Surrogacy and the ‘last chance to have a baby’ examined on stage in e-baby

“Women are judged so quickly,” says actress Danielle Carter. “If you can’t have a baby, some people say it wasn’t God’s plan for you, or it wasn’t meant to be. But who are we to judge if a woman wants to try IVF or surrogacy to have a child?”

Carter is about to play Catherine, a high-flying Australian lawyer, who has endured 18 failed IVF cycles before turning to surrogacy, in a provocative new stage comedy, e-baby.

Danielle Carter (in black) and Gabrielle Scawthorn (right) in <i>e-baby</i>, on until November 16 at the Ensemble Theatre.
Danielle Carter (in black) and Gabrielle Scawthorn (right) in e-baby, on until November 16 at the Ensemble Theatre.  Photo: Clare Hawley

“This is Catherine’s last chance to have a baby,” Carter says. “She’s using her own eggs and her husband’s sperm to create a child. But a kind stranger is carrying her child for her. The play is about what she does in order to look after that child – which is growing in someone else’s womb, and the mind flip of that.”

Gestational surrogacy is an arrangement in which a woman carries and gives birth to a baby for another person or couple. The surrogate mother might also be the egg donor or she might carry the embryo for a couple and be unrelated to the baby herself.

In Australia, commercial surrogacy is illegal. A couple cannot pay another woman to carry their child. In NSW, Queensland and the ACT, it is also an offence to enter into international commercial surrogacy arrangements – with penalties including up to two years’ imprisonment.

Altruistic surrogacy, where a woman volunteers to carry the baby for no financial benefit, has recently become legal across Australia – in NSW in 2010 – but it is not legal for same-sex couples or single people in Western Australia or South Australia.

Director Nadia Tass says that although e-baby is a comedy, she expects audiences will be divided over the subject matter.

“I had one very religious person say to me: you really shouldn’t be doing this play because it perpetuates things that are wrong. They believe if a woman is not meant to have a child, they shouldn’t have one. I think this play will open up debate. This is an area that needs to be addressed – IVF, surrogacy and adoption – because Australia is lagging behind.”

Actor Gabrielle Scawthorn, who plays Nellie, a young American mother-of-two who volunteers to be the surrogate, says she hopes the play will open people’s minds.

“Infertility affects so many people but it’s like depression, we don’t talk about it,” Scawthorn says. “Everyone in the audience will know someone who has gone through it. When I first read the play, I thought it was so refreshing – we just don’t see these kinds of topics on stage. It is controversial in terms of what we are actually talking about, but the characters are super-relatable.”

Written by Jane Cafarella, an Australian playwright, journalist and cartoonist, e-baby exposes much of the nitty gritty of the medical process involved in conceiving through IVF.

“It follows Nellie and her husband through all the needles, the transfer, the ultrasounds and the pregnancy,” Scawthorn says. “Poor Nellie is balancing her strong belief that this is the right thing to do with the reality of dealing with all the physical and emotional upheavals. And Catherine is following Nellie’s journey through Skype. It is set today so you can have two people doing this incredibly intimate act but they are on opposite sides of the world.”

Tass sees the play as “incredibly current”.

“It not only examines the ethics of the surrogacy but also the technology that is being used for these two women to communicate,” she says. “We are operating on a global level and not a parochial one.”

e-baby plays until November 16 at the Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli; $25-$71.


Surrogacy has hit the headlines many times in recent years as high-profile couples express gratitude to the surrogate mothers who carried their babies.

Supermodel Tyra Banks and her partner Erik Asla posted a photo of their newborn son on Instagram in January, offering thanks to “the angel of a woman that carried our miracle baby boy for us. We pray for everyone who struggles to reach this joyous milestone.”

CREDIT: AP ** ADDS THIS IS FIRST OFFICIAL PHOTO OF TWIN DAUGHTERS AND ADDS DATE OF BIRTH ** In this first official photo of twin daughters provided by Robin Layton, actors Matthew Broderick, right, Sarah Jessica Parker, left, and their son James Wilkie Broderick pose with their new daughters Marion Loretta Elwell Broderick, left, and Tabitha Hodge Broderick on Monday, June 29, 2009, in New York. The girls were born Tuesday June 23, 2009. (AP Photo/Robin Layton)Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick with their son James and twin daughters Marion, left, and Tabitha in 2009, shortly after their birth via surrogate. Photo: AP/Robin Layton

Actress Lucy Liu also shared a photo of her baby son who was “brought into this world via gestational carrier”.

Actors Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick have twin daughters by a surrogate mother. Parker announced the twin pregnancy in 2009 and faced a media storm of interest leading the actress to say she was worried about the surrogate.

“On a daily basis, on an hourly basis, I am greatly concerned for her health and safety and the safe delivery of our children,” Parker, then 44, said in an interview at the time.

When baby Faith Margaret was born via surrogate to Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban in 2010, the couple released a statement saying: “No words can adequately convey the gratitude that we feel for everyone who was so supportive throughout this process, in particular our gestational carrier.”

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