Wednesday, 6 January 2010

The Semiotics of Pregnancy Paraphernalia

I have, as I suspect many of you have, accumulated a plethora of pre-pregnancy paraphernalia. And earlier, whilst idly sifting through these goodies, I started to look at the packaging design and ponder upon what it all means.

(It would be fair, at this juncture, to ask if I have a little too much time on my hands - there was a smattering of snow in town today so I got to leave work at 4.30pm, so maybe.)

This is what I have observed:

With ovulation tests there is definitely a strong correlation between the cost of the test and the perceived desire for a child.

Exhibit A:

This internet cheapy is clearly designed more for medical establishments rather than hopeful humpers. It's design is clinical, efficient, no messing (except when you try and wee on one of these tiny strips of cardboard - I defy anyone to have that kind of urination accuracy). There isn't a lot here for the likes of us, so we move on.

Exhibit B:

The price of these tests leaps to the cost of two family sized meal buckets from KFC - if you buy this you are clearly throwing money at the problem. And why not? It promises you'll "GET PREGNANT SOONER."

The manufacturers recognise anyone purchasing this will be quite keen on the idea of procreating so, just in case there is any doubt about what this is all about, you have the little baby's booties. Essentially saying "buy this and shortly you'll have teeny, tiny feet to clad". And as an extra sweetner, "FREE INSIDE: EARLY RESULT HOME USE PREGNANCY TEST". Well, Yeah, I've come a cropper on that one before.

And that brings us to...

Exhibit C:
Now we are talking.

If you are going to shell out a quarter of £100 for tests, they have to be modern, accurate and foolproof. No deciphering which line is the darker for this test. It's even got its own telly screen giving you a smiling face when you are ovulating:

And by gum, they know you are teetering on the edge of desperation when purchasing this test.

Just in case you missed it, see what they have only gone and done. They haven't just put a baby on the packet, they have put a baby (of indeterminate sex so you can project your heart's own desire upon it) reaching out, straining to hold you.

Come to Mummy.

You know, just in case you weren't keen enough.

- - -

Next there are the pre-conception vitamins.

Again they can really go to town on this. No one would bother to take these unless they were serious about the whole baby making business.

If you don't know what a mother-to-be looks like they have helpfully put one on the packet. Gazing lovingly at her bump. Saying: this could be you, calm and serene during your pregnancy because YOU know YOU have given your offspring the best possible start in life with this folic acid and omega 3.

Is it just me or does anyone else have the urge to pull her T-shirt over her belly? That looks drafty.

Pregnacare on the other hand have a whole host of vitamins for every stage of your pregnancy, so unlike the aforementioned they don't want to lull you (or your wallet) into a false sense of security that one pill will take you through from conception to birth. So this is clear:

It is saying "If you are a lady and gentleman who love one another very much, and do a special grown-up cuddle, take this pill full of all kinds of things you have never heard of - let alone thought important (inositol, anyone?) - then Mr Sperm will meet Mrs Egg and you will achieve a healthy conception."

And I particularly like the the packaging on this 'for him' box of zinc tablets. "Look Gents, if you just swallow one of these a day your beloved will stop being such a cold, miserable, cow and actually hold your hand once in a while, and we all know what hand holding leads to ...."

- - -

All this, and I haven't even started on perhaps the most interest of all, the pregnancy test.

This is when our favourite brands have a difficult tightrope to tread. For one person a double line, or word 'pregnant' will signify untold joy, for others, a hangover far more lasting than the Bacardi breezers ever gave.

The packaging has to suit both audiences.

Unfortunately I'm all out of tests so that discourse will have to wait for another day.

(But don't let that put you off coming back).


  1. Love this. you are hilarious.

  2. Maybe the pregnancy test marketer people try to be careful in how they portray the idea of pregnancy, but let's face it. We're the ones who spend the big bucks, testing day after day after day for months (years?) on end! If I were the advertiser I'd definitely go for the cute baby reaching longingly.

  3. Very funny! looking forward to the pregnancy test one (and when did they start marketing zinc at men TTC??!)

  4. These are hilarious. I've always been a "happy face" girl (in the early days I called it a "baby face").

  5. Special grown-up cuddle, hmmm....???!

    Blackmaily-shit, isn't it?

  6. Kudos to the manufacturers for really understanding their consumers (i.e. how to make the most $$)

  7. LOL...Come to Mommy.

    The men's paraphernalia is so subtle, you don't know what its really for. Why isn't there a bouncing baby or super sperm on that package?

  8. I've got to hand it to pregnacare conception .... what culd be better than a sperm and an egg on the packaging?

  9. Nice analysis. I particularly like the patheticness of "for women who are TRYING [desperately, hopelessly] FOR A BABY"

  10. You are my sunshine on a very snowy day!

    Like you, I would be able to display a variety of vitamins and ovulation sticks but not pregnancy tests - stopped buying them a long time ago.

