Archive | July, 2012

Day Four: Meeting Our Surrogate, Signing Papers & 22 Hours of Travel

28 Jul

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.

(Heh. Oops.)

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)

Day Two & Day Three: Here Come The Surprises

25 Jul

It’s the middle of the night in Mumbai. Behind me my husband is sleeping like a baby (let’s hope that particular trait is passed on to our progeny) and I’m sitting here at my laptop at the desk in our hotel room.

For the past three nights here in India my body has decided to sleep almost exactly four hours each night and then wake up for the day. And we’re not talking just casually awake. We’re talking wide awake. Fully rested. My body apparently had no interest in making the New York/Mumbai time change.

I’m sitting here and I can’t help thinking about all that’s happened in the last 36 hours. Let’s rewind and review.

Day Two, Part Two

As Matt explained, finding the fertility clinic for our first visit was a bit of a project since street names and house and building numbers are almost non-existent here. The neighborhood, called Bandra, is known for its higher-end shopping. It was bizarre, though, because luxury jewelers, a Montblanc store, and a Tom Ford boutique, for example, sat mixed among open-air restaurants with fully visible, dirty kitchens, people sleeping on the streets, and cabs belching exhaust as they passed. How was a Tom Ford boutique amongst all this? Were people really coming here to buy a $1,500 Montblanc pen, or a $15,000 diamond necklace, while a man in filthy clothes slept directly outside the gates?

Like much of India that we’ve experienced, it was a big mix of high and low, inseparably and simultaneously right on top of each other.

When we found what we believed to be the right building, the security guard outside the building’s gate cocked his head and looked confused when we said we were looking for Rotunda Clinic. We spotted a small plaque with the correct address behind the security guard, though, so we felt like we must have found the right place. The building’s front entrance seemed to be under construction, so we had to walk around to the back of the multistory building where our clinic was supposedly (hopefully) located.

As we crossed to the back of the building, we saw a half-demolished fence revealing a gaping, torn up pit with active construction going on. As we entered the building and started walking up the stairs, we saw the entire first floor was under construction. The second floor was, too. There were torn up rooms and walls, dirt and dust everywhere.

A cold, creeping horror crept up my neck as we walked around, looking for our clinic.

What was going on? What had we gotten ourselves into?

But then we made it up to the floor where our clinic was supposed to be located and saw a glass door at the end of the hall that we figured had to be our clinic.

And with that, everything changed.

We stepped into a neat, beautiful medical office. It was nicer than some doctor’s offices we’ve been to in New York City. The heavy, stale air disappeared behind us as we walked into a wall of cooled air. The floors below us were made of marble, a flat-screen TV hung in the corner playing Indian pop music videos, and a helpful staff behind the professionally-lit reception desk checked us in for our appointment. Behind the front desk hung an artful, burnished silver sculpture of musical instruments. Medical staff in pastel scrubs, looking busy and purposeful, crossed through the lobby and corridors of Rotunda.

It’s hard to explain our relief upon actually finding our clinic, and finding it to be so nice.

It got even better as we met Dr. K., who heads up the clinic’s gestational fertility practice. We liked her right away and felt reassured in her presence and comfortable working with her.

We came with an entire page of questions. She answered many of them before we even asked them, but we got to ask more detailed questions about things like genetic testing and neonatal screening for abnormalities during the pregnancy (yes, they do them at about 11 and 18 weeks to make sure everything is normal, and there are options from there if things aren’t normal, etc.).

Dr. K told us about the surrogate housing where Rotunda’s surrogates live and eat together, when determined necessary by the Rotunda team, along with any of the surrogates’ children that are age five or younger. (Other family members are allowed to visit, of course, but only the surrogate and her youngest children would live in the actual Rotunda housing itself.) A nurse visits the surrogates daily at the clinic’s housing, checking vitals and overseeing nutrition and dispensation of vitamins, etc., between doctor’s appointments and check-ups. The surrogate also stays in Rotunda’s housing and care for up to six weeks after the birth to monitor and take care of her post-birth.

Dr. K told us that our egg donor would be coming in that afternoon for egg collection. The highest-grade embryos, comprised of the donor’s eggs and Matt’s genetic material, would be implanted in our surrogate’s womb on Saturday.

