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The Campaign to 'Get Britain Fertile' is All Kinds of Wrong

20th May 2013

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The pregnancy test manufacturer First Response is launching a patronising and misguided campaign to get Britain’s women pumping out the next generation at a younger age. And its focus includes the current crop of aspirational, educated women leaving university and entering the world of work.

A few months ago, I found myself laughing with a mixture of horror and incredulity at a Singaporean fertility campaign, alerting their young professionals to the ever-decreasing efficiency of their baby-making machinery.  But I could not even bring myself to laugh when I found this campaign being replicated in the UK.

Though the official campaign is yet to launch, a poster for the campaign, featuring a photo of Kate Garraway doctored to look heavily pregnant and significantly older, has begun its circulation. The aim is to draw attention to the increase in the number of women choosing to start a family in their late 30s and early 40s, and the fertility difficulties they face. Maybe First Response genuinely believe they are being helpful by informing all us evidently reproductively ignorant women of Britain that our body clocks are a-ticking. “Look at the old pregnant women” their poster says “doesn’t it revolt you? Isn’t it pitiful?”. And we are supposed to respond appropriately with feelings of horror, shame and a sudden desire to get bonking quick lest our ovaries shrivel and die whilst we faff about playing Working Girl.

The choice of imagery for the posters is disgraceful in itself, making the body and choices of a woman an object of condemnation as a consequence of her age. But in addition to the distasteful poster campaign, there is much more that is deeply wrong and insidious about the Get Britain Fertile Campaign.

For a start, it assumes that the women of Britain are woefully uninformed of their own physiological condition. After all, why would you even begin to think a woman is well-placed to understand her biology and life-circumstance, and make decisions accordingly – she’s only a woman, silly! A woman who endured countless health education and biology lessons at school, as well as engaging in conversations with other women about women’s issues, surely isn’t having babies at the last minute for any good reason, gosh no!

The campaign completely minimises the significance of the reasons why women are choosing to have children later in life. A quote from Ms Garraway on the website states that she understands that careers and finances “seem important” but “you only have a small fertility window.” True as this may be, Garraway neglects the further truth that, for those women who dare to dream of a career, the prospects of combining a long and successful career and having children are pretty poor. Women have to compete with men in the world of employment - men who do not get pregnant, do not have to take leave to give birth, and are under less societal pressure to drop everything and dash home to a sick child for fear of being judged a deficient parent.

Though the general population, and the majority of MPs, support more flexible, ‘family-friendly’ working hours which would help Britain’s working parents to find a better job-family balance, there are not many companies that share these sentiments. As a consequence, those employees that require more flexible working conditions, predominantly mothers, are often overlooked when it comes to advancement opportunities. To choose to have children at an early age, when your career is at its most crucial stage, is to choose to gamble everything you have worked hard for. For some this may be worth it. But for others, it can mean a life time of feeling frustrated, undervalued and exhausted.

And then there is the relatively recent addition to existing difficulties in the form of the government’s austerity budget. The slashing of welfare provisions and public services left, right and centre are hitting parents who rely on any form of financial supplementation, and public sector and part-time workers, hardest. And who make up the greatest proportion of these groups? You guessed it, women.

So why, when economic, social and employment cultures are so hostile to young mothers, would any remotely aware, career-desiring woman choose to have children early on in life? If an organisation was genuinely concerned with empowering women in their reproductive role, they would be addressing all the factors that are currently forcing those decisions for us. But First Response’s ‘well-intentioned’ campaign is nothing but a shameless and insulting act of self-promotion.

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