Does the television presenter Kate Garraway make you want to get pregnant? Or, more specifically, does a mocked-up picture of a wrinkled and “old” Kate Garraway with a huge bump? As things stand I’m not feeling too fertile right now. Show me a photo of a young Bruce Springsteen and perhaps I’ll change my mind, but the Get Britain Fertile campaign, an initiative to “remind” women of the existence of our biological clocks (and boy, do we need reminding – it’s a veritable media wasteland as far as commentary on female bodies is concerned), just isn’t doing it for me.
Others are similarly nonplussed, not because fertility isn’t something we think about, but because when you’re reminded at every turn of your decreasing worth as a woman as the ravages of age consume you and the time bomb that is your reproductive organs ticks on, one more voice barely adds to the resounding chorus of: “Why aren’t you pregnant yet?” It’s a cry always uttered in such a shrill soprano that some women can magically tune it out, rather like those anti-loitering devices outside shops that only teenagers can hear.
You can see the campaign’s rationale, the bald attempt at shock tactics, the marketeers’ belief that the only reaction a young woman could have to a fecund old lady would be disgust, but it’s counterintuitive. What with advances in medical science, the image has the reverse effect. When I first saw it my initial reaction was: “Well, if you can get pregnant at that age, then what the hell is there to worry about?” Not the angle they were going for.
I’m being flippant. We are seeing a rise in late pregnancies, and the initiative comes from a good place. Some have accused the advert of being anti-feminist. I disagree, not because it’s supposedly targeted at both men and women (this I don’t buy for a second) but because, at base, it has women’s best interests at heart. Or, at least, the best interests of those who would like to conceive.
While I’m wary of anyone or anything that tries to tell women what they should be doing with their bodies, it’s difficult in this case to dispute the medical evidence that time does indeed run out. And I’m wary of how modern feminism sometimes seems to make it feel as though any remark about women’s bodies is off limits.
Of course, women are aware of their own physiology and may find Garraway’s little reminder patronising. A straw poll of friends and acquaintances demonstrated that fertility is certainly on our minds. And yet, if the IVF statistics are anything to go by, the previous generation had a startling ability to bury its head in the sand.
Unsurprisingly, the most anxious friend is a doctor with all the facts. She describes herself as “scared shitless”.
The constant media memos on the condition of our wombs are almost certainly a response to women in their forties who are struggling to conceive now. We’re used to hearing “Don’t leave it too late” with such frequency that it’s only natural those of us who want children will feel a tad anxious, though not, it has to be said, anxious enough to raise the issue with our partners unless we are drunk. The drunken fertility row essentially involves a young woman slurringly harassing a man about his intentions re: childbirth to the point where he is basically crying, then promptly falling into a sleep reminiscent of the baby she so wishes she had (“Not now, but at some point in the future. I just need to know”).
Not that all young women are fussed about fertility (or drink as much as I do), though most of those who said they felt relaxed about their childbearing potential also admitted feeling so-so about the idea of kids in general. It’s those of us who know we want children one day who seem to find the scheduling issue (as I will euphemistically refer to it from now on) intimidating.
When you’re in no position to look after a child, certainly not financially, and, thanks to the recession, have only just got your feet on the bottom rung of the career ladder (if at all), being told to “get fertile” is a bit of a joke. Bearing fruit just because you might not be able to have a baby later on isn’t a great reason to bring a new person into the world, especially one you’d probably have to abandon your job to look after, as you couldn’t afford the childcare and your partner isn’t willing to join the ranks of househusbandry.
And there lies the other barrier: your partner. While some of my peers insist they’ll get a donor, or freeze their eggs, others say “finding a relationship with a decent human being” is more of a worry, or that the person they’re with now isn’t ready, or right. “I worry about rent, boob exposure/strapless tops, my sleep deficit, the decline in broadband coverage in my area, my job, too many chips, and wine headaches,” said a friend. “But I also worry that if my boyfriend isn’t ‘the one’, then he’s stolen all my best years.”
Others are concerned that as they never got pregnant by accident while displaying a youthful and lackadaisical attitude to contraception, it must mean they’re infertile – something to which I confess. From worrying about being too fertile to worrying that you’re not fertile enough, I’ve got it covered, Kate. I don’t need Get Britain Fertile to make me want a baby; a small child in duffel coat will do that. Not now, obviously. At some point in the future. (I just need to know.)
Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett is one half of the Vagenda Magazine. She blogs for the New Statesman at The V Spot