Finally, we asked when we’d have confirmation of our pregnancy’s success. (See how I phrased that in the positive there? ;)) It sounds like sometime between August 11-15 we’ll know if we have a pregnancy. That happens to be the same time we’ll be on our honeymoon in Spain, so that would be a really wonderful time to hear the news that we have a pregnancy under way. (Start crossing those fingers and toes, please.)

As required, Matt left a genetic sample after our meeting with Dr. K and then we were finished. Altogether we were at the clinic for just under an hour.

And Then We Got An E-mail

Matt’s iPhone chimed shortly after we returned to our hotel, signaling a new e-mail. It was from Dr. K.

“We have done the scan of your chosen egg donor,” it read. “I’m afraid that she has a poor response and it is not advisable to go ahead with her. Please find attached an egg donor who would be ready for egg collection on Friday. If you approve, we can go ahead with the cycle. Otherwise we will send you a list of immediately available donors to choose from and start the cycle.”


The egg donor we’d chosen, whom we’d affectionately nicknamed Yearbook Pose (as we don’t know her name and never will, and needed a way to refer to her based on her egg donor profile picture), apparently wasn’t going to work out.

We weren’t crazy about the donor profile we’d been forwarded as an immediately replacement. We sent Dr. K an e-mail and asked if we could see the other currently available egg donors, knowing that choosing someone other than the immediate replacement would delay our process for weeks. We were still considering the immediately available donor, but we wanted to see what other options were available.

That night, after near-constant refreshing of Matt’s e-mail inbox, we received 16 potential egg donor profiles to review. One woman became our favorite right away and became The Girl Next Door in our profile nickname vernacular. She looked sweet, wholesome, and subtly pretty.

She was our winner.


Day Three and Another E-mail

We decided to take it easy on our third day in Mumbai. We had a lazy breakfast and spent time on Skype and FaceTime with our families. We also wanted to hang around the hotel a bit to see if Dr. K would e-mail back a confirmation of our new donor and any instructions on how we would proceed. We were uncertain of all the ramifications (timing, financial, etc.) that might result from the egg donor changes.

Later that afternoon, once we started to get a little stir crazy at the hotel, and before we were about to head out to a movie, Matt’s iPhone chimed as another e-mail from Dr. K popped into his inbox.

“Kindly find attached a new egg donor profile, whose eggs have resulted in a previous pregnancy, and whose eggs would be ready for pick-up in a day or two,” the e-mail read. “You can choose to proceed with your cycle with her if you like her profile. Kindly let me know as soon as possible, enabling me to proceed with your cycle accordingly.”

Apparently the time lag required for The Girl Next Door to get synched up with hormonal injections, as well as our surrogate’s cycle, would be an obstacle we could quickly overcome if we liked this third donor.

We opened the profile Dr. K. had attached.


“Are you okay with this donor?” Matt asked me.

I thought for a bit. I had really liked Girl Next Door. I liked this donor, too, though, and liked the idea of staying on our currently scheduled cycle.

“I am,” I said. “Are you?”

Matt nodded.

The moment felt big. There was a pause before we did anything.

Then Matt tapped out an e-mail to Dr. K to confirm that we were ready to go with this third donor.

We don’t have a cutesy referential nickname for this photo. This one we’ll simply call Our Egg Donor.


Trying to Navigate Mumbai…

25 Jul

If this elephant lives in India, he knows exactly how I feel.


A Tour of Mumbai: The Photos from Day One

24 Jul

On our first full day in Mumbai we took a tour of the city. Mumbai, home to more than 20 million Indians, is the most populous city in the country (and fourth most populous in the world). For 2,000 rupees ($36), tip included, our driver took us around the city for more than two hours, stopping to let us to get out and shop or take photos.

Throughout the city many Indian women sold goods, often food, from what look like blankets on the streets or sidewalks. Most popular seemed to be the green produce above, which the women regularly tossed and moved around on their blankets, and which looked a lot like salad of some sort. We’re still curious to find out exactly what it is.

