Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The children

We were taking a walk the other day on our way back to our hotel.  We changed hotels again.  Now we're in Bandra West, which is a part of the city a little north of South Mumbai.  It is connected by the "sea-link", a connector built over the ocean, kind of like a bridge, but it really serves just to avoid the traffic in the city.  It costs a lot.  About $1 each way, so the traffic is light.  We like it here a lot.  There is a lot more green and the area feels a little more contemporary than where we were staying.  Malabar Hill felt very "old money" traditional, where Bandra feels commercial, modern and like I'm in LA.  At least for a minute.  There is still the filth and the India-ness of it all, but there are a few restaurants and bars which could be in LA.

Anyway, we heard some music and a microphone, kind of reminiscent of Karaoke.  We peeked behind the bushes and saw a child's birthday party happening in the yard of her apartment building.  The kids were holding hands in a circle, playing a game to the music.  There was a DJ.  There were the mandatory "birthday goodie bags" with Angry Birds logos on them.  Wow, culture clash.  This could be San Francisco.

But then, we turn the corner and there is a little boy, maybe three, filthy, wearing torn clothes and no shoes.  He is begging for some money.   There are two girls, about 4 and 6 cleaning the floor of their house with big openings where there might be windows and doors.  They are squatting on the ground sweeping and scrubbing.  They are really little to be cleaning the house.  Stella clears the table and likes to help clean, but I think it's just because she likes to spray the soap.  Later that night, on the busiest corner I've ever been on in my life (including Times Square), I see a little girl laying on the ground sleeping next to her mother.  She is young, sleeping on the filthy pavement, as thousands of people pass her by.  They're all just kids, some luckier than others.   I feel powerless. 

The Bureaucracy

It's always painful.  I am usually not daunted by paperwork or complex processes.  We had a full nine months, or more to plan for this trip and the impending paperwork.  I arrived in Mumbai with copies of all we needed, or so I thought.  Silly me.  We needed to demonstrate Matteo's physical presence in the US for five years.  He's been there for seventeen, first New Hampshire for grad school, then NYC for four years and now San Francisco for 11.  I like to remind him that soon, he will be in America for longer than he was in Italy.  A citizen of both, he probably truly feels like he belongs in neither.

At our first appointment two weeks ago, the officer of the consulate congratulated us on the birth of our twins and told us that the DNA would take some time, but the "proof of presence" component would be straight-forward.  I was uber-prepared, he only wished everyone showed up as prepared as us.   A few days later, on Friday, we met the pathologist at the consulate to take the babies DNA sample.  The kits had arrived the prior Saturday via FEDEX, but we were delayed with holidays and national strikes.  Finally we were testing.  We stopped by American Citizens Services after our DNA test to complete the "proof of presence" component.  We hoped to show them our documentation and be on our way back to Anand.  Mumbai is nice, but we've been here for almost two weeks and it's costing quite a bit to stay in a hotel here vs. Anand.

We met with a different consulate officer who told us that the information we were presenting, although it is listed on their website as acceptable, is not enough.  We couldn't understand how last week, we were all set and this week, we were nowhere.  We were told we needed transcripts, ATM receipts, positive proof that Matteo was physically in the US for five years.  I blew up.  Beyond annoying.  All of this is super-easy to pull off my computer at home, but here in mumbai, we don't have access.  I brought Matteo's MAC with me because it was lighter...regretful decision.  We spent the last 36 hours pulling every document we could find on the internet, every credit card statement, auto insurance policies, notarized documents from Matteo's business.  We called every doctor Matteo had seen and asked for records of visits.  We called airlines to ask for flight records.  We called insurance companies for proof of health insurance and homeowner's insurance.  Don't forget, we are 12 1/2 hours ahead of PST or 9 12/ hours ahead of EST.  We were calling over the internet, so there is no number where people could call us back and we were constantly disconnected after holding for 20 minutes.

