Women in the UK are the target of a noxious new ad campaign aimed at warning them not to wait until the end of their baby-making days to try to become pregnant. Sponsored by the pregnancy test manufacturer First Response, the “Get Britain Fertile” ads feature the image of British television news presenter Kate Garraway cradling a fake pregnant belly and wearing makeup and a wig intended to make her look old and wizened. It’s a poignant choice for a spokeswoman, since Garraway, 45, who has a 7- and 3-year-old and has been public about her inability to conceive a third child, now wants to encourage other women to start their families earlier than she did.
Yet if her goal was to help reverse the trend of women delaying the age of motherhood, endorsing this campaign’s confusing and tasteless messaging wasn’t an effective way to go about it. First off, the image isn’t very original and looks suspiciously like a recent New York magazine cover with the title “Is She Just Too Old For This?” This photo is also meant to be provocative, but unlike the New York cover, which promotes a thoughtful article on the pros and cons of having children over 50, it seems as if the Garraway photo is intentionally offensive just to get attention. It doesn’t support the product, since a pregnancy test isn’t exactly going to come in handy for a post-menopausal woman who’s trying to conceive.
It seems as if the ad’s only purpose is to prey on women’s anxiety that they might miss out on motherhood. Creative suggestion: An image of a bereft old woman, not one caressing a belly that’s about to pop, might have made the point better. The same goes for giving 45-year-old Garraway a platform to share her real story.
As part of the campaign, First Response also conducted a survey that found that two-fifths of women from 18 to 46 would postpone having a baby until they were financially prepared. One third were waiting to find a partner, and one third were concerned about the cost of childcare. It seems as if these are really good reasons to wait to have a baby. Not only do these stats seem to dismiss the real pressures, such as women’s expanded economic and educational opportunities, poor job prospects and higher relationship standards that impact the extremely complex global trend of delayed motherhood, it piles on social shame with another gem. Supposedly, 70% of respondents think that women over 40 are too old to have a baby.
Of course, the strategists behind any fertility awareness campaign have a tough task finding the right tone: They have to impart a message that anxious women generally don’t want to hear. Even the empowering ads for egg freezing, which promise a potential solution of preserving one’s fertility, have to deliver a sobering dose of reality about how a woman’s egg quality declines after 35. Despite nagging mothers, inquisitive ob-gyns and umpteen alarming articles in women’s magazines and television plotlines, it’s hard to imagine that any woman has missed the memo. Yet studies on both sides of the pond reveal that too many women don’t know the basic facts.
Perhaps the government of Singapore will be more successful in peddling its message in the form of cautionary fairy tales. Being warned that my “egg-making device” will become “rusty and old” while looking at a cartoon of the Golden Goose standing next to her empty nest is a little easier digest than being admonished that I will be 70 by the time I’m knocked up.
Sarah’s website is Motherhood, Rescheduled. We welcome your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.