A smaller slum area in Mumbai. In slum housing, small rooms make up entire households, often with corrugated metal roofs and with blue tarps comprising walls or parts of ceilings, the floors made of the dirt or the ground below. Entire families live in a matter of square feet. It was the first time I’d seen people bathing in the street. Taxis and mopeds buzz within feet of the makeshift homes. Our taxi driver told us that the average income in a slum amounts to what is about US $70-130 annually.

Mopeds are everywhere in Mumbai. They buzz like mosquitoes inches from trucks and cabs and dart in and out of traffic in ways that make their drivers seem suicidal. (Rest assured, it’s simply standard Mumbai traffic operating procedure.) The moped drivers above are wearing helmets, but most don’t. Women and children, including babies, often wear no protective gear. Many female passengers seem to prefer to ride side saddle. Precarious, but ladylike.

Victoria Terminus, one of Mumbai’s famous landmarks, is a beautiful, ornate train station that has been officially renamed Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. The station was built in 1887 to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of England’s Queen Victoria.

Every rumor you may have heard about the crazy, heart-stoppingly unruly traffic in Mumbai is true. In some places there are no lane markers at all. Drivers do not signal turns or lane changes and are very comfortable motoring along in one or two lanes at a time. We’re used to cabbies in New York City, but it’s a whole different kind of traffic mayhem here.

The Gateway to India, Mumbai’s top tourist attraction. Build in the 1910s, it used to be the actual gateway to the city for those arriving here by boat. (The city was then called Bombay.) The Gateway to India has also been called the Taj Mahal of Mumbai.

The Taj Mahal Hotel, across the street from the Gateway to India. Everyone from the Beatles to Jackie O, Oprah to the Obamas, Angie and Brad and the Clintons have stayed at the hotel. Built at the turn of the 20th century, the beautiful and storied hotel also unfortunately has the distinction of being targeted in three terrorist attacks, including the terrorist attacks of 2008, wherein 31 people at the Taj were killed. (We’re staying at a hotel about 30 km north of the Taj.)

The British influence on architecture can be felt in certain areas throughout Mumbai.

The David Sassoon Library.

One of the city’s largest slum areas is not far from the main airport, meaning that most of the visitors to the city will pass the expansive slum, easy to spot from the bright blue tarps and seemingly endlessly stacked housing.

Mumbai street life.

The Arabian Sea off the western part of the city is beautiful to behold. The waves are huge, powerful, and a marble gray color. Our driver stopped to let us take photos, including snaps of the Haji Ali Dargah mosque, one of the most recognizable landmarks of Mumbai, located just off the coast and right on the sea.

Mumbai from near the Haji Ali Dargah mosque on the Arabian Sea.

–All photos by Josh

Day Two: Our Visit to Rotunda

23 Jul

Wow, what a day!  We woke up very early because Josh and I were both so excited to finally visit the Rotunda Clinic and meet Dr. Kalyani face to face.  The cab ride was bumpy, but after yesterday’s journey, I think that we knew better what to expect on our trip across town.  We were dropped off a few blocks from the clinic’s address because we had some difficulty in finding the correct building.  Most streets are unmarked and the numbering system is incredibly confusing… in fact, an address in Mumbai typically includes something like ‘Opp. Crossroad Book’ to explain physically where the address lies.

The building itself is a six-story stone structure with absolutely no signs or indication that it houses Rotunda.  A security guard standing next to a placard with the number 36 is all that we had to work with.  He seemed confused when I asked about the clinic, but allowed us to pass through the courtyard and into the back of the building where we finally found a directory listing Rotunda – The Center For Human Reproduction.  Upon passing through the foyer, Josh got a bit nervous because renovations had caused the entryway to look like an abandoned building with no tenants.  Thankfully, after climbing a few staircases, we arrived at a beautifully appointed waiting room.  Rotunda’s clinic is a Rembrandt in a sea of Picasso.  Everything we have encountered here has been in a state of disrepair, but Rotunda’s facilities are absolutely gorgeous and modern.  Trust me, after walking through that foyer, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

I filled out some paperwork and waited for Dr. Kalyani to call us into a consultation room.  We chatted about some of our concerns over nutrition, vitamins, the health and welfare of the surrogate, cesarean birth, sperm freezing, and surrogacy laws in India.  The conversation took no more than 20 minutes, but we were both very satisfied with the responses, and, of course, decided to proceed with the process.

