Archive | June, 2013

Settling In at Home

19 Jun

You know how casinos are known for not having clocks or windows anywhere, and once you’re inside it’s hard to tell if it’s day or night, and all the lights and colors and sounds can get almost disorienting, and you sort of drift through in a near-hypnotic time-ignorant daze? Parenting newborns can be a lot like that. It’s almost like a time vortex ensues. Days go by so fast now that time seems to almost morph and warp forward instead of just steadily ticking by.

All that said, here’s a bit about what’s happened in the last two weeks.

henry flying homeOn June 3, Matt, Ellen, the twins and I all got on United Flight 49 and flew from Mumbai to Newark; then Newark to Charlotte, NC; and Charlotte to Wilmington, NC. The first flight was 16 hours, and the twins handled it really well. After getting fussed over by the flight attendants, Julianne and Henry promptly passed out for almost the entire flight. They woke every three hours for a feeding and diaper change, but didn’t make much of a peep other than that. Luckily, Matt and Ellen each had empty seats next to them, so Henry and Julianne each had their own seats, too.

We flew to Wilmington instead of going right home to NYC so that we could introduce the twins to Matt’s dad and siblings, and 86-year-old grandma, and also pick up our dog, Butter, who’d been staying with Matt’s parents for several weeks while we got the kids home from India.

four generations w womenOn our first night in Wilmington there was this great moment where Matt’s grandma (Dot), mom (Ellen), sister (Audra), and our daughter were all together for the first time. It was a really cool experience to have four generations together in one room. Though we were a bit bleary-eyed, it was also amazing to be back in the United States after more than 20 days abroad.

h & j grandma dot 3.5 wks

Henry and Julianne, 3 1/2 weeks old, playing on the floor at Grandma Dot’s house.

drive home

On Friday, June 7, Matt and I headed back to New York City with the twins and the dog. I still had a ton of Hertz rewards points from all of my work travel, so we rented a GMC Yukon from the Wilmington Airport, set to be returned at La Guardia Airport in Queens, just over 600 miles away.

Matt and I have done that drive together quite a few times, usually around the holidays. (We’d fly, but we’re not fans of having Butter ride in the airplane cargo hold.) But this time we had Butter, and the twins, and were driving home through Tropical Storm Andrea. The. Entire. Time. tropical storm andreaWe thought we’d avoid it, but it turns out that instead, as you see from the map on the right, we just ended up driving through the entire body of the storm.

It rained for 17 hours and 22 minutes, pretty much non-stop, as we drove from North Carolina back to New York.

tweets from roadtripLucky for us, the twins were pretty great about it. They snoozed in their car seats almost the entire way. Matt drove, doing an excellent job of navigating the storm, while I sat in back and attended to the twins. We did have a couple snafus, once with formula that was cold (it got dramatically spit right back up–oops!), and there were also a couple diaper poopmergencies that got resolved in the trunk of the SUV in McDonald’s parking lots in the pouring rain. (Good times.) I still find it a little crazy that flying home 8,130 miles from Mumbai to Newark took us 16 hours, and driving 600 miles from NC to NYC took us more than 17 hours.

It’s hard to express the relief and gratitude we felt when we rode the elevator up in our apartment building in New York and opened our apartment door for the first time in almost a month. I wanted to simultaneously kiss the ground, and also sleep for about a hundred years.

The next morning it was really nice out, so we had our patio doors open. Matt and I had just finished feeding the kids, and Butter hopped up on the sofa next to us. The five of us were finally gathered at home, just curled up and hanging out together on a Saturday morning. It was a really gratifying bookend to a long journey.

Mission accomplished.

Now all we have to do is raise them. 😉

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After our first weekend home, Matt went back to work on Monday morning. My first week as a stay-at-home dad went pretty well. My life is essentially on a 90-minute alternating loop: it takes about 90 minutes to feed, change, and soothe both kids, and then they sleep for about 90 minutes. It’s a binary three-hour block that repeats around the clock. I’ve been taking all the weekday overnight feedings since Matt is back at work, so I usually try and go to bed around sunset, and get about four hours of sleep while Matt watches them. Then I take over again and get 60-to-90-minute cat naps throughout the night.

