Brussels ‘bams’ are getting older

Sarhan Basem

Brussels, (Brussels Morning)- Brussels women who choose to consciously become single mothers (bam) are making that decision more and more later. So says fertility professor Herman Tournaye (Brussels IVF, UZ Brussel). This has consequences: since 2019, the number of babies who need both a sperm and an egg donation has doubled.

More and more women are consciously choosing to become a single mother (bam), De Morgen en Het Laatste Nieuws wrote on Friday, based on figures from UZ Gent, UZ Brussel, ZNA Middelheim and UZ Leuven.

According to BRUZZ, for a few years in a row, UZ Brussel has received an average of 650 to 800 bam requests. In 2020 there were 634 applications, last year that rose to 782. But only a third to half also start the process. Last year there were 463 bam routes.

“With us, we don’t see a big increase in the number of applications, but we see that the average age at which that application takes place is increasing,” says fertility professor Herman Tournaye. “My colleagues from other universities see this too. In the past, women were on average 38 years old when they applied, now almost all are 40 or older.”

According to Tournaye, that is not a positive evolution. “At that age it is already more difficult to get pregnant. It takes more time and it also costs more. Because many more women need both a sperm and an egg donation at that time. Finding an egg is not that easy and the law prescribes that a donor must be reimbursed for all expenses and the loss of salary.Where you can – with a little practice – produce a sperm cell in a minute, that easily takes several weeks for an egg cell.The costs then run from 2,000 to 2,500 euros and the is the applicant who pays for it.”


However, a positive trend that Tournaye sees is that of women around the age of 35 who come to have eggs frozen. “More and more women are registering around that age, fortunately also as bam, although they do not want to get pregnant right away. For example, as bam they do not yet have a partner at that time, but have their eggs frozen because they still hope to find a suitable life partner. That’s smart, because that saves you the search for donor eggs and the costs associated with it later in life.”

According to the professor, why women are registering as bam at an increasingly later age is a result of the zeitgeist. “In general, women are opting for children later and later. People first want to think about it longer. It is a different generation and a desire to have children is no longer a priority at a younger age.”

Still, the professor recommends thinking about storing eggs at a younger age when the desire to have children is not yet a priority, even if bam.

“If someone has not yet found a suitable partner at the age of 35, the question is whether they will find one in the next five years in order to fulfil their desire to have children. In addition, there are often more divorced men in that age group who may not wish to have children. The number of potential partners with a desire to have children is therefore decreasing. As a result, we also see some panic football: women who suddenly come with a partner they have only known for three months.These partners often give up quickly when they see the sudden pressure their shoulders, which is why one of our conditions in that case is best a relationship with stability of at least a year.”


Not everyone who registers as a bam starts the process, by the way. “It has to do with people’s choices,” said Tournaye. “Sometimes people sign up, but afterwards they find a partner and cancel their bam trajectory.”

“On the other hand, we also check whether someone’s social safety net is sufficiently large. We sometimes receive requests from women who have had breast cancer and who finished chemotherapy six months ago. What happens to the child if the woman relapses?”

“At the UZ Brussel we see about 300 to 400 treatment processes on an annual basis, half of which via IVF – where fertilisation takes place in the laboratory,” says Tournaye. “That is often a result of the double donation program or the use of previously banked eggs. If this is not necessary, donor insemination is sufficient. That remains the preferred method, but we are seeing the other method more and more often, also as a result of the failure of donor inseminations.”

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Sarhan Basem is Brussels Morning's Senior Correspondent to the European Parliament. With a Bachelor's degree in English Literature, Sarhan brings a unique blend of linguistic finesse and analytical prowess to his reporting. Specializing in foreign affairs, human rights, civil liberties, and security issues, he delves deep into the intricacies of global politics to provide insightful commentary and in-depth coverage. Beyond the world of journalism, Sarhan is an avid traveler, exploring new cultures and cuisines, and enjoys unwinding with a good book or indulging in outdoor adventures whenever possible.