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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.

–Matt

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…

–Matt

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?”

Done.

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.

–Josh

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.

–Josh

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.

–Matt

Setting the Date to Make a Baby

29 Jun

We’ve got our Indian visas. All the prelim medical tests are done on our end. We’ve selected an egg donor for our child and we’ve wired the initial payments (upward of $8,000) to our clinic in India.

Now all that’s left to do is select our surrogate, visit our clinic in India, and make our baby.

We’ve worked out the dates for that big initial visit with both our clinic and employers. (Drum roll, please!) Matt and I will be traveling to Mumbai on Friday, July 20, and returning to New York on Thursday, July 26.

That means, of course, that three weeks from today we’ll be getting on a plane and heading to India. It feels almost surreal how quickly everything is happening, but we’re both very excited. It’s hard to be patient. We’d go tomorrow if we could.

Alas, just a few more weeks to wait.

Ordinarily we wouldn’t be telling people so much about this process, as in vitro fertilization, and pregnancy in general, can be a delicate, fickle undertaking. Consider the data, which tells us there’s a 60% chance of pregnancy from a first round of IVF. If there isn’t a successful pregnancy the first time, Matt will have left a second genetic sample to start the in vitro process again two months after the first go-round (which also means additional cost). There’s a 90% chance of success by the second time around. So, nine out of ten times, by the second try, you’re pregnant (in the case of gestational surrogacy).

This is the part, of course, where we beg you to cross all your fingers and toes (and/or send good thoughts, prayers, light a candle, or whatever it is you like to do in a situation like this) for a successful first shot.

It takes two weeks for the clinic to confirm our pregnancy after that initial visit, so we’ll know the result by mid-August. An e-mail from our clinic will serve as our equivalent of peeing on a little plastic stick and looking for a “plus” or “minus.” We’ll be on our honeymoon in Spain at that point, which would be a really wonderful time to get some good news.

If not, we’ll deal; we’re very optimistic, but also realistic. You have to be with things like this.

With IVF, and pregnancies in general, the oft-accepted rule is usually to not tell anyone about the status of the pregnancy until the first trimester of pregnancy is finished (which is about thirteen weeks). It’s most common for miscarriages to occur in that time period, for example, so couples often wait until after that to make announcements to friends and family.

In our case, however, we’ll be sharing each step of the process as we go along. We learned so much valuable information  from a few same-sex couples who wrote terrific gestational surrogacy blogs, detailing each step of their journey, from bumps to successes, that we feel it’s only fair to do the same ourselves.

In the meantime, we’ll be counting down the days until we leave for India.

Fatherhood, or at least a fertilized egg latched to a uterine wall and rapidly dividing, may be just around the corner.

–Josh

“Will You Marry Me?”

26 Jun

When I woke up that Friday morning last June, I had no idea that I would be engaged to be married by the end of the day.

I sent Matt a text that morning. “Why don’t we go to a nice dinner tonight? Something French, maybe?”

“Sounds good to me,” Matt wrote back. A consummate foodie, he was never one to turn down the idea of going out for a good meal.

In a few weeks we were set to go to London and Paris for a vacation, so I brought up the idea of doing a Paris-themed night out. Matt was on board with that, too.

I made a reservation at Café Luxembourg on the Upper West Side and looked up show times for Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” playing at Lincoln Square.

We went all out at dinner, dressing up in jackets and ordering whatever we liked from the menu. When we finished our meal, Matt had a mischievous smirk on his face.

“Why don’t we head down to Per Se and have drinks before the movie?”

“Per Se?” I asked. “As in the single fanciest restaurant in all of New York?”

The mischievous smirk turned into a full-blown smile. Yes, that one.

I can’t remember what cocktail we ordered at Per Se, but I remember that it was obscenely priced and delicious. Matt had started checking his phone for news updates at that point, knowing that the New York Senate was supposedly going to vote on same-sex marriage equality in the late hours of the day. No news yet, though.

We finished our drinks and made our way to the movie. The theater was packed.

Throughout the movie, Matt kept peeking at his phone, which would have driven me absolutely crazy, but he got a free pass for his excitement, waiting to see if New York would join the handful of states that had decided its gay and lesbian constituents weren’t second-class citizens.

As the movie wound toward its conclusion, Matt nudged me and surreptitiously showed me his iPhone screen.

“NY SENATE: SAME-SEX MARRIAGE LEGAL”

I gave him a quick kiss, and we held hands until the movie finished. I felt a flush of excitement. Matt squeezed my hand and I squeezed back.

“Wow, I can’t believe they did it,” I said to Matt as we walked out of the theater, referring to the New York Senate.

“I thought they would,” Matt said. “I’m glad they had the courage to finally get it done.”

We stepped out into the summer evening on the Upper West Side, across the street from the glowing, newly-renovated Lincoln Center. We felt a little wired from our great date night, combined with the news coming out of Albany.

“Should we go for a drink?” I asked.

“Why don’t we go for a walk around Lincoln Center,” Matt suggested.

