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Theatre Review: Don't Ask Don't Get, Baby

31 August 2021
Appeared in BioNews 1110

What does it mean to be related to someone? Written and performed by Alice Underwood, Don't Ask Don't Get, Baby is a heart-warming autobiographical story about coming to terms with being a donor-conceived person.

Despite describing herself as chaotic, Alice takes the audience on a well-structured journey over the past 15 years, presenting scenes that demonstrate the ways in which identity can fluctuate with time and age.

A PowerPuff Girls aficionado at eight years old, Alice finding out she was an IVF baby ('not a test-tube baby!') felt like the missing link in her 'origin story'; after all, they were built in a lab too. She excitedly wants to tell everyone about how unique she was, since having divorced parents was becoming a little too in vogue.

This excitement carries her through to her teenager years. A scene depicting a car ride conversation with her brother sees 14-year-old Alice remark on her lack of resemblance to her mum. However, that's not quite how she phrased it: in reality, she commented how it seemed like they weren't related.

I thought providing the counter-narrative from her mum's point of view was necessary, as it allowed the audience to understand why her mum felt it necessary to explain that they weren't biologically linked. The donor had donated prior to implementation of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (Disclosure of Donor Information) Regulations 2004, and chose to remain anonymous; as a result, Alice does not have the right to know her donor's identity.

Alice admits she struggled with this revelation, especially as she was forced to process this information while learning about reproduction in GCSE biology. Learning about reproduction is uncomfortable enough, and Alice aptly portrays the added layer of discomfort as she tries to reconcile her feelings about assisted reproduction while in class.

She recounts a particular A-level psychology lesson, where the teacher split the cohort evenly and had them discuss the nature vs nurture debate. As her discomfort reaches breaking point, she lashes out at her teacher, viewing the debate as reductive – rightly so. She later understands her outburst as misdirected: she was upset with how she was unable to articulate her own views on the matter, as she hadn't fully formed them.

Her presentation of the messiness of how trying to understand her own feelings, while dealing with others' opinions was raw and unfiltered, allowing the audience to feel the extent to which these issues impact self-identity.

She concludes with a poignant discussion on how frequently discussions regarding donor conceptions enter the realm of counterfactual, without realising the same could be said about 'natural' conception. This flows into her views on family and the distinction she raises between 'mum' (the person who raised her) and 'mother' (the donor with whom she shares a biological connection). While she prefaces her views on the mum/mother dichotomy as uniquely biased, I couldn't help but think about how her views on the difference between the terminology is similar to my own view about the importance of intention with regards to mothering.

Researchers such as Dr Katherine Wade have written about mandatory disclosure for donor-conceived children and the right to know their genetic origins from a children's rights perspective. The current regulatory framework does not require donor-conceived individuals to be told about availability of information about their origins. However, non-disclosure can lead to psychological damage, low self-esteem and issues relating to trust. Dr Wade argues that a mandatory disclosure would accommodate the autonomy of all involved regarding the significance they wish to assign to the role of genetic origins in their own lives.

Alice's performance in this play demonstrates the very real effect of disclosure on identity and how it changes with time. As a child, she framed it as a positive, something that set her apart from the other children. As she grew older and uniqueness was no longer a covetable characteristic, her status as a donor-conceived person became a burden to bear – despite it not affecting her life.

I hope to see more of Alice's work, as she is an incredibly talented performer who was able to express the nuances of a topic often discussed in academia from a detached viewpoint. She was perfectly able to convey an often-unheard viewpoint on the very important subject she was communicating.

I strongly believe many working in the field of donor conception would benefit from watching this play. I would also highly recommend this play to anyone who wants to understand donor conception from a more intimate perspective.

This play was available on demand from 22 July 2021, via theatre The Space's website. 

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