The ad starts with a crying baby. An exhausted new mother flicks on a light, then lumbers to a bathroom. She's in obvious pain, and the commercial doesn't sugarcoat it, showing details including her swollen stomach, mesh underwear and thick pad.
"Postpartum recovery doesn't have to be this hard," reads the tagline at the end, before displaying products from a company called Frida Mom.
The 60-second spot was meant to air during one of the biggest events in television, the Oscars. But ABC and the Academy Awards rejected it for being "too graphic," Frida Mom told TODAY Parents.
The rejection drew sharp criticism. Actress Busy Philipps said on Instagram that she was "sick of living in a society where the act of simply BEING A WOMAN is rejected by the gatekeepers of media," arguing that erectile dysfunction ads don't receive the same scrutiny.
CNN producer Sonia Moghe wrote in an opinion piece that she wished she had seen "more honest depictions" of what life looks like in the days after delivering a child. She called the ad a missed opportunity to share the reality of that experience with a major audience - and to build empathy for new mothers.
"What does it say to women giving birth - or the partners who watch them struggle - that an ad that offers them self-care products to cope with one of the most difficult times of many women's lives is 'too graphic' for family viewers?" Moghe asked.
Neither ABC nor the Academy Awards responded to The Washington Post's request for comment. According to TODAY Parents, guidelines from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences prohibit commercials of "political candidates/positions, religious or faith-based messages/positions, guns, gun shows, ammunition, feminine hygiene products, adult diapers, condoms or haemorrhoid remedies."
Frida chief executive Chelsea Hirschhorn baulked at seeing postpartum recovery products grouped in with those other subjects.
"We were really surprised to hear that feminine hygiene was put in the same category as guns, ammunition, sexually suggestive nudity, religion and politics," she told TODAY Parents. "I was surprised, in this day and age, to see that whomever at whatever organisational level at the Academy and at ABC put in writing that they would analogise feminine hygiene to some of those other, more offensive categories of advertising."
The company published its commercial on Instagram and YouTube, writing, "it's just a new mom, home with her baby and her new body for the first time. Yet it was rejected. And we wonder why new moms feel unprepared."
Supportive comments poured in.
"This is exactly what it's like," one viewer wrote. "I had no idea until I went through it. How disappointing that this was pulled."
"My wife had to do this as well," said another. "She gave birth to all 3 of our children, and on the first one my oldest daughter, she was in the bathroom doing exactly what this lady was doing. I came in and told a joke and she was laughing but it hurt her soo much. She was in pain and then threw tissue paper at me, I love her so much."
"Wish I had seen this when I had my first (of 4) children when I was just 21 years old," added a third. "I would have experienced less fear and feelings of isolation. Thank you for providing me with a tool I can share with my own daughter when the time comes in her life."
This isn't the first time Frida has encountered pushback while trying to market its products. In 2018, the company attempted to run a billboard campaign for a peri bottle used for post-delivery hygiene. But according to Vox, advertisers in multiple cities bristled at the language Frida wanted to use in the ad: "Trust us, your vagina will thank you."
Hirschhorn told TODAY Parents that the squeamishness around the realities of motherhood makes it difficult for women to be prepared.
"We wonder, after experiences like these, why women remain so completely unprepared to navigate this very fragile time period," Hirschhorn said. "It's because there are very narrowly defined ways in which we can share information."