We stopped at the famed fountain, brightly lit from within, as cascading water rose and fell in artful arcs. We walked toward the Vivian Beaumont Theater, mere steps away, and through a grove of trees that reminded me of previous trips to Paris. It was a fitting ending, I remember thinking to myself, for our Paris-themed evening.

“Let’s sit for a minute,” Matt said.

We soaked in the quiet of the city and the warm-but-not-stuffy evening air.

“So,” Matt said, speaking slowly, “what would you think about us getting married?”

I smiled. “I think that’s where we’re heading, don’t you? It’s exciting that it’s finally legal here in New York.”

Matt tried again. “But what would you think about us getting married. Now.”

I sat up. “Now? Oh! Well.” I collected myself. “Do you think we’re ready? Should we wait, save money and things?”

Matt laughed. “Josh. We’re ready.”

“Wait. We’re not just doing this because New York passed the law tonight, are we?”

He shook his head. “No, we’re not. I’ve been thinking about this for a while now.”

It was my turn to smile. “You have?”

He nodded.

“Okay,” I said. “Pretend like we didn’t have that whole conversation. Ask me again.”

“Will you marry me?”

I felt myself start to get a little teary, but I held it together. I leaned in toward him.

“Yes,” I said.

We kissed.

Out of the jacket pocked of his suit came a little black, velvety box. Adrenaline shot through my chest.

“Oh my god, this really isn’t just because the law passed tonight!” I said. “You’ve been planning this!”

“I’ve had it with me on a few dates now,” Matt said. “I was waiting for the perfect moment, and if this wasn’t it, I don’t know what would be.”

Inside was a Tiffany platinum band with a small, glittering diamond in it—perfect for a guy, and utterly classic. He put it on my finger.

“Oh my god,” I said again, unable to stop saying the phrase. “We just got engaged!”

We headed toward the car and both started calling friends and family to tell them our news. My first call was to my best friend, whose name is also Josh. We’d been best friends since college and had even moved to the city together, years ago.

“No way!” Josh said. “You’re serious? You’re engaged?

“Yep. And I have the ring to prove it.”

“Okay, you have to come downtown. A ton of people are gathering at Stonewall to celebrate the passage of the marriage law. You guys have to come. I’m walking there right now.”

Soon we were standing in front of the site of the original Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, where the gay rights movement had started in 1969. Just over forty years later, here we were, with a crowd well into the thousands, celebrating as a couple engaged to be married in a state that would now legally recognize our union.

“Alright, you two, smile!” Josh said, pushing Matt and I together and taking a picture of us with his iPhone. We’d been engaged less than an hour, and you could clearly see the delight on our faces.

That’s the photo you see in Matt’s post below, and it became our official engagement photo.

A year later, and more than six months into our marriage, now on our path to becoming dads together, I’m almost speechless thinking about how my life has changed, very much for the better, in twelve short months.

I’m so glad that Matt asked that biggest of questions that night last June.

I’m so glad that I said yes.

I love you, Matt, and I’m so excited to start a family with you.

–Josh

One Year Ago . . .

25 Jun

One year ago today, at the moment that I am writing this entry, Josh and I were walking from dinner at Cafe Luxembourg to Lincoln Plaza Cinemas to watch “Midnight in Paris.”  While we watched the movie, I repeatedly updated the news feed on my cell phone to check on the status of the pending same-sex marriage legislation in New York state.  When the legislation was approved, I couldn’t wait to get outside and propose.  I had purchased the ring well in advance, and was carrying it with me, looking for the perfect opportunity.  We left the theater and walked across the street to the grove of trees behind Lincoln Center.  I was very emotional, and I’m sure that I could have been more suave in my approach, but I don’t think any amount of planning would have made the moment more perfect than it was for us.

Josh agreed to marry me, and I am the luckiest guy on the planet.  I love you so much, baby!  I can’t wait to start a family with you and to watch our kids grow up.

Lawyers Without Borders

22 Jun

A lawyer who specializes in surrogacy will be required for the second parent adoption as well as to answer any technical questions that will arise as fees begin to accumulate. This child (or children) will genetically be linked to myself and an anonymous egg donor, so legally, a second parent adoption will be required to cover any potential parentage issues for Josh. As this process can not start until after the birth and takes approximately 8 months to complete, a lawyer should be placed on retainer to help us with the entire process. Unfortunately, every lawyer that we have contacted has essentially replied with the same message: they have no legal standing to practice in India, so they are unable to provide us with the counsel that we require.

We may have to figure this out on our own until we arrive back in the United States. A family lawyer will be able to procure the second parent adoption, but as far as a surrogacy lawyer goes, we are out of luck. Thankfully, the surrogacy laws in India are unique in that the only names placed on a birth certificate are those with a genetic link to the child. Therefore, I would be the only name listed on the birth certificate, and thus Baby X will be considered a US citizen born abroad, at least according to India. This makes immigration a very easy process, once the US is satisfied with a genetic test proving my parentage.

–Matt