Next, I was led to the semen collection room with yet another plastic cup.  I don’t need to provide the details, but let me tell you that I was absolutely unprepared for what I would encounter inside.  The picture has been photoshopped to ‘swirl’ offending body parts, but you can imagine things as they actually were.  It almost made me long for the rich lady’s former coat closet on the Upper East Side.

From there, we popped over to a fast food chain called Venky’s for some tandoori chicken skewers and chicken samosas.  We attempted to find a pharmacy because Josh has run out of contact lens solution, but most of the shops are no more than an open-air countertops with sodas and candy for sale.  After a few blocks, we gave up and hailed a cab back to the hotel.


Day One: A Tour of Mumbai

22 Jul

Josh and I woke up this morning with a desire to get all of the touristy stuff out of the way before the real work begins on Monday morning at the Rotunda Clinic.  We popped over to the free breakfast provided for guests on the executive level floor (ooooooh, fancy!) and enjoyed lots of fresh fruits, eggs, toast, and fresh-squeezed orange juice.  Friends have told us to avoid any fruit unless it has not yet been peeled to prevent washing in local tap water, but we figured that this hotel seems pretty consistent in their 5-star service.  We will be eating most of our meals here to avoid any potential stomach issues.

The front desk provided us with information about renting a taxi for 8 hours to provide a tour of Mumbai’s highlights, but we opted for flagging down a local cab one-way to the Gateway of India overlooking the Arabian Sea.  Amazingly, the cab driver offered us the same 8-hour package deal for 70% less than the price quoted by the front desk!  We took him up on the offer and were whisked around the city to various shops (carpets, pashminas, carvings) and to a few of the major tourist locations around the city.  In order to get free parking close to the Gateway of India, there is a bit of shadiness on behalf of shopkeepers and cab drivers working together to make extra cash.  The shopkeepers provide a ‘ticket’ to any cab drivers that bring in tourists who could potentially purchase their goods.  Of course you are under no obligation to purchase anything, but the shopkeepers are very insistent on providing you with the best quality and best price.  After leaving the shop, you are then free to walk to the local touristy spots while your driver’s car is safely parked in the shopkeeper’s area.

We did this twice, and when the driver stopped the car outside of a third shop, we told him that we were through with playing the game.  In the first two shops, we were specifically asked if this was our first shopping stop (because the shopkeepers want exclusive rights to a cab driver’s customers), and we said ‘yes’ because we knew that the cab driver would benefit from it.  Apparently these ‘tickets’ can be worth some cash to the driver, and if left up to him, we would probably still be circling the area looking for other shops to browse.

From there, we popped over to the local museum, but it was closed for renovations through the end of the month.  Maybe we will visit again in 9-ish months when we return to complete the surrogacy process.  On the way back to the hotel, we drove past a few beaches, a very large Mosque built on an island in the Arabian Sea, the Bandra West district (where Rotunda Clinic resides), and hundreds and hundreds of corrugated steel slums.  The cab driver explained that the average salary for someone living in the slums would be about 4,000 to 7,000 rupees annually (1,000 rupees is about $20 US).  You can’t help but feel depressed by the conditions of so many people here.

It interesting how everyday activities are so easily seen and don’t seem to surprise anyone passing by… we saw children bathing on the corner, a man shaving another man next to a tire shop, and countless women preparing some type of green leaves spread out on brightly colored handkerchiefs.  Others were washing dishes in a pot of stagnant water in their kitchens, which could be seen from the cab because the house itself was no more than a flat steel roof, four poles to hold it up, and a few tarps to keep out the elements.  There is so much poverty here that you almost have to shut your brain off.

Now we are back at the hotel and Josh is napping while I sip a masala chai in the lobby.  Our meeting with the clinic begins at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow, and I can’t wait to meet our surrogate.  More tomorrow evening…


Adrenaline Rush: Getting To India

21 Jul

Last night, less than 24 hours before we were scheduled to get on a plane to India, we got a surprise. When you’re traveling internationally, surprises are usually the last thing you want, especially if they’re the kind we got.