We fought with the consulate over email asking if we could provide this documentation via email as the director had confirmed, he balked, but relented.  We emailed him 50megs of documentation.  He fought back, the burden of proof is on us, he wouldn't review so much documentation.  Help me understand.  We provide some documentation listed as acceptable proof, but it's not enough.  When asked for more, now it's too much.  My calm husband reminded me.  These were our kids.  We needed to do whatever it took to get them what they want.  Fighting the Consulate is not helpful.  We spent the last 24 hours creating a spreadsheet that detailed everything we collected.  It was over 1000 rows detailing by day, where he was..and offering proof.  It was painful for both of us.  We bickered about the best way to do it.  I'm not sure why I disagreed...Matteo is so much better than I am in Excel.

There were a few bright spots in this process.  Reviewing the credit card charges from 2005 to present, we remembered the special restaurant celebrations.  Remembered dinner for my birthday at the Lark Creek Inn, in Larkspur.  A magical place, where we celebrated the secret news just discovered...Stella was coming in 9 months.  Remembered the first time we took Stella grocery shopping at the Berkeley Bowl, she was six days old.  Remembered the last trip to France before Stella where we meandered through Strasbourg, Dijon, Bordeaux and Lyon.  Remembered the trip to South Africa when Stella was just 5 months old for a job interview.  Remembered the painting the we bought in the wine country outside of Johannesburg that never arrived (So happy to have used American Express!).  Remembered the decision to buy a house in the mountains and the weekend we found it.  It went on like this for quite a long time...recording hundreds of gas purchases, with a few highlights in between.  I have never been so thankful that Matteo buys his lunch every day on his credit card....so many lunches at Whole Foods and Dos Pinos.  I also can't understand how we buy gas so often.  And I really need to make sure I'm paying these bills on time, lots of unnecessary late charges and over-the-limit charges.    

This afternoon we finished our documentation, printed about 300 pages of docs and headed over to the consulate.  A mere hour later, we were off with approval.  Matteo put his hand up and swore that he was attesting to the truth.  The officer reviewed our cover page, but didn't even let us pass our 300 pages under the glass partition.  Why is it that in the uber-secure ACS part of the American Consulate, where only those fortunate enough to carry the blue passport can go, they insist on speaking to us through the glass partition?  I understand security risk, but the approach is so demeaning.  Why do we need to be made feel like criminals by those whose paychecks are funded by our taxes?

The other interesting thing about the Consulate is the American propaganda.  There is a TV showing an hour-long video of American dream.  We've seen it in it's entirety at least three times.  One can glean insights into how America is perceived abroad.  There is a long part about race and religious freedoms.  We see Muslims celebrating their heritage in communities throughout the US.  No talk about Koran burnings by crazy Florida preachers here.  Then we move into the education piece.  Lots of college campuses, not so much Ivy League....wondering if Clemson paid for that advertisement...now, that would be truly American:)  I mean really, how did Clemson make the cut, but no Princeton, Harvard, NYU or University of Michigan?  Finally, the National Parks system.  This is something uniquely American and truly spectacular that differentiates the US from all the other countries in the world.  Our nature rocks.  Specifically the nature in the West....Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite...all awe-inspiring.  I feel so lucky to live out West, where there is so much to experience.  Then a quick flash to New York City, how could we forget that?  But I wonder how Las Vegas could have been omitted?  Lots of fabulosity there.  So, that's what the US stands for:  our universities, our national parks and cultural/religious freedom.  There you have it.  What about our public education system for elementary and high school?  What about gay rights?  What about the opportunity in our cutting edge science and technology fields?  There is still a lot of work to do.  I hope we're moving in the right direction, but fear we are not fast enough.  This country is growing so fast.  Over the next 100 years, I wonder if people will still want to come to the US like they have in the past.

At any rate, we made progress.  Now, we just wait here in Mumbai for hopefully two more days until our passports are ready to be picked up.  Then back to Anand for exit Visas and home!  

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The women's rights thing

"Female infanticide is the intentional killing of baby girls due to the preference for male babies and from the low value associated with the birth of females.

So this happens frequently here in India.  A baby girl is not so useful.  It's actually illegal for a Doctor to reveal the sex of one's baby during pregnancy.  I was so culture-clueless last week when I met a young pregnant Indian girl.  My first question was so western...."do you know what you're having?"  She reminded me that she can't know.  In fact, we wanted to be surprised about the sex of our twins.  There are so few pleasant surprises in life, we relish them.   The Doctor asked us if we wanted to know the sex, but we declined.  I guess the whole flying around the world and paying a big chunk of money to have a baby indicated that we would welcome either a boy or a girl into our family.  Or in our lucky case, both!  

