BBC Radio 4, Thursday 30 April 2015
Written by Annie Caulfield and directed by Mary Ward-Lowery
To begin with a confession - I am not normally one for listening to a Radio 4 afternoon play and took on this review with some trepidation. I was worried that I would be stuck listening to a clichéd play about egg donation for 45 minutes, having been burnt too often by pieces declaring themselves to be 'poignant and true'. But Annie Caulfield's play Credit Card Baby has some truly touching moments and clever insights into egg donation.
The play follows two women and their trials and tribulations. First there is Sally (played by Helen Baxendale), a 45-year-old writer who is partner to Sean, 40, a freelance journalist. Sally feels guilty that, given her age, she can't get pregnant and feels she is denying Sean his chance to be a father. They go to a private clinic, paid for with credit cards and further debt, and are told by their arrogant bow-tie-wearing doctor that their best hope is to use donor eggs from Spain.
The second woman is Ines, a young nurse who, with her out-of-work electrician husband Rai, is struggling with a young family during Spain's economic downturn. Ines goes to her wealthy sister Helena for a loan. Helena is described as the beautiful one, who has married well, but she is unable to get pregnant and asks Ines to donate her eggs in exchange for money. Ines agrees to keep the procedure a secret from Rai.
The clinic also gives her information about donating her eggs to strangers, and Ines becomes caught up in the romantic nature of egg donation. She begins to see herself as some form of Freyja personified. She is further incentivised by the money offered, so she donates again. But then she has donor's remorse, fearing the child will be raised by horrible English people who come to Spain only to eat fish 'n' chips and shout at their children on the beach. After Ines develops ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, she is forced to come clean to her husband. He calms her fears and tells her he is fine with her donating both to Helena and a stranger (whom we now know to be Sally). But Rai harbours secret feelings of betrayal and likens it to Ines having an affair.
Back in London, Sally has gone through the excitement of getting pregnant, only to suffer from a miscarriage. Despite her nurse saying that 1 to 5 pregnancies end in miscarriage, Sally still blames herself and all the small things she feels she has done wrong - like drinking coffee and worrying about going back to work when the baby is born. Sally doesn't want to go to the support groups and talk about a 'common female experience'.
I was pleasantly surprised at the depth of the characters, particularly the women's respective spouses. Sean is split between wishing they had never started the process, and wanting to try again but feeling worried about Sally after the miscarriage.
'Credit Card Baby' was not really an accurate title because the play is about much more than the financial costs of egg donation. Sally and Sean are worried about the money they spent on the treatment and have to take stable new jobs in order to afford it and the travel abroad. And while Ines is incentivised by the money, the show highlights her altruistic intentions. This was somewhat disappointing as it seemed to romanticise why women donate eggs. Yes, she donated at first to help her sister, but she also received money from her. It's as if the writer thinks the audience won't be sympathetic to a women whose sole motivation is financial, not maternal.
Overall, I would recommend listening to the play. It certainly made a long train journey far more interesting - and, after all, isn't that what a Radio 4 afternoon play is all about?