“The United Airlines app says that flight 48 just checked in full in both business and economy,” Matt said, sitting upright in bed, scrolling through his iPhone.

“What? How’s that possible? Just this morning there were a ton of seats still open.”

“I know,” he said, tapping through various screens. “I don’t know what happened.”

Matt and I had decided to employ a bit of an unorthodox method to get to India, but a method that would also save us about two-thirds off standard flight prices. We’re grateful to have a friend who works for United, and each year our friend is able to give a few friends and family what’s called a “buddy pass.” Those buddy passes allow us to essentially fly standby to anywhere in the world, as long as it’s a direct United flight.

The big bonus of flying on a United buddy pass is two-fold. First, you only pay the taxes for the flight, instead of the full fare. Second, if seats are available on a flight, United doles out the buddy pass seats starting from the front of the plane going backward. That means if a seat is open in United Global First, for example—where there are only six seats, and each lies entirely flat, costing upward of $10,000 per seat—that seat could be yours.

The big drawback, of course, is that you’re flying standby. If the flight checks in full, you’re out of luck. And in the case of our flight, direct from Newark to Mumbai, there was only one flight a day. If you couldn’t get on it, you were out of luck until the following day.

Normally we’re pretty flexible with flying standby (as you have to be). For that kind of price reduction, and a shot at a nice seat, we happily go with the flow. But, in our case, on this trip, we have a ticking biological clock, and we needed to get to India as close to on schedule as possible. Our egg donor and surrogate had been pharmaceutically synched up very carefully along a narrow timeline to create the maximum chance of an egg donation, mixed with Matt’s genetic matter, implanted in the surrogate, turning into a pregnancy.

Bottom line: We had to make sure that Matt was at our clinic in Mumbai by Monday at 11 a.m. to complete his part of the cycle and avoid screwing up the carefully choreographed groundwork for our pregnancy.

We went to bed on Thursday night hoping we’d wake up Friday morning and something would have shifted to open up seats on flight 48.

*     *     *

We checked the United app when we woke up Friday morning.

“Oh no,” Matt said.

Flight 48 was still showing “full” for business and economy.

I got on the phone with United. “Go to the airport anyway,” the United rep said. “Two to three percent of seats come open when people miss connections, or don’t get to the airport on time, or any number of things. It’s worth a shot.”

We packed in a hurry.

*     *     *

In the afternoon, Matt and I sat on a coach bus from Grand Central to Newark Airport. It was still raining, as it had been all day, and we both leaned in toward his iPhone screen.

On the United app we could see that the list of standby passengers for flight 48 had grown to eleven people. Even if two to three percent of the passengers didn’t get on the flight, as the United rep had mentioned, we were still something of a long shot for getting on board.

“How many United miles do you have?” Matt asked me.

I travel a lot for work and luckily had set aside a nice nest egg of miles. “Just over a hundred thousand,” I said.

“Okay. Maybe we can use the buddy passes to fly into Istanbul, or Paris, or Zurich, and then use the reward miles to get us the rest of the way to Mumbai.”

As the bus careened through traffic on the highway, I got on the phone with United. Matt looked up the most strategic options for connecting and using our buddy passes in conjunction with airline miles to get us to Mumbai as quickly as possible.

“Well, you got lucky,” the United rep said after I’d explained our situation and she’d started looking up potential flights. “There are still a couple seats left from Zurich to Mumbai, connecting through Munich.” I heard keys tapping in the background. “It’ll cost thirty thousand rewards miles each for an economy booking. It’s fifty thousand for business.”

I turned to Matt and told him the stats. “Should we use up all our points and go business?”

He shrugged. “That’s what the points are for, right?”


Suddenly we had a business-class rewards flight for two, booked one way, for Zurich to Munich to Mumbai. Matt got on the phone with our United flight attendant friend and got our buddy passes switched from the Mumbai direct, which still looked hopelessly full, to the Zurich direct. Several seats were still open.