It's not so easy to understand.  Obviously there are vast differences in how women are valued across class.  We are meeting modern, self-assured women.  Our new friend is very confident and strong.  She is very lucky, at 35 and unmarried, she could be a financial burden on her family.  But, because her family is wealthy, she is not forced into a marriage she doesn't want.  She is allowed to stay with her parents and brothers families.  But all is not equal.  Her dad divided his riches between his two sons.  So now, she relies on the kindness of her brothers to buy her an apartment, a new car.  I don't pity this woman.  She is happy and fortunate to live a life without too much pressure put upon her.  That is her reward: low expectations.  But shouldn't she be treated as an equal child of her father?  Why should she be dependent upon the kindness of her brothers to buy her a car?  You know they buy themselves Audi's and she gets a Fiat.  They chose when to give her money, so yes, they bought the apartment, but no they didn't renovate the kitchen.  They control her life by deciding what they will and won't support financially.  Yet, she is happy and fortunate to live such a life.   

Our nanny decided to leave her husband, based upon his philandering with her "sister".  I was impressed by the strength in her conviction.  She decided within 24 hours that she would divorce him.  She is financially supporting her extended family, so has the confidence an income can provide.  But now, she relies on her brother to be the man in her life.  Yesterday she told me that she needed to go buy more traditional Indian clothes.  Now that her brother is the man in her life, she must obey.  I don't think her brother even has a job.  How can he tell her how to dress when she supports him?  

On the other end of the spectrum, there is the hospital where our babies were conceived.  This hospital and fertility clinic is run by Dr. Naina Patel.  Dr. Patel is a force.  She has had a major impact on her city and is renowned throughout India as the premier fertility specialist.  Her husband abandoned his medical practice to work with her.  He clearly plays an important, yet supporting role in her practice, preparing the legal and bureaucratic paperwork.  There are many doctors and nurses working in the Dr. Naina Patel hospital, but not one is a man.  

For me, India is sometimes a relief.  The men don't even see me.  Matteo orders the meals, pays the bills and asks for directions.  I am invisible.  Sometimes, it's a nice break.  But I think I am lucky to have been born where I was.  

The "alleged" father

One of the hoops we had to jump through in this international surrogacy road was proving that these babies are ours.  We are passing US citizenship through parenthood, so we need to prove that they are in fact our kids genetically.  When searching for the DNA testing center near us, I discovered that there are but a few we could choose from.  There is a certification process that only some testing centers have completed to qualify for this purpose.  Apparently DNA testing for international surrogacy is a small fraction of all the DNA testing done in the US.  Monday's are their busy day.  Lots of weekend drama makes Monday's busy for the DNA testing folks.  I hoped we wouldn't need to call from India on a Monday.  The process is a bit demeaning as every time I call, they refer to my husband and sperm donor as the "alleged father".  I feel like I'm on the Jerry Springer show.    


We've been here just a week now.  We have no idea when we'll be leaving, as it's all up to the US consulate and DNACenter.com of Fairfield, Ohio (more on that later).

We have a friend who helped us make arrangements for a hotel here in Mumbai.  Mumbai is a bustling metropolis with really expensive 5-Star hotel options, so a friend really comes in handy.  There were many cryptic text messages and emails from Reshma leading up to our visit.  She kept referencing "the club", saying that we would really love it as there were many things to do there like swimming in the pool, playing cards or working out in the gym.  We weren't really sure what this club was, nor was there any way to google it.  We were out of our comfort zone.  In the days of researching online, we usually make educated choices about travel and everything really.  Reshma kept saying, "don't be too American", meaning let it go, let me host you, don't try to control everything and keep me at an arms length.  So, we went with it.  The challenge is that her "club" only has about 20 rooms and it is highly in demand.  Our travel schedule kept moving, as it still does.  It was impossible to know when we might be cleared for Oliver and Camilla to fly.  So our first three nights in Mumbai were spent in the "club" of a colleague...the NSCI--National Sports Club of India before moving.   Now we're staying at Reshma's club--the Malabar Hill Club.  This one is much nicer. The location is fantastic, on top of the hill, in one of the highest end neighborhoods in Mumbai.  The club is reasonably priced, has a great room with decent restaurant, pool and gym.  It seems that real upside to the club is the bar.  Drinking isn't really widespread here in Mumbai, but apparently it happens behind closed doors at the club and members stop by every evening.

