SINGAPORE: While some online have described a public campaign to raise awareness of fertility issues as “offensive and distasteful”, organisers I Love Children (ILC) told the media on Thursday (Feb 4) they anticipated the backlash, and that it was "basically on purpose".
Public relations firm Asia PR Werkz's Managing Director Cho Pei Lin said she had been working with ILC for more than 10 years since it was first set up in 2005, but none of the past campaigns had gained as much traction as this one.
"The idea was to be tongue-in-cheek, attention-seeking and cute," she said about the campaign that started this month, adding that in past years, ILC had put up the same facts at train stations, but they received a much more lukewarm response as they were presented in a less quirky fashion.
The cartoon eggs and sperm that appeared in the advertisements, as well as the bright colours used, could have attracted more attention to the campaign than usual, said ILC general manager Celine Yeo.
ILC president Joni Ong said the group was happy that "amid the many negative comments, there are many, many positive ones".
She added that the group's ultimate purpose was to start conversations between couples about having children. Members of the public are invited to submit questions about fertility issues on the website.
"Even if I get one question from the advertisements, I am happy," she said.
FERTILITY NOT JUST A WOMEN'S ISSUE: ILC PRESIDENT
Some online posts have called the campaign “patronising and condescending towards all women”.
But Ms Ong stressed that they were not specifically targeting women, and that fertility was an issue for both men and women.
In about 50 per cent of the cases, the problem lies with the men, said Dr Peter Chew, one of four doctors that answer questions from the public on fertility as part of ILC.
"Couples assume that fertility can be done at will. That they can have babies anytime they want. Or they think that by delaying it, they can use technology. But all this technology is very complex and time-consuming, and they may not get the success rate they want," said Dr Chew.
Another doctor, Dr Ann Tan, also raised this point, recalling one patient who had gone to fertility doctors for about a decade before Dr Tan tested the patient's husband and found he had no sperm.
"Fertility issues have always been around. I am heartened to say that people are more open to talk about fertility issues. However (that) still (happens) more for women than the guy, perhaps. So the women always like to think: 'It is my fault, and perhaps I will go for checks first'," said Dr Tan.
"But ... in this day and age, we should be more aware and couples should come to seek screening together," she added.
In a Facebook page on Wednesday, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) had also commented that the campaign was "scare-mongering", and would have a negative emotional impact on those who had lost pregnancies or suffered from infertility.
But Ms Ong said that she herself had suffered from fertility issues, and conceived her first children, twins, using In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF).
"We understand the pain ... We are not coming from a lofty place as people who just pop out children," she said.
The organisation understood that the decision to have a child was "a very personal one between a husband and wife", but what it wanted to do was to reach out to those who did want to have children or were open to it, Ms Ong said.
Alluding to Singapore's low birth rate and the possible impact on the future economy, Ms Ong added: "We stand here as Singaporeans first and foremost ... We do need to keep Singapore young."
CAMPAIGN PART OF ANNUAL AWARENESS PROGRAMME
The campaign, which includes advertising in “high traffic volume areas” such as MRT stations, is part of ILC’s annual fertility awareness programme that culminates in its Fertility Awareness Month in June. While Ms Cho said details have yet to be finalised, this will include events such as talks, roadshows, contests and activities.
The intent behind the programme is to highlight the risks of late pregnancies which include increased foetal abnormalities, and hypertension and diabetes for the mother.
The ILC found, from a survey in 2015, that risks associated with late pregnancies did not affect 31 per cent of Singaporeans and Permanent Residents in deciding when to have children. In 2013, it was 18 per cent.
Other promotional events ILC has planned for the fertility awareness programme include a tea date, where 100 couples will listen to speakers talk about couple issues - an event ILC said more than 450 couples signed up to attend - as well as a bus, sponsored by SBS Transit, which will park at various high-traffic locations such as shopping malls to disseminate information about fertility, finances and work-life balance to lunchtime crowds.
The bus has been operating yearly since 2007 and the tea event started in 2010.
Financial counselling is offered as part of the programme.
"We have financial planning experts who come and share with them (on) how to plan financially before you have a baby, and how much does it really cost to have a baby," said Ms Ong.
The NGO is supported by sponsors including Ms Cho’s Asia PR Werkz, SBS Transit, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital and Abbott, ILC said in a press release.