Monday, June 7, 2010

Research shows good results for 17-year-old children born to lesbians using donor insemination

I remember the mid-1980's. My daughter was a toddler. Lesbians planning to bear or adopt children alone or in couples was still pretty new. There was no research, and as research came out, it faced the criticism that there were no longitudinal studies. San Francisco-based psychiatrist Nanette Gartrell saw a need and stepped in. When she told me she was planning to study through adulthood the children of lesbians born of donor insemination, it sounded ambitious and very far off. But that's how the US National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study began.

Today, in the journal Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Gartrell and collaborator Henny Bos published the results of their research on the psychological well-being of the children at age 17. You can read the entire article here. The researchers compared the 78 children of lesbians to norms used extensively in studying adolescents (a data set of 93 children from Dr. Thomas Achenbach) and found that the children of lesbians did better on every measure than the comparison group.

Gartrell and Bos speculate that these findings may be the product of how well planned-for they were; the parents active involvement in their children's education; and the use of verbal limit-setting more than corporal punishment or power assertion.

I found the comparisons within the group of children of lesbians studied especially interesting. 56% of the co-parenting couples had separated by the time their child was 17, and the children whose mothers had separated fared as well as the children whose mothers remained together. (71% of those who separated had shared custody, a figure substantially higher than divorced heterosexual couples). About one-third of the children were conceived using known sperm donors. Of the two-thirds conceived with unknown donor semen, 62% were permanently unknown and 38% were available to be identified when the children reach 18. There were no differences in well-being among these groups either.

This research won't settle the policy issues of course. It won't make Florida repeal its adoption ban, and it won't convince anyone who makes a career of arguing that children do best when raised by their married biological parents. But I'm grateful to Nanette Gartrell for her foresight to begin this work almost 25 years ago