Tiring? Yep. But it’s really just a predictable series of repeating tasks, and for the most part Henry and Julianne are pretty easy babies. Sometimes they have indigestion, and that can get a little hairy, but most of the feedings are textbook affairs.

ABC-Scandal-PosterThank god for iPhones and Hulu. During the bottle feedings and burping I’ve watched the final four episodes of Smash, more than a dozen episodes of Scandal, and ten episodes of Mad Men (catching me up on the current season). It’s kind of like pausing and coming back to visual chapter books all night as I take care of the twins. Makes it all go by pretty smoothly.

Matt doesn’t often have to travel for work, but this week he’s gone Monday through Thursday in Atlanta for a work event, mom henryso my mom flew in for a few days to meet the babies, hang out, and help out a bit. It’s been great to have her here. It was also pretty amazing to see her holding my son and daughter for the first time. (Mom is holding Henry in the photo on the right.) It’s been a nice bonding experience. Matt gets back on Thursday, and the same day my grandparents will fly in from Madison, WI, and stay for a week. It’s been so nice to have all this family around.

So, do forgive this addle-brained new dad for a somewhat rambling post, but after two hours of sleep last night (the poor kids had probably their toughest night since birth, but are back to normal now), it’s the best I could muster. 😉

Hope to have more photos up soon, too.


FRRO part 2

9 Jun

You would not believe how hard it is to find the time to write a blog post while meeting all of the needs of your twins.  Josh and I got back to NYC late Friday evening and I have been trying to find a moment to write about our exit experience since then.  Right now, Henry is sleeping379732_10151646299009474_1241396251_n in a Boppy on the couch next to me while Julianne is snoozing (briefly) in a Graco slider.  Our dog, Butter, is laying on the other side of me, paws over his ears to block out all of the baby grunting.

As Josh wrote a few days ago, I was able to obtain the exit permits from the FRRO in Mumbai in 4 working days.  Had I left the process to run its course, I am convinced that we would still be sitting in our hotel room in Mumbai.  We applied for the exit permits on a Wednesday morning, our processing associate, Sunita, scanned the documents and completed her portion of the process that evening, and she phoned our mobile to let us know.  We waited through Thursday and Friday, occasionally communicating with Sunita to check her computer to see if Delhi had approved the requests.  On Monday, I decided to take a trip back to the FRRO (without the twins) to put a face on our request.  The pictures below show the actual entrance to the building, as well as the staircase up to the 3rd floor.  Disgusting.  I repeated the same process as last time, waited until I was called to the reception desk, and told them that I was picking up exit permits.  This got me access to the processing area where I initially applied for the permits.  Sunita was there, and she checked again while I stood next to her.  On the screen, it was apparent that all of the documents had been received in Delhi on Wednesday, printed by someone on Friday morning, but no action had been taken to approve them.  I asked Sunita how to proceed and she suggested that I speak with her boss in the next room over.  She suggested that I literally beg for his help and that he may take pity on me and help.  It’s kinda disgusting that this nasty guy requires grovelling to offer any assistance, but I figured that I would try it anyway.  I sat down with him and explained the entire process, to which he said, ‘There is nothing I can do.  Your consulate has to call Delhi.’  That’s it.  No phone numbers, no explanation why my consulate would have any frrophotopower over the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs, nothing.  This guy was a joke.  I bought a chai from a roving tea porter for 10 rupees and silently seethed.

I called American Citizens Services (+91 22 2672-4000) at 10:30 AM despite their non-emergency hours not starting until 2 pm.  I was able to have the operator connect me to a consular officer and I explained the situation.  The officer said that she knew what to do and that she would try to expedite the process.  I spent the next few hours in those waiting room chairs, occasionally chatting with other foreigners who were obtaining visa extensions and other documents.  I held a baby for an hour for a man who was also applying for an exit permit (and was doing the entire thing alone!) and I chatted with a few of the teachers from the American School of Bombay who are required to register at the FRRO annually.  One of the teachers, Tiffany, spent quite a bit of time chatting with me about her experiences in Mumbai, and she offered to bring me back some food when she returned at 3:30 to pick up her approved paperwork.