Just like that, we had a whole new flight itinerary, all accomplished on two smartphones on a coach bus zooming toward the airport. The change in plans may have cost us all our rewards miles, but it gave us a virtual guarantee that we would get on a flight in a matter of hours, and also get us to the clinic in Mumbai on schedule.

*     *     *

We were thrilled when the agent handed us business-class tickets for our flight to Zurich.

“Enjoy, gentlemen,” she said, as we headed off to board our flight.

We settled into the last two seats in business, directly bordering economy class, both excited we’d finally made it to the starting line of our journey.

But then, another surprise.

“Hi, um, guys?” It was a United employee, holding a sheet of paper in her hands. “I’m sooooo sorry, but a pair of United Global First travelers missed a connection to Tel Aviv, and they need to get on this flight to finish their itinerary.”

Oh no. Okay. Where was this going?

Apparently, the United employee explained, since we were flying on buddy passes, and the pair of travelers in question had the highest United Premier ranking (higher than Silver, Gold, or Platinum), we had been bumped from our business seats.

“We were able to secure 19C and 19E for you, however. So, if you can just go ahead and get your things and get yourselves situated back there….”

For the record, Matt and I aren’t snobs. However, when you’ve mentally prepared yourself for and settled into the cool, calm comforts of a business seat that goes completely flat, perfect for sleeping on the overnight flight, along with plentiful leg room (Matt’s tall) and a full, real meal, with flight attendants that are happy and chatty, this was a bit of a needle-scratching-on-a-record change of events.

Matt was not terribly amused by this change of plans. Nor was I. As we finally settled into our Economy Plus seats, just one row behind our former business-class seats, but a world apart in creature comforts, we agreed that one thing was most important: We were on our way to Mumbai, and we were going to make a baby. The whole “Sorry, but we’ve given your seats away to more important people” debacle began to shrink in importance, and we settled in for our seven-hour flight to Zurich.

*     *     *

Swiss efficiency is the only reason we made our connection in Zurich. We landed at 8:40 a.m. local time, and our next flight was scheduled to take off at 9:10 a.m. The fact that we made it through another round of security in Zurich, plus a monorail ride to another terminal, and still made it to our flight is a credit to Swiss order and organization.

Zurich to Munich took all of forty minutes. The flight attendants had just enough time to serve us a very European, very tiny breakfast, before they cleared plates and we were on the ground in Munich.

After our business class tease from Newark to Zurich (“It’s yours! Wait, no it’s not!”) it was a relief to be properly booked into the business class rewards miles seats that we’d reserved a matter of hours earlier from a bus headed to Newark.

Neither of us had slept at all by the time we got onto our final flight, Munich to Mumbai, and our bodies thought it was about five o’clock in the morning. The very thought of a nearly lie-flat bed had us both salivating and reaching for our eye masks.

After a meal that was supposedly lunch (our bodies had no idea what meal to expect at this point) we both collapsed into the kind of sleep where neither of us could remember how exactly we’d fallen asleep.

I slept through Iran and woke up over Afghanistan, between Kandahar and Kabul. Matt woke up over Pakistan, just in time for one last airborne meal (supposedly dinner).

Finally, near midnight local time, we landed in Mumbai.

Hot, humid air seeped into the jetway, but the airport itself was air conditioned. It smelled powerfully of must or mold, like a summer cabin shut away for several seasons and newly opened for the season. We made it through passport control and customs without incident and headed toward the taxis.

When leaving Mumbai Airport, or any airport in India, we were told it’s critical to prepay for a taxi ride while still inside the airport. Otherwise, we’d heard, things devolved into a hot mess of gypsy cabs and who-knows-what-else in the throngs of people outside. Gentlemen pretending they were our cab driver tried to help us with our bags (everybody wants a tip), but we made it to our assigned cab and a got in without too much other errant fuss.

Our cab driver was an elderly gentleman with silver hair who didn’t speak English. He did, however, have the cab slip from the airport, and started off into the night.

Our cab was a rust bucket 1960s-style vehicle, clearly ridden hard over the years, with backseats that were so well used that it was impossible to tell what was a seat and what was just a mash of fabric. There was no air conditioning and the rolled-down windows let in the soupy midnight air.