We have been adopted by our new friend Reshma, who, out of town our first night in Mumbai, arranged for her boyfriend to take us to dinner and give us an evening tour of the city.  She is all encompassing and has engaged us fully.  India is a group culture and we are in one now.  We have met Reshma's family, visited her favorite stores and restaurants and see her every day.  Her life is really different from ours and our mutual discovery is enriching our experience.  Reshma is the only daughter of a successful businessman who started in the textile trade.  She has two brothers who have extended the family business to include wood flooring and antiques.  She is a warm, effervescent, open woman who deserves more time later.

Our first morning in Mumbai, we headed straight to the US Consulate at the Banda Kurla Complex about 45 minutes north of downtown.  We were early for our appointment and struck by the high level of security.  The machine gun stations with sandbags surrounding the complex is always a little jarring, but this is Mumbai which was victim to the major terrorist attack last year at the famous Taj Hotel.  We were the first people in line, 20 minutes early for our appointment, hoping to get the process of getting home kickstarted.  I had spent hours preparing the paperwork:  legal copies of our surrogate contract, records of prenatal care for the babies, Indian birth certificates, hospital records and releases, statements that our financial records with the doctors were up to date, copies of our passports and visas, marriage liscence, stella's birth certificate, Matteo & my birth certificates, Matteo's US Naturalization document, tax records and W2s for the last 5 years.  I'm sure I must be forgetting something, but the list is long.  I hoped that my organization and preparation would smooth the way in this arduous process of bureaucracy.  It wouldn't be so.  While we were praised for being diligent, we were also told the process wouldn't all happen today and to expect a few weeks.  Ugh.  We had prepared for the reality that we would likely have to match the babies DNA to ours, so were tested already in the US.  After applying for the CRBA--Consular record of birth abroad--for Camilla and Oliver, we would have to have 2 DNA test kits shipped from the US to the consulate in Mumbai.  Upon its' arrival we would be scheduled for another appointment.  I tried in vain to have the testing center mail the kits before our appointment with the consulate, but they refused.  We needed the formal letter requesting such a test before they would ship it.  We monitored the shipment every step of the way.  Fedex from Ohio to Indianapolis to Paris to New Dehli and finally to Mumbai.  It was signed for at the consulate on Saturday at 12:38pm.  Not too bad.  We jumped on the phone Wednesday morning and now here 4 days later, it has arrived and we have tracking information.   We were feeling optimistic.  Until we called the consulate.  Closed Monday for Memorial Day, Closed Wednesday for an Indian Holiday.  DNA testing only happens on Tuesday & Thursday afternoons.  The kit, while in the complex takes one or two days to get to them.  They will call me back when they have it.  Doomsday.  She actually said it would be next Tuesday.  So we'll be sitting in Mumbai for 2 full weeks waiting for the damned DNA test kits to arrive.  I keep calling back, hoping by some small chance of luck that we can get sqeezed in on Thursday.  After the babies are tested, it will be another 2 weeks here as we wait for the results from the US and for the passports to be generated.  Then two days for the Indian Visa.  It looks like we'll be lucky to be home by June 14th.  

In the meantime, we are so happy we brought Maloa with us to Mumbai.  She gives us the freedom to sleep and see some sights during the day.  Mumbai is a really big city with a few sights.  We have visited a few of them and will see more before leaving.  We are struck by the huge gap between rich and poor as Mumbai has much wealth.  The skyline features the most expensive single home ever built anywhere...a staggering $300M USD.  The home has a maintenance staff of 300 for it's 4 residents.  Yet, while visiting temples, we see the huge population of poor and disabled begging for a penny.  We have eaten dinners in 5 star hotel restaurants where the bill was $100 and we have eaten in small, local spots for $3.  We are paying our full-time, live-in nanny $20 per day, yet having pre-arranged viewings in art-galleries where the going price for a painting is $40,000.  It's hard to absorb the contrast.  

