'No longer taboo': More Belgian women choose to become single mums

'No longer taboo': More Belgian women choose to become single mums
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An increasing number of Belgian women are actively choosing to become single mums, with artificial insemination and in vitro fertilisation (IVF) clinics registering a steep rise in the number of single women seeking their services over the past few years, l'Avenir reports.

According to figures recently released by the Belgian Register for Assisted Procreation (Belgrap), from 2016 to 2020 the number of artificial inseminations (which insert sperm directly into a woman's cervix or uterus) and IVFs (whereby a woman's ovaries are fertilised with sperm in a laboratory) sought by Belgian single women increased by 20% and 18% respectively.

The data also suggest that, in the absence of the Covid-19 pandemic, the increase would have been even more dramatic: between 2016 and 2019 the number of artificial inseminations and IVFs undergone by Belgian single women grew by 36% and 47% respectively.

According to fertility experts, the sharp rise is most likely due to a confluence of factors, including women's increasing economic independence as well as changing societal perceptions about the status of single women.

"Several causes can explain this trend," said Professor Annick Delvigne, the head of the Medically Assisted Reproduction Centre in Liège. "Artificial insemination and IVF treatments have been allowed for a long time in Belgium: it is therefore no longer taboo. And then there is the increase in women's autonomy, which means many no longer require marriage or a partner. A partner that women sometimes take longer to find today."

'Regaining power'

Delvigne's words were echoed by Sarah Murru, a Professor of Sociology at KU Leuven, who claimed that the data provide further evidence that "the unique parenting model is increasingly being questioned".

"Women are regaining power over their bodies," she added. "There is a growing awareness that it is possible for them to make choices for themselves."

However, Murru also noted that women's growing participation in the labour force, although a positive development in some ways, has made it increasingly difficult for many women to find partners.

"We are in a society where we encourage women to work," she said. "There is a challenge for women to be able to embrace the same careers as men today. If they postpone this life project, it may be because they have not found a partner, but also maybe because they feel that motherhood could hinder their career opportunities."

'I want my baby now'

One particularly intriguing fact highlighted by fertility experts was that the ages of the women seeking artificial insemination and IVF treatments in Belgium is becoming increasingly varied.

"I have been doing this job for 30 years," Delvigne said. "Before, the women were over 35 years old and felt threatened by their biological clock. The context was a bit negative. We are now seeing other groups of women arriving: younger ones, those who say 'I can raise a child alone', or 'I want my baby now'."

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Delvigne remarks are confirmed by Belrap's own figures, which noted that births by single women aged 25-34 following IVF treatment rose 43% between 2016 and 2019.

However, Delvigne cautioned that deciding to become a mother is not a decision that young women should take lightly. "Deciding to raise a child alone requires a certain stability and maturity," she said.

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