At 2 pm, the entire FRRO shuts down for lunch.  At 1:45, I checked again with Sunita and she pulled up our case on her computer.  Success!  Apparently the email that the US Consulate sent to the Delhi MHA had worked.  Henry’s application was marked “APPROVED as per regulation  Please immediately issue exit permission.”  Sunita smiled as she was now personally invested in this process too.  She quickly pulled up Julianne’s case and her smile faded.  “Julianne has not been given permission from Delhi yet.”stairsphoto

This is the point where I lost it.  I demanded to know why only one child would be approved when they were clearly born as twins.  Since this was coming up on 2 pm, I was told to wait through the lunch break to see if the second application would be approved in the next hour.  I spent that hour trying to reach the US Consulate again, but it was their lunch hour, so they were not answering the phone.  At 3 pm, Julianne’s application was still pending, and I realized that this was not going to resolve itself by waiting any longer.  Clearly, the lack of approval of one twin was just an oversight on Delhi’s part, but no one at the FRRO seemed to care.  I asked Sunita to talk to her boss again, explain that one baby had clearly outlined permission to leave, and to see if he could ‘override’ the lack of Delhi permission.  Sunita agreed (and looked nauseous that she would have to speak to her boss) and she came back at 3:15 with permission to grant the second exit permit using the verbiage from Henry’s approval.  I was thrilled but also realized that this man had the ability to grant an exit visa all along, and was just making me wait because he truly didn’t care either way.10185_10101071534353416_649972160_n

While Sunita printed the bill, Tiffany returned from her shopping adventures.  Sometimes strangers can completely affect your day, and I have to say that Tiffany turned my horrible experience into something amazing.  She and I had spent time chatting about Henry and Julianne, so when she returned and handed me a bag with two beautiful onesies and a card, I was speechless.  Thank you again for your kindness on such a miserable day!   The little elephant print is adorable.

The bill for exit permits was broken down into two parts for each child.  The processing fee was $80 US and the fee for my incorrect visa type was $30 US.  These figures are converted into rupees and it worked out to be just under INR 6000 per child.  I was not given a hard time about my lack of a medical visa, and I was happy to pay the fine just to speed up the process.  If you are coming to India and they will not grant you a medical visa because you are considered to be a ‘single’ parent, don’t worry about it.  The fee is still cheaper than applying for the medical visa anyway.  I suggest applying for the exit permits and then immediately contacting your embassy to have them email a request to the MHA.  They can only gently suggest to the Indian government that you require approval, but it definitely helps.

I paid the cashier at his desk, immediately behind the row of computers where Sunita and I had spent most of the day.  He gave me my receipts and I returned to Sunita to pick up the exit permits.  She spent a few minutes stamping and signing the documents, and by 4 pm, I was on my way back to the hotel.  I called Josh and asked him to check on bumping our flight to that evening’s United 49 to Newark.  We used our points to secure 3 seats for the adults, paid the 10% international lap child fee for the twins, and were able to amazingly secure flights from Bombay all the way to Wilmington, NC for 40k points a piece, leaving at 11:10 pm.  The exit permits were granted for 3 days duration, so if we needed to, we could have left any time before Thursday evening, but we were so anxious to get home that we happily gave up our points for Tuesday’s hotel stay and checked out early.

In my next post, I will write about the trip home and our experiences in Wilmington with my family.  No promises, as a baby’s appetite waits for no man, but I hope to have this done in a few days.


Our Family is Coming Home!

3 Jun


Matt camped out at the Indian FRRO office today, here in Mumbai, and HE GOT THE EXIT VISAS FOR THE TWINS!

celebrateMatt called to tell us the good news at 3:30 p.m. Looks like we’re all set to take tonight’s flight from Mumbai back to the United States, leaving in just hours. (Thank god for airline reward miles!) Matt, Ellen, Julianne, Henry and I will fly Mumbai to Newark, then on to Charlotte, NC, and finally to Wilmington, NC.