It looks like we'll be spending another week in Mumbai.  The monsoons come in June, so I guess the upside is we'll experience a bit of that.  I look forward to seeing the rain clean the layers of dust and filth away.  We thought about heading south to Goa for a little respite on the beach, but the threat of monsoon season and some caution travelling unnecessarily with the twins held us back.  For now, the journey continues.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

The trip to Mumbai

On Monday, the twins were cleared by Dr. Anita to fly to Mumbai.  We had scheduled an appointment at the US Consulate in Mumbai on Wednesday morning, so had planned to fly on Tuesday.  We reassured the doctor that we were bringing our nanny, the fabulous Maloa, with us, and that we were spending a week, to minimize the travel impact on the babies.  Camilla gained almost 100 grams in 3 days and was above her birthweight.  Oliver gained less, but was still gaining.  He has been vomiting a bit after eating, so now is taking Domperidone every 6 hours.  Great news.  Our long journey home begins now.  

The next 24 hours brought lots of organization and planning.  We bought our tickets to Mumbai online.  We have been impressed with how smoothly some things work here in India.  When Matteo's credit card was rejected due to fraud protection, within one minute his phone rang.  The online booking agency was ringing him to help him complete the transaction.  That would never happen in the US.  Tickets bought, we moved on to hotels.  We advised the Rama of our departure and contacted our friend in Mumbai to help us book accomodations in Mumbai.  We packed our things, sent Maloa home to do the same and said our goodbyes.  We are planning on coming back through Anand on our way home, so this is just a break.  

Tuesday morning was a bit chaotic of course.  We inhaled a quick breakfast and headed over to the clinic to say our emotional goodbye to Kailash.  Then the car service picked us up and we were off to the airport.  Not without drama, the driver was late & needed gas.  For an 11:55 flight, we arrived at the airport at 11:20.  I was panicked we'd miss the flight, but as things go in India, we were just on time.  Our carry-on bags were a big drama, over the limit by 2-3X...7kg is nothing!  We had to check our most precious belongings (not Oliver & Camilla thank God) and hope for a safe arrival in Mumbai.  The hour-long flight to Mumbai was a breeze and the airport was so modern.  First impressions are Mumbai is very cosmopolitan.  We fetch our bags and gather our thoughts.  The cutest old lady can't believe we have twins, this small.  She asks her son to take our photo together.  The whole family jumps in and blesses us.  So sweet.  

We head to the Mehru car service desk.  This is the air-conditioned option.  You set up an account with your mobile number, call the car, and they come to take you to your destination.  It works so smoothly.  Again, an utter surprise.  We book the car inside the airport;  by the time we use the restroom the cellphone is ringing.  Our driver is looking for us.  We are sent a text message with his liscence plate, name and phone number.   That was easy, now to the hotel.   I'll save that part for tomorrow.     

The point & counter-point

We were having a conversation the other night with a local Mumbai-ite or Mumbian...not really sure what the proper term is.  He was unsure of surrogacy and brought up the adoption point.  There are SO many children in orphanages here in India...why bring another baby into the world when you could give something back to someone in need?  This is a valid point.  We agree and would love to take in an orphaned child from an impoverished nation.  We considered it seriously and opted for surrogacy because we aren't sure our family is ready to take on a child who has spent time in an orphanage.  These kids need lots of love, attention and time.  While there are no guarantees with children, biological or adopted, the likelihood of there being issues is almost certain with an adopted kid.  We both work full-time.  We already have a child.  We aren't sure we have the resources or the family situation in place to take on a kid who has spent his or her first year in an orphanage.  The systems put in place to protect children do sometimes cause harm.  This is the tragedy.  

This gentleman also made the point that if he was an intended parent, he wouldn't necessarily want his child in the womb of these surrogates.  Much better if it was his happy, balanced, healthy wife.  Again, agreed.  I would have loved to have been pregnant, unfortunately, that was not an option.   Matteo made the counter-point that Indian's of his class are raised very much by household help.  Everyone has nannies.  Why is it that the womb is so precious, but the minute the child is born, the nanny is an adequate substitution for the mother?   

The conversations continue.