I have whiplash.
Are children who grow up in families headed by lesbian couples not only psychologically on par with, but in fact less anxious and depressed, less aggressive and doing better in school than their counterparts in straight families? (Gawker’s take: “The Secret to Having the Perfect Child: Be a Lesbian.”)
Or are lesbians’ kids set up for a lifetime of therapy by the fact that they don’t know who supplied half of their genetic material?
Last week, the journal Pediatrics published the first longitudinal study of children conceived by donor insemination in planned lesbian families (that is, not raised by a lesbian couple after a straight marriage broke up). Researcher Nanette Gartell has been studying seventy-eight kids of lesbian couples since 1986; the children were conceived with by known, not-yet-known and permanently unknown donors, and include a families whose mothers stayed together and whose mothers separated (56 percent). Gantrell’s findings are conclusive: “the 17-year-old daughters and sons of lesbian mothers were rated significantly higher in social, school/academic, and total competence and significantly lower in social problems, rule-breaking, aggressive, and externalizing problem behavior than their age-matched counterparts.” She chalks up some of better social adjustment to the disciplinary styles employed by mothers in the study: they used “verbal limit-setting” to discipline, and were less likely to use corporal punishment and “power assertion” than heterosexual fathers. And among the couples that split, 71 percent shared custody, a much higher percentage than among divorced straight couples.
Just a few days later, Slate’s Double X blog produced this gem: “The Sperm Donor Kids Are Not Really All Right.” Researchers Karen Clark and Elizabeth Marquardt, authors of a new study called “My Daddy’s Name Is Donor” and of the piece itself, wrung their hands over a host of purported emotional harms done to kids who are conceived through donor insemination. They sprinkle statistics—“ donor offspring are more likely than the adopted to have struggled with addiction and delinquency and, similar to the adopted, a significant number have confronted depression or other mental illness”—with laments from donor-conceived adults: “My existence owed almost nothing to the serendipitous nature of normal human reproduction, where babies are the natural progression of mutually fulfilling adult relationships, but rather represented a verbal contract, a financial transaction and a cold, clinical harnessing of medical technology,” British author Christine Whipp told them. Clark and Marquardt dramatically conclude that donor-conceived children “have, like everyone else, a biological father and mother, two people whose very beings are found in the child’s own body and seen in his or her own image reflected in the mirror.” How could this possibly square with Gantrell’s research?