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Updates from India, Day 15

28 May

Happy news from India!

Today at 12:45 p.m. we got the call that the twins’ passports were ready for pick-up. Ellen stayed with the kids while Matt and I trekked down to the U.S. Consulate in Bandra, about 25 minutes south of our hotel.

Completed passports are given out at the consulate only between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., so we showed up at 1:45 p.m. Before we could enter the consulate compound, a security guard at a station out front asked to see our passports, as well as the receipt from the payment for the babies’ passports.

We ended up having to wait outside for 15 minutes before we could go in, though, as the consulate workers were on lunch break until 2 p.m., and nobody was allowed inside until they were finished. After waiting outdoors (92 degrees and very humid–yum! ;)), they issued us visitor’s passes, and an escort took us into the compound.

julianne henry us american passport blueOnce inside, getting the passports was a fairly easy process. Matt was first in line, and after another 15-20 minute wait, we had the passports in our hands. The only problem? The consulate’s letter that accompanies the passports, part of the required paperwork to get the twins’ exit visas, had an error in it. (We are not, as it turns out, “Mr. and Mrs.” ;)) It took another 15-20 minutes to fix the error and have the letters reprinted, but then we were all set. Just under an hour after we’d arrived, we were back in our cab with the magical blue passport books in our hands.

And just like that, our kids became American citizens. 🙂

Two of the three big steps in getting home (obtaining the birth certificates and passports) are now complete.

Back at the hotel, Matt logged onto the FRRO website to get the third and final step rolling. On the site, he filled out the application for Henry and Julianne’s exit visas, and managed to snag a next-day appointment to present our case and our mountain of paperwork. There are a finite number of slots available each day, so we felt lucky landing two of them.

After finishing the online exit visa application, Matt printed the work he’d just finished (an FRRO requirement) and added it to the fearsome stack of paperwork for tomorrow’s appointment.

While Matt worked on the exit visa stuff, I went to the front desk at the hotel to request a special letter on hotel letterhead that states our full names, check-in and check-out dates, and our passport information, with duplicate copies. (It’s just another of the FRRO’s dozens of fun/bizzare/frustrating hoops to jump through.) I thought I’d have to carefully explain to the front desk about the letter I needed, but the manager was like, “Oh, no problem, we’ve done this before.” A few hours later, we had our hotel-signed letters, and added them to the stack.

So, alas, we now enter the final stages of the process of leaving India. We’ve been told it takes about four business days to get the exit visas, so hopefully we’ll have them by Monday.

Then, hopefully, we can fly back to the U.S. on Tuesday (June 4).

We’ve had a good time here, but we’re ready to be home. Not much longer now!


The United States Consulate and DNA Testing

23 May

Things are happening so fast that it’s hard to keep up with the blog.  This entry will be about the US Consulate and the passport application process.

After meeting with our lawyer, Urvi Rathod (who has done an amazing job in a record amount of time), we realized that we would have to return to Hiranandani Hospital to pick up a copy of a ‘no dues’ letter, explaining that all liabilities for the babies and for the surrogate have been satisfied.  Easy enough, right?  The front desk receptionist asked for a copy of our final bill, checked his records, and typed out the letter in roughly 5 minutes.  He also informed us that we were eligible for a small refund (2400 INR or about $46 USD) and that it would take a few minutes to process and be r182811_10200620227780718_1891491860_nefunded in cash.  He filled out the form while Josh ran over to the hospital’s gift shop to purchase more preemie formula.  The few minutes turned into an hour and a half wait.  First, they could not locate the CFO of the hospital who was required to sign off on the refund, then we were told that he lost his cell phone, then we were told that he was just in a meeting, and finally, we were told that he was returning shortly.  I killed some time by returning to the records room in the basement to make sure that our birth certificate applications had been processed, and was told that we should expect them in just a few days.  When I returned to the counter, I was finally offered my refund after signing 2 forms, noting that the document had since been signed by the CFO, stamped, affixed with a physical stamp that was signed over, and photocopied.  If nothing else in our blog demonstrates Indian bureaucracy, this document should… all for 46 bucks.

The next day, I called a woman named Nita who owns a Priyanka Photography Studio in Hiranandani Gardens.  (Phone number +91 98 2030 8746)  She often works with our lawyer to help clients obtain passport photos for their newborn babies.  Rather than enduring another bumpy car trip with no car seats, I opted to pay a premium to have the photographer come to our hotel to take the pictures.  He spent about 30 minutes in total, wiggling the babies’ feet, trying to get them to smile, or at least to open their eyes.  Personally, I think the photos look more like mug shots than portraits, but they will work perfectly well at the consulate and the FRRO.  I do enjoy the idea of Julianne and Henry traveling for the next few years with a 5-day-old photo as their identification… I hope they stay that way forever.  The photographer was happy with his shots, and he returned about 6 hours later with the completed photos.  Total cost was 2800 INR ($54 USD), so Saturday’s refund basically took care of the photos.