  11. Hello!

    My name is Elisabeth, and I am an infertility / repeated pregnancy loss "veteran". You can read a little bit about me and my experiences in my blog: . I am completing a PhD in Counseling Psychology, and my dissertation is focused upon the impact of infertility on marriage. I believe strongly that there is a need for better support services for men and women who are undergoing IF diagnosis and treatment, and my hope is that this study will aid in the development of such services.

    I am contacting you after stumbling across your blog. I am recruiting participants for my study, and wanted to invite you and your husband to take part. All that would be involved would be the completion of an online survey, that would take approximately 20 minutes. All couples who complete the surveys will receive a voucher good for a pair of free movie tickets at a Regal Cinemas.

    Please let me know if you are interested by emailing me at .

    Best of luck to you!

    Member of a married, heterosexual couple
    Both you and your spouse are between the ages of 20 – 45
    You do not have any biological or adopted children living in your home
    You are not currently pregnant
    Either you, your spouse, or both has received an infertility diagnosis
    You have received treatment for infertility in the past six months, or plan to do so in the next six months
    Both you and your partner are willing to participate & have access to the internet

  12. Ha ha, funny. thanks for the laugh. it's too true. I had purchased the ultimate smiley face digital o-tests and never once got a smiley. I did get pg that cycle though - but lest anyone think that throwing money at the problem actually worked in that case, it didn't. The pregnancy was not viable. Maybe that lack of a smiley face was trying to tell me something.

  13. ha ha! Thanks for making me smile. I can't wait to see you tackle the First Response "Fertility Test..." If you aren't familiar, the television ad goes something like.. "Can I get pregnant? Did I wait too long?" and then the sensitive narrator is all "Let us tell you first" like hearing that you are barren from a pee-test will somehow soften the blow.

  14. I actually really like the plain, medical, 'we're a TEST, here, folks. We're doing SCIENCE' packaging of the internet strips. The smug happy couples/babies/bellies on everything else makes me angry and self-pitying. Especially directly post-miscarriage, when I tend to throw the pre-natal vitamin box with picture of smiling round-bellied child-bride on it across the room and bellow abuse at it.

    (Incidentally, you don't pee directly on the teeny weeny card-board strips. You pee in a cup and dip. No one expects your aim to be THAT good).

  15. Cheers Al, I try!
    Oh yeah, finch, they know what buttons to press. Bloody marketers.

    Oh Dr Spouse, if they can find a gap in the market they will – so zinc for me it is.

    Ahh, the early days Megan. When we actually believed there was a correlation between happy faces and pregnancy.

    Cheers Wannabe, you’ve been pretty quiet on your blog of late…

    HFF, “Special grown-up cuddle” was how it was described in the ‘you and your body book’ my mum thoughtfully placed on the bookshelf when I was about 9. Oddly it has stuck with me.

    Indeed APlusB, they know how to prize the bucks from our pockets.

    Because, Rambler, I reckon most men would still be a bit scared if they see a baby as a possible outcome. They are only going along with the whole thing for the sex.

    It is a pretty obvious image isn’t it? Corymbia

    I take that as a compliment Lost in Space.

    I know Bunny, it sound so dismissive doesn’t it, “well they tried, but can’t actually do it”.

    Ta Kelly

    Cheers Secret D – are you snowed in?
    Thanks Elisabeth, sounds interesting though not sure the husband is keen one questionnaires – not after what happened last time on this blog.

    Hi Astrid, Interesting that you clearly managed to ovulate but the tests didn’t show it, clearly not so fallible.

    Luckily, lovecomesfirst, we don’t have that advert on telly.

    To be honest, Nuts, I don’t actually pee directly on any of them – I know my co-ordination limits – but even still…

  16. This is a great post! The teasers are all around us, selling us the promise of a little one. Too funny!

  17. you know just this week I had to sit through a market research survey thing on pregnancy/Pre/Post natal vitamins, you should have seen some of the concept packaging - not to mention some of the "hypothetical" pricing structures - it would make you weep!

  18. Excellent post! I remember standing in the queue at our on site shop at work when they started stocking clearblue OPKs behind the counter. I wanted to buy some but I was in the queue ahead of three lads who were trying to figure out what they were. "Must be somethin' to do with babies, nudge nudge, wink wink." I then had to dispel my embarassment and buy the sodding things in front of at least twenty factory staff, as they were selling for, wait for it, 40 cent, and I was damned if I was going to buy them for 100 times as much in my local pharmacy. Cringe.

  19. Hah! I love the helpful hint "Before Conception" on the (rather optimistically named) Father-to-be pill bottle. I mean, just in case he kept taking them after conception, or something..?

  20. Thanks Murgdan, does it bring back memories?

    Ta TABI, yeah, it is definitely more than ovulation tests they are selling.

    That sounds intreiguing Serendipity - do blog it!

    Cringe Jane, that is akin to just telling everyone you work with "yes I am having lots of sex."

    Quite Twangy, if they need to specify it will only help prior to conception the male involved needs a lesson in the birds and the bees.


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