At-Home Fertility Test Doesn't Answer All Questions

April 9, 2009

More than 50 years ago, network censors prevented Lucille Ball from using the word “pregnant” to describe her, um, pregnancy on “I Love Lucy.” She instead had to say she was “expecting.”

Fast forward to 2009, where the leading home pregnancy test, First Response, appears on TV shows like “Gossip Girls” and in the movie “Juno.”

first_response_fertility_testAndrew Adam Newman reports in The New York Times that in addition to nifty product placement, First Response has rolled out a new advertising campaign built around three pregnancy-related products, including its newest one: an at-home fertility test that measures FSH (follicle stimulating hormone). FSH stimulates the growth of ovarian follicles in the ovary, so measuring it and finding a healthy level shows that one sign of fertility is present.

The test, performed on the third day of the menstrual cycle, is sold at major retailers such as CVS and Wal-Mart. It is not without its critics, however, who note that it has some obvious limitations — the test can’t gauge if there are problems with the uterus, cervix or fallopian tubes, or the man’s sperm. And yet the packaging seems to gloss over this:

In capital letters in large type, it says, “Are You Able to Get Pregnant?*” with the asterisk referring to smaller type that specifies that the product will not really answer that question, saying, “This test detects F.S.H. This test does not detect all fertility issues.” (Instructions inside the package emphasize that even women within the normal F.S.H. range who are under 35 and who have been trying to conceive more than a year, or over 35 and trying for six months, should consult a doctor).

First Response also makes a daily ovulation test. Ads featuring all three products ask: “Am I …” followed by “fertile?” “ovulating?” and “pregnant?”

“We really believe First Response can and should be the brand that helps women in the whole reproductive cycle,” Stacey Feldman, a marketing vice president at Church & Dwight, maker of First Response, tells the NYT. “It’s not really about one product — it’s about the system.”

First Response started running ads this week on AccentHealth, a CNN-produced program shown in waiting rooms, including 1,500 obstetrics and gynecology offices, and print ads will appear in the fertility magazine Conceive and on the magazine’s website.

Plus: Writing about a new study that shows children born to older dads have, on average, lower IQ scores, than to children born to younger dads, Lisa Belkin sees the potential for reconsidering our cultural attitudes toward gender and aging:

The push and pull between timetables and dreams, between our bodies and our babies, is at the core of many women’s worldview, which also means it is at the core of relationships between the sexes. This tension feeds the stereotype of woman as eager to settle down and men as reluctant, and it’s the crux of why we see women as “old” and men as “distinguished.”

If those underlying assumptions were to change, would all that follows from them change as well?

Read the whole piece.

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