We received the US consulate documents on late Monday evening.  These included our original birth certificates, a ‘no dues’ letter from the Rotunda clinic, an embryo cycle summary, a letter explaining the specifics of our surrogacy process signed by the medical director of the clinic, a signed and notarized copy of the ‘no dues’ letter from our surrogate, and a copy of our doctor’s medical license.  As soon as I had the birth certificates in hand, I logged onto the US Consulate website and registered for the next available appointment to process a CBRA (Consular Birth Report Abroad).  Thankfully, there was one appointment left for the following morning, Tuesday at 10:30 AM.  Knowing that I would require a DNA test for each child, I emailed the Fraud Prevention Unit at the US Consulate to schedule DNA testing following our 10:30 AM appointment.  Since it was so late at night, I wasn’t sure that I would be able to do the DNA portion on the same day, but in the morning, I received a telephone call from the FPU letting me know that they were able to contact the physician who would conduct the swabbing and he was available at 11:45 AM.  I was never told to fill in these forms by anyone, but after reading the link above, I prepared myself the night before by printing two copies of each form and filling out as much as possible in advance of the appointment.

We opted to take the Westin house car rather than a blue taxi because it was set at a flat rate for 3.5 hours of usage and the driver would stay outside of the consulate to wait for us.  Prior to arriving at the consulate, I asked the driver to stop at a bank in order to obtain a demand draft of 2000 INR, payable to the physician doing the swabbing, as he does not accept cash.  Alternatively, we could have made the payment directly to the cashier’s counter at the hospital where this physician works, but I thought it would be easier to just have the demand draft ready for him.  The first bank seemed very confused when I asked for a demand draft.  It’s essentially a cashier’s check, so I assumed (never do this in India) that any bank would charge me a small fee and accept cash in exchange for the draft.  Apparently this is only done at certain banks, and the one that I chose was not one of them.  I had wasted 15 minutes figuring this out, so I decided to head to the consulate in order to not be late for my appointment rather than showing up late with the draft.  A few metBL25_VISA_1063963fal detectors and passport checks later, we were through security and in a small room full of plastic chairs, the far wall lined with cashier windows.  Now this process is going to sound stressful, but honestly, the US Consulate was amazingly efficient and very comfortable.  Everyone was incredibly friendly and the entire CBRA/passport application process took less than 40 minutes.  First, I provided a copy of the appointment confirmation sheet that was emailed to me when I set up the appointment to the check-in window.  She proceeded to give me two stickers with numbers on them (602 and 603) and asked me to wait until my number was called.  A few minutes later, I was called to a second window where I provided the completed CBRA application, the application for a US passport, and all of my supporting documentation for each child.  The man reviewed each document, showed me how to correct a few things, handed me back the originals, and asked me to walk 2 windows over to the cashier in order to pay for the applications.  The total for 2 CBRAs, 2 passports, and expedited processing was $410.00 US and they aNew Consulate Mumbaiccepted my credit card.  Lastly, I was called to the window of the consular officer.  She was amazingly sweet and asked to look at each of the babies to compare them with their passport photos.  Once this was done, mom held both of them while I stood at the window, held up my right hand, and swore 6 different oaths about providing financial care until the twins’ 18th birthday, the accuracy of the submitted applications, and my status as a US citizen.  Instant citizenship for Henry and Julianne.

Next step, the DNA tests.  Since I was unsuccessful in obtaining a demand draft prior to the appointment, I asked Josh to leave the consulate with some cash and take the Westin car to find a bank that would process the draft.  He blazed a trail and returned just as we were leaving the building to head over to the FPU side.  The bank was located a few blocks away from the consulate, still within the ‘G’ block of the BKC, a massive complex of government buildings and international banks.  The bank that granted the demand draft is called Bank of Baroda and the address is C-26, G – Block, Bandra – Kurla Complex, Bandra (East), Mumbai-400051.  The demand draft should be made out to Dr. Jayant Rele and they charge 84 INR to print the draft.

