Lesbian parents more satisfied and less stressed

11 December 2013

Lesbian couples who start a family through assisted reproduction with donated sperm are more satisfied with their relationship and evince less parental stress than heterosexual couples who have undergone IVF treatment. This is shown in a new dissertation from Uppsala University.

The dissertation Same, same but different: Lesbian couples undergoing sperm donation studies and compares the quality of the couple relationship, mental health, and parental stress among lesbian and heterosexual couples who undergo assisted reproduction. The investigation was carried out from the beginning of the assisted-reproduction treatment to some three years after completion of the treatment.

‘It was previously known that the period from planning to have a child up to a year after the birth of the child is especially sensitive. Undergoing assisted reproduction can make this period even more trying. Lesbian couples are moreover a relatively new group of patients and parents in Sweden that we thus far have little knowledge about’, says Catrin Borneskog, a midwife and doctoral candidate at the Uppsala University Department of Women’s and Children’s Health.

The study shows that lesbian couples are satisfied with their relationship. They enjoy good mental health and report a low level of parental stress. The quality of their relationships is also higher than that of heterosexual IVF couples.

‘These findings are especially important as in many countries assisted reproduction is not permitted or available to same-sex couples’, says Catrin Borneskog.

However, the degree of satisfaction with the couple relationship declines in both groups if the first measurement is compared with the measurement after completion of the treatment.

When parental stress among lesbians is compared with that of heterosexuals who have undergone IVF treatment and a group of parents with spontaneous pregnancies, the lesbian couples evince the lowest levels of parental stress compared with the other groups. The results also show that mothers experienced more parental stress on the scale of “role restriction” than co-mothers and fathers did. An in-depth analysis shows a clear association between a high level of satisfaction with the couple relationship and a low level of parental stress.

The dissertation is part of the Swedish national multicentre study of gamete (egg and sperm) donation. The study is a psychosocial long-term follow-up of gamete donation and IVF treatment in Sweden in which both donors and recipient couples are included. Initially there were 165 lesbian couples and 151 heterosexual couples involved, and the final study also included couples with spontaneous pregnancy. Data was gathered via questionnaires.

The dissertation will be publicly defended on 13 December.