate can grow up to be perfectly healthy and happy adults. She predicts that a hundred years from now, people will look back and say 'Why were we even talking about that at all as a problem? It's just another way to have a family.'