Since the birth of the first baby conceived through reproductive technology in 1978, the use of Medically Assisted Reproduction (MAR) has been quickly growing in advanced societies, with more than eight million children conceived to date. In some European countries, more than 5% of live births are now conceived through MAR. The introduction of reproductive technologies, such as ovulation induction, artificial insemination and in-vitro fertilization, has been revolutionary for those who suffer from subfertility and cannot conceive naturally. However, MAR is an invasive procedure that may cause distress during all phases of treatment. Despite growing interest from scholars and policymakers in MAR treatments, there is a lack of research on how MAR affects couples’ mental health.
In a new study published in Demography, Marco Tosi (University of Padua) and Alice Goisis (University College London) investigate whether and how couples’ mental health changes around natural conceptions and MAR conceptions. The researchers address the following questions: Does the mental health of couples undergoing MAR decline before pregnancy when couples struggle with infertility and use MAR to conceive? Are these couples able to recover in the long run? And is the mental health of women and men affected similarly?
The authors used data from the ‘UK Household Longitudinal Survey’ and distributed fixed effects models to estimate changes in men’s and women’s mental health before and after pregnancy. The results show that the mental health of men and women who conceived naturally improved around the time of conception; whereas the mental health of men and women who conceived through MAR declined in the year before pregnancy and then gradually recovered. This suggests that the stress associated with infertility treatments does not have long-term implications for the mental health of both partners. Mental health trajectories around MAR conception were similar for women and men. The results do not provide evidence supporting the idea that undergoing MAR affects mental health because it reduces economic resources or results in changes in employment and marital status. The findings highlight the ability of couples to recover after stressful treatments and the importance of considering long-term health trajectories before and after conception when studying the consequences of diverse reproductive experiences.