Parenting and Contemporary
City University, London
The reproductive technology that resulted in the birth in 1978 of Louise Brown, the first “test-tube” baby (Steptoe and Edwards, 1978), has led to the creation of families that would not otherwise have existed. This procedure, more appropriately described as in vitro fertilization (IVF), has not only allowed many people who would have remained childless to become mothers and fathers but has also had a fundamental impact on the way in which parents may be related to their children. With IVF, when the mother's egg and the father's sperm are used, both parents are genetically related to the child. When a donated egg is used, the father is genetically related to the child but not the mother; and when donated sperm are used, the mother is genetically related to the child but not the father. When both egg and sperm are donated, both parents are genetically unrelated to the child, a situation that is like adoption except that the parents experience the pregnancy and the child's birth. In the case of surrogacy, neither, one, or both parents may lack a genetic link with the child, depending on the use of a donated egg, sperm, or both. As Einwohner (1989) has pointed out, it is now possible for a child to have five parents: an egg donor, a sperm donor, a birth mother who hosts the pregnancy, and the two social parents whom the child knows as mom and dad. In addition, an increasing number of lesbian and single heterosexual women are opting for assisted reproduction (Patterson, in Vol. 3 of this Handbook), particularly donor insemination, to allow them to conceive a child without the involvement of a male partner. In these families, there is no father present right from the start, and many lesbian families are headed by two mothers.
In this chapter families created by the different types of contemporary reproductive technology are examined, with particular attention given to the issues and concerns that have been raised by these procedures and to the findings of research on parenting in these new family forms. Although there is a growing body of empirical research on families created by assisted reproduction, many investigations have focused on children and not on parents. Only those studies that have addressed parenting are discussed in this chapter.