By 1 p.m. on Tuesday, June 4, we’ll be in Wilmington, NC, where we’ll reunite with Matt’s family, and with our dog, Butter, whom we haven’t seen for 36 days. (He’s been staying with Matt’s family there during our adventures bringing the kids home.)

We’ll stay in Wilmington for a day or two and then drive back home (in a rental) to New York City with our pup and twins. 🙂

After 20 full days in India, words can barely express how excited we are to be COMING HOME!


The Dreaded FRRO Mumbai

2 Jun

I needed to take a few days off before writing about our final step of the process, the dreaded FRRO (Foreigner’s Regional Registration Office).  This was like the DMV without any rules.  I knew in advance that the FRRO in Mumbai was requesting a dozen different documents to complete the applications for our twins’ exit permits.  In addition, Mumbai FRRO has decided that they will no longer process applications for ‘single’ parent (i.e. gay) surrogacies, and thus sends the scanned documents via email to the Delhi Ministry of Home Affairs for approval before issuing the exit permits locally.  I don’t know why only Mumbai FRRO has decided this, as the FRROs in Kolkata, Hyderabad, Delhi, and pretty much everywhere else are still allowing it, but that’s the hand we have been dealt.

As soon as we picked up the baby passports and letter of introduction from the US consulate, I returned home to fill out the FRRO applications online.  I printed a copy of each child’s application in the business center, and made sure that I had a full set of documents for each child.  It’s better to make an entire second set of copies just in case, because the copy machine at the FRRO is not something you want to deal with.  After completing the applications, you are given the option to select the date of your physical appointment at the FRRO.  Thankfully, there were still slots available for the following day.  The slots are not for a specific time, so it’s best to arrive well before the doors open at 9:30 AM.

The following day, Wednesday, Mom and I loaded the babies into our car and took the 45-minute drive down to the FRRO.  Here is a  YouTube video made by hammockguy66, who thoughtfully filmed the drive up to the building, as there are no signs on the main road.  It is located down the road, behind St. Xavier College’s welcome sign, so make sure your driver turns when he sees that sign.  We left the hotel at 7 am to account for any traffic and arrived around 7:45.  You will never be prepared for this experience, so let me just explain that the building itself looks like a bombed-out warehouse.  The sign that lists the departments on each floor is not attached to the wall… someone just propped it up against the building next to a pile of trash.  A security guard sits at a folding card table stacked with large ledgers6943601469_f545c7f14a_z in front of an open door frame leading into the building.  The doors have long been removed and are nowhere to be found, but the brackets that once held them in place are still swinging in the sweltering breeze.  When you peek into the entryway, you see a set of stairs covered in dust and construction materials, live wires hanging down that should probably be avoided, and an elevator that looks like it could easily become your coffin.  I’m not exaggerating.

The security guard was very nice and explained that we were extremely early and that we could have a set on a bench right next to his own chair.  The bench looks like it was stolen from an airport lounge 20 years ago, but it was comfortable enough.  At 9 AM, the guard suddenly announced that people could start signing their names into the ledger and head upstairs to the 3rd floor waiting room.  Despite the order in which you sign your name, your seating order in the 3rd floor waiting room determines how quickly you will be seen.  We ended up as the 5th and 6th chairs (they are numbered, as is every single thing here in India).  During the half hour wait until the FRRO opened at 9:30, Julianne decided to have a little meltdown that her bottle, her pacifier, her swaddle, and snuggling could not cure.  I think that the lack of air conditioning was getting to her, but eventually she calmed down.  Henry slept the entire time in my Bjorn.