The diesel cab—a stick shift with sticky gears—stopped and started through traffic. Luckily the hotel wasn’t far from the airport. The taxi died on the way up an inclined driveway and the cabbie had to restart the vehicle and throw it forcefully into gear to get up the remainder of the cobblestone drive.

Security officers with mirrors on the end of poles looked under our vehicle before we got out. Our baggage was put through airport-style security measures and we were frisked with a metal detecting wand before the double doors to our hotel were opened for us and we entered a whole different world.

Inside our hotel a wall of air conditioning hit us and a world of marble and chandeliers unfolded. As we were told by well-traveled friends, there’s five-star India, and there’s everyday India. After all the traveling, we were glad to get to our nicely-appointed room, drop our bags, set up wi-fi access, and FaceTime family.

So, alas, after three flights and more than 8,000 flight miles, we’re safely here in Mumbai, twenty-three and a half hours after leaving our apartment in New York City.

After a night of Ambien-aided sleep, Day One in Mumbai for the New Dads will officially begin.


When A Family Member Doesn’t Support Your Decision To Become a Parent

18 Jul

A few weeks ago Matt and I were working on picking an egg donor for our future child (or children). The information we received about each potential egg donor included a series of hormonal markers, numbers that would perhaps reveal further information about the donor’s ability to be a successful egg donor. We did plenty of Googling, and found some basic information on the topic, but I wanted to get more input, and preferably from a knowledgeable human, instead of just from websites, no matter how informative or well regarded.

I decided to call my Aunt Kerry, who is a nurse, and also someone I’d been very close to while growing up. In many ways, Kerry had been a second mom to me. We’ve had a complicated, mercurial relationship over the years, but we’ve always loved each other very much at the end of the day, and worked through our various conflicts.

“You know, unfortunately I can’t tell you much about that,” Kerry said when I asked her about the hormonal markers. Her nursing background hadn’t really called for her to know much about the subject, she said, and she’d had her children without the assistance of IVF, so she didn’t have any specialized information.

There was a pause on the other end of the phone line. “Have you guys spent time thinking about maternal nutrition with this whole surrogacy thing? I mean, we are talking about a surrogate who is living in poverty in a developing nation. Are you sure that she’ll be eating right? Nutrition is one of the most critical elements of a developing pregnancy.”

“Of course,” I said to my aunt. I was caught off guard by her immediate questions and the fact that there had been no excitement or congratulations about the possible arrival of a baby. “Our surrogate’s nutrition is supervised by the clinic, and she’s seen regularly by doctors and nurses throughout the pregnancy. Many Indian women have had little or no healthcare up until becoming surrogates, because of finances, so many have more medical attention than they’ve ever had in their lives while they’re surrogates.”

All of the Indian surrogates working with our clinic already had live births of their own, and were still raising their children. In many cases, Indian mothers became surrogates to help support those children financially, buying a new home for the family, and paying for the entirety of their children’s education with one nine-month surrogate pregnancy.

“And have you thought about the exploitation of those impoverished Indian women?” Aunt Kerry asked, her tone developing an edge, her words coming more quickly.

“Kerry, the average salary for an Indian citizen is less than $800 a year. This woman will be getting six times that amount for being our surrogate. The average American makes about $40,000 a year, so that’s like the average American woman getting offered almost $250,000 to bring a pregnancy to term—a pregnancy which she’s not genetically linked to in any way. I mean, even if you wouldn’t do it, a quarter of a million dollars would still give you pause for consideration, wouldn’t it?”

Aunt Kerry was having none of that. “Oh, so you think a prostitute really has a choice when her pimp tells her, ‘I’ll take care of you, do this for me and you’ll have anything you want?’”

What?” It was my turn for a tone change. “Kerry, what are you talking about?” How had this conversation devolved from researching prolactin numbers to Matt and I somehow becoming pimps?

“And do you even know what you’re taking on, becoming a parent? Do you have any idea? Do you realize that your entire life will change? That you will have no time for yourself, and everything you do in your life will be about this child? You’ve always had time to go running and write fiction and whatever you wanted to do, Josh. All that’s going to change now.”