Now it was time for the DNA testing, which took place within the same consulate, but we would first have to backtrack from the American Citizens Services (ACS) building to the main entrance of the consulate.  This meant that we were asked to leave the secure area, take the car around the block to the main entrance, and resubmit ourselves for security on the other side.  If you are reading this blog because you are interested in surrogacy in India, please remember to leave all cell phones and electronics (even your ipod ear buds) in the car, because this is non-negotiable.  A consulate employee was waiting for us at the main entrance, checked my passport against his list of DNA tests for the day, and granted us access to a waiting area off of a beautiful bench-lined courtyard.  The DNA testing went smoothly after I provided the original birth certificates, photocopies of these certificates, my passport and visa copies, and the demand draft for 2000 INR.  Each baby had both cheeks swabbed 4 times, the samples were sealed into envelopes, and shipped out directly from the consulate to our lab in Arizona.  As I sit here now, I’ve tracked the package from Mumbai to Dubai to Paris to Memphis.  It should arrive later today in Phoenix.  Once the DNA test is run and there is a match (crossing fingers!), the lab will email the US Consulate and the passports will be ready within 24 hours.

There is a lot of down time here in Mumbai.  Since the babies are so small and we do not have car seats, we are really stuck at the hotel for days on end.  The mall provides a brief respite, as two of us can go to dinner and bring back a meal for the ‘babysitter.’  Mom and I went to the British Brewing Company last night for some food, and it did not disappoint.  The menus are on iPads, so you click on whatever you want and press send to deliver the order to the kitchen.  It’s a cool concept, but seems so out of place when you think about the thousands of people living right next to the mall in the slums who barely have running water, let alone enough electricity to run an iPad.  Mumbai is a stark juxtaposition of incredible wealth and incredible poverty, and the interaction between them is often a few short footsteps.

behind the beautiful foreversI picked up a copy of the book ‘Behind the Beautiful Forevers‘ for mom to read, as Josh and I have already read it.  I highly recommend it if you are interested in learning more about the slums of Mumbai and the lives of their inhabitants.  The story is completely true, told by a journalist-turned-author, and it’s absolutely heartbreaking.  For my own guilty pleasure, I grabbed a copy of ‘Inferno’ by Dan Brown, and although the reviews have been pretty dismal, I’ll give it a shot.

Thank you to everyone for your words of support.  It has been difficult to respond to all of the Facebook messages, the emails, and the blog comments, but we appreciate all of them.  Now that buzzfeed and queerty have picked up the story, our video has been viewed over 75,000 times on multiple sources.  We made a video so that our friends could see the process, but having strangers support our decisions has made it all the more meaningful.  Thank you!


Preparing For the Return to Mumbai

10 Apr

Today was filled with phone calls and emails with the US Consulate in Mumbai, the DNA processing lab in Arizona, and the Hiranandani Hospital in Powai.  It started with a 7:00 AM EST email from Rotunda Clinic letting me know that our surrogate had just been admitted to the hospital due to a blood pressure concern.  As she is at 30 weeks 4 days, any little concern needs to be thoroughly examined by a physician.  I called the hospital directly and was able to speak with Dr. Anita Soni, the OBGYN who will ultimately oversee the birth of the twins.  She reassured me that our surrogate is doing well and that she was admitted for observation and to provide nutrition and support.  We aren’t sure how long before she will be released, but I assume that it will not be longer than a day or two.   Our 100,000 INR deposit at Hiranandani was received months ago in anticipation of any complications, so treatment will be deducted from that balance.  Of course, I have no idea how much any of this will cost.

081009-dna-02Next, I reached out to the US Consulate to obtain information on the process for DNA verification of my genetic link to the babies.  Thankfully, the process has recently been streamlined (as of March 28, 2013) and we no longer have to scramble across the city to make a payment to the hospital for a doctor to perform the cheek swabs.  They can be paid with a direct bank draft available at any bank in the city.  The fee will be 1000 INR (about $20 USD) per cheek swab.  If any other potential parents need the specific details on the DNA process, please let me know via email or a comment.

The DNA testing kits have to be sent about a month in advance of the birth to account for travel time and potential early labor.  I will be completing my cheek swab here in New York on Friday, and the two sealed testing kits will be shipped directly from Chromosomal Labs in Phoenix, Arizona.  Melissa at Chromosomal Labs has been absolutely fantastic and I highly recommend her as your DNA lab provider.  The lab must be an AABB accredited center and they should be familiar with the required paperwork and processes when you call for a quote.

Once the babies are born and released from the NICU, we will schedule an appointment at the US Consulate to complete an application for a CBRA (Consular Report of Birth Abroad).  This document will be used