Our fourth day in Mumbai was probably the biggest one.
After our customary continental breakfast of eggs, toast, and fresh fruit at the hotel (the server knew our food order by heart by Day Three), we cabbed over to our clinic.
It’s amazing how much easier it was to get to the clinic and get down to business after doing it once already. There was no fumbling around trying to figure out which building contained our clinic, or worrying about construction or the state of the neighborhood. This time it was smooth sailing.
The staff set Matt up for his second and final genetic sample. After that was complete, another staff member asked us if we were ready to meet our surrogate and her husband. We said yes, of course, and followed her into another conference room.
At the small, kidney-bean shaped table sat a woman who held herself elegantly, clad in a dark blue sari that faded artfully to a dark green toward the edges. Dark hair hung around her face and she smiled at us without reservation. It’s going to sound very gay (probably because I am?), but I swear it’s the truth: Our surrogate was a dead ringer for Cher as she looked in the 1970s. If you took Cher then, and her skin tone was more Indian than Southern Californian, you would have our surrogate. There was a certain ease, and a natural, effortless beauty about her.
(The Cher thing can be nothing but a good omen, right? ;))
Her husband, dressed in a crisp white button-down and tailored trousers, sporting a thick, black handlebar mustache (as so many Indian men seem to do), shook our hands. It’s not customary to shake hands with women in Indian society, so we gave our surrogate a little bow and said “Namaste,” as we read we were supposed to do. This seemed to go over well.
So, there we were: our surrogate, her husband, the clinic staff member, and us, all around the table. There was a feeling of nervous excitement in the room, tinged only slightly by awkwardness.
“Okay,” the Rotunda staff member said, “I’ll translate for you. Go ahead.”
Um, wait, what? Wasn’t there some sort of official chat that they guided us through? Wasn’t there some standard conversation we were supposed to have?
Apparently not. We shot from the hip.
“Can you ask her about her family? About her children?” Matt said to the staff member. She translated for the surrogate, who did not speak English.
“She has one daughter, who is eight years old,” the staff member reported to us.
We nodded and smiled, and the surrogate and her husband nodded and smiled at us.
“Can you please tell them how happy and grateful we are for the gift they are giving us?”
The staff member translated and right away the couple turned to us, smiling and nodding vigorously, and said in lilting English, “Thank you, thank you.”
I have to admit, it was a bit of an emotional moment, but I held it together.
Moments later, the meeting was over. It went by in a blur. You know how sometimes you have those moments in life that you know will be important, and you try to concentrate as hard as you can, and remember every detail, and somehow in doing so it all seems to slip by even faster? Totally one of those moments.
Back in the waiting room of the clinic I found myself wishing I’d asked about half a dozen other questions but, alas, too late. Matt and I whispered to each other how happy we were with how well it’d gone, and how happy we were with them as the surrogate couple.
Next we met with our lawyer in another conference room in the clinic. We liked her right away, too–a young Indian woman with no-nonsense intelligence and sass to boot–and she guided us through a long legal document. Surrogacy is her specialty, so as we began to ask questions, she not only answered them with aplomb, but answered other questions preemptively, and also explained more about Indian law and the permissiveness of surrogacy in the country.
“You’re lucky that you’re from the United States,” she told us as we paged through the documents. “Your country is set up perhaps better than any in the world for gestational surrogacy. Other countries have laws that make it difficult, but your country makes it quite simple.”
The legal document spelled out everyone’s role in the process (from the clinic, to the surrogate, to the surrogate’s husband, and us as the intended parents), what everyone was and wasn’t legally liable to do as part of the process, and clearly explained how things would go in just about any outcome of the situation (lack of pregnancy, loss of pregnancy, birth, multiple births, etc.).
After asking our questions, and making our way through the entire document (and finding an error that we were able to fix on the spot), we put pen to paper and officially locked in the last part of the initiating process.
When we were done we returned to the waiting room and saw our surrogate couple waiting there. Our lawyer called them in, walked them through the legal document as well, and they both signed, initialing every page, just as we had. Before they left we smiled and nodded, shook hands one last time, and watched them head out of the clinic.