“Kerry, obviously I realize things are going to change, but Matt and I are ready for that—or as ready as we can be—and we recognize that as part of becoming parents we’ll—”

Kerry plowed right on. “And, Josh! Do you realize that you hardly played with Alexis and Michael?” She was talking about my young cousins, her children, whom I’d loved and doted on and played with for years. “Sure, you’d come over, but how often did you really read them stories? How often did you play games with them and just hang out with them instead of talking with the grown-ups in the kitchen or texting on your phone or doing whatever you wanted?”

I was about to freak out on her, and I knew that I needed to end this conversation before it took an extremely ugly turn and I started saying things I would have a difficult time unsaying.

“Wow, Kerry. I really have no idea what you’re talking about. Everything you just said is completely absurd, and not only that, it’s entirely untrue. It’s a low blow, even for you.”

“A low blow? Even for me? Okay, I’m done.”

The phone line disconnected.

*   *   *

Kerry remains the only member of my family, or of Matt’s family, who hasn’t been fully supportive of our journey to become parents. My grandparents are over the moon about their pending grandchildren. Even Matt’s grandmothers—ages 89 and 84 (one of whom, sadly, just passed away)—were thrilled about the prospect of becoming great-grandmothers again when they first heard the news.

After Matt explained the gestational surrogacy process to one of his grandmothers, she said, “Well, honey, I didn’t understand a word of what you just said to me, but I sure am happy for you and Josh.”

Meanwhile, when Matt and I got married last November, my grandparents gave us an infant onesie that reads “I (Heart) My Dads.”

“No pressure,” they said with a laugh. “But we’re looking forward to the day you make us great-grandparents.”

Our friends have been nothing but supportive. We’ve already received hand-knit presents for the future baby (hi there, Alisha!), and plenty of congratulations and well wishes.

I would love to have Aunt Kerry along for this crazy, amazing journey we’re embarking upon. But unfortunately, if she wants to sit this one out, she’ll have to do that. She’s free to make that decision, just as Matt and I are free to become parents, any legal way we like.

A month has gone by since Kerry and I had that fateful phone call. I often find myself wishing she could be a part of this process with us—standing by us as we go through both the good stuff, and the potential tough stuff, on our journey to becoming parents.

The fact remains that whatever she chooses to do, if she’s an absent aunt or not, she will always be the aunt of this child (or children). Sometimes things she has said and done over the years have been hurtful, and don’t make a lot of sense, but she’s still family, and we still love her, and miss her.


The Cycle of Life

8 Jul

As I write this, I am flying over New Jersey on my way to visit my family in Wilmington, North Carolina.  My mother’s mother passed away yesterday at the ripe old age of 89 and I am heading down to help with the funeral arrangements and to make sure the rest of the family is handling things well.

Grandma’s death is hitting me pretty hard because I was particularly close with her.  After my parents and siblings moved to North Carolina, Grandma and I were the only ‘Yankees’ left.  We would take car trips down to visit them and spend the 11 ½-hour ride chatting and laughing and making inappropriate jokes.  She always had such a great sense of humor… and she was so excited for us to start a family.  Every time I called her, she would send her love to my husband and ask me if I was happy.  I always was.

Right before she passed away, I had spoken with her over the telephone from her room in the rehab facility where she was recovering after a bad fall.  She wasn’t in pain, but her breathing was weak and it was difficult for her to speak for more than a few minutes without having to take a break.  I knew that she didn’t have much longer to live, but the doctors thought that a few weeks was a good estimate, so I hadn’t purchased an earlier flight.  I’m kicking myself for that, but I am trying to tell myself that she knew how much she was loved and how much I will miss those conversations, those car rides, those little things that you take for granted.

During our final conversation, I told her about potential baby names for our child (or children).  One of them is a combination of her parents’ names, and she seemed really happy to hear about that.  She passed away without any pain after a nice, quiet dinner.  I will think of her every day, and I hope that our attempt to bring life into the world will help balance out the loss of one of the good ones.

We leave in less than 2 weeks for Mumbai, and with a heavy heart, I wish my grandma all the joys of finally being back in her husband’s arms.