At 9:30, the officer at the reception desk started calling us in.  Each time a person was called, everyone was required to shift down to the next chair.  A few minutes later, we were before the officer.  He asked my intentions (to apply for exit permits) and reviewed all of the paperwork briefly before writing the number 5 on my top sheet and telling me to head to window 5.  By then, Mom and both babies had already gotten settled into the air conditioned interior waiting room and they were able to sit there quietly for the rest of the process.  I walked over to a desk that had a large 5 drawn on the wall, but no one was sitting there, so I asked at desk 4 if this was the correct location.  He told me that I must wait to be called to desk 5, so I returned to the waiting area with Mom.   One of the employees who would eventually complete my entire process saw me and asked if I was waiting for desk 5. Screen Shot 2013-06-02 at 3.42.28 PM I replied ‘yes’ and she took me (strangely) to desk 15, where I sat next to her as she pulled up each of the online applications, checked every document, confirmed my status as a ‘single’ parent, looked at the babies to ensure that they matched their passport photos (Ha!), and explained that she would scan all of the documents during her afternoon session.  A small roach crawled across my foot and I jumped.  The FRRO takes customers from 9:30 AM to 1:00 PM, followed by lunch hour, then the rest of the day is spent processing all of that day’s applications.   She had me buy two large folders from the small shop located directly behind her for 60 INR to hold all of the documents.  She also explained that the documents would be sent to Delhi MHA for approval and that I would pay for the exit permits once approval was granted.  The cost would be $80 US per baby, plus $30 per baby for my incorrect use of a tourist visa instead of a medical visa (that the Indian government refuses to grant ‘single’ parents effective 6 months ago despite my pregnancy already existing… bullshit).  Finally, she had me write my contact information in her notebook and she gave me her mobile number to check up on the process.  I left her a 1000 INR tip for her help (as I’ve heard that people have had much worse experiences here) and she seemed genuinely surprised.  That evening, around 7 pm, I received a call from her explaining that my applications had been scanned and fully submitted to the Delhi MHA.

It has now been a few days since Wednesday evening’s submission, and we are still waiting for the exit permits.  One of the required documents is a copy of your e-tickets for your departure flight, which is currently scheduled for Tuesday evening.  Since it is Sunday and the office is closed, I will be telephoning them again tomorrow morning to remind them that we need the permits by Monday evening.  I have tried a few times to contact the Delhi MHA and the Mumbal FRRO to get an update, but I am run in circles and constantly referred back to a phoneIMG_8887 number that had no information for me.  When I read other blogs that were able to get exit permits in 5 hours, it really frustrates me that Mumbai alone has decided to make it difficult for us to leave.  These babies are already US citizens and this step should just be a formality, but they are really dragging their feet with issuing our documents.  I will update once we hear back from the FRRO.

In the meanwhile, here are the documents required for your applications for an exit visa.

-US Consulate introduction letter

-Surrogacy agreement between the applicant surrogate mother & doctor treating the case.

-Doctor’s letter who has given treatment, which explains the embryo transfer and the date of birth.  This was delivered to us by the lawyer’s courier (see below).

-Discharge Letter from hospital where infant was born.  Our hospital’s front desk knew exactly what to write and had it for us in a few hours time.  It will be combined with a letter of ‘no dues’ or outstanding debt into one document, and you can point this out if the FRRO officer wants to get picky.

-Infant’s (Applicant) passport.

-Infant’s birth certificate issued by Indian authority.

-Parent’s passport and visa copy.

-Confirmed Air Ticket (Infant + parent’s)


Infant’s photo – 3 (with white background) – They only took 1 of the 3 and used a webcam to scan it into the online application, but bring 3 just in case.

-‘No objection letter’ / No Dues affidavit from Surrogate mother.  The lawyer would have already obtained this document for you while you were waiting for the birth certificates.  Our surrogate returned to Rotunda where she signed the affidavit and it was notarized and brought to us at the hotel.

-“No dues are pending” letter from Clinic.  This letter was also brought to our hotel by the lawyer’s courier.

-Letter from the hotel you’re staying or last stayed.  Our concierge had experience with these documents and was able do draw one up that simply stated “Mr. Matthew _________ has been a guest at our hotel from x to y.” and it was printed on official letterhead and signed by the manager.

More to come…