The lawyer gave us our legal documents, we checked with the staff to make sure we were all set with payments up to this point (check and check), and then we were officially done.
Tacky and non-cultural as it may be on our part, we were told by Indian friends before our visit that McDonald’s in the Indian culture had become kind of a bougie, fun thing to do, so we decided to check it out. We took our first auto rickshaw ride, or tuk-tuk as they’re called, over to McDonald’s. Riding in the three-wheeler taxi (two wheels in back, one in front), which is essentially a golf cart with a tarp around it, with no doors and open to the elements, we buzzed and careened through traffic. It was harrowing, but entertaining. (That said, I don’t think I’d choose it as my main mode of transportation in India, but do recommend trying it at least once.)
McDonald’s was filled with nicely dressed young locals, long lines, and American pop music.
“Let’s not tell anyone we did this,” I said. “Too embarrassing.”
“Agreed,” Matt said.
We settled into a table on the second floor with our non-hamburger meals (no beef is served in Indian McDonald’s restaurants; cows as sacred here, after all), and as we started to eat, Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” came on, with Jay rapping about Brooklyn and Tribeca.
Yet another surreal Indian moment.
“I couldn’t be happier about how today went,” I said, popping a French fry into my mouth. They were identical to any McD’s French fries I’ve had anywhere else in the world. Crazy how they managed that feat.
“Me too,” Matt said. “I really liked our couple. I liked the lawyer, too.”
“Honestly, I’ve liked everyone we’ve met so far,” I said. “It makes me feel even better about the whole process.”
With our Mumbai sightseeing done, and all of our business with the clinic complete, we decided to try and fly out a night early. After all, we were flying standby anyway, so why not try to head home a day early and have an extra day at home to recover and relax?
We went to the airport early and ended up grateful that we did. The line to check in for the flight was very long and very slow. There was also a protocol we hadn’t experienced before: Usually when flying standby, we’re allowed to go through security and wait at the gate to find out if we’re on the flight, and then hop right on if there’s a seat.
In India, we would have to stay out at the check-in counter until almost the last minute to see if there was a spot open on the flight, then scurry through immigration and two rounds of security as fast as possible and sprint for our flight if a seat or two did open up.
There was also a situation with our flight, we learned, that we’d never heard of before. Apparently there had been rain earlier that left a giant puddle on part of the runway. The giant puddle made that part of the runway unusable, we were told, so the runway had in effect been shortened. What that meant for our plane, a giant 777, is that it risked being overweight for takeoff on a shortened runway. Therefore, the airline had been asked to leave three dozen seats open on the plane so that the flight wouldn’t be overweight and could take off without incident.
Matt and I looked at each other. Three dozen seats? So this flight would take off with literally dozens of open seats, and we might not be on it? Seriously?
The nerves began.
As the clock ran down, the rumor was that it didn’t look good for us to get on the flight. The flights didn’t look any better the following night, either.
Our flight was scheduled for an 11:10 p.m. departure, but got pushed to 11:30 p.m.
At 10:45 p.m., by some miracle, we were handed tickets to get on the flight, the two very last seats granted for United 49, direct from Mumbai to Newark.
We made a dash for customs. We played the lines as best we could and ended up in one that went through fairly quickly.
Then we saw the security line.
It snaked and wound several times on its way to the metal detectors. We found one of the security guards watching over the line, machine gun strapped to his chest, and pleaded our case. Our flight was due to pull back from the gate in a matter of minutes. The guard nodded, pulled us out of line, and moved us to the front and through the metal detectors.
Without his help, there’s no way we would have made it.
Just before midnight we were in our seats on the plane, rolling back, ready for our fifteen-and-a-half-hour flight.
It had been a packed several days. We’d toured the city, gone through a few rounds of re-selection with our egg donor, left a couple genetic samples, met with our surrogate, signed a sheaf of legal documents, and successfully got on a standby flight back to the U.S.
We lifted off into the heavy night air, set for a course back home.
—Text and photos by Josh (except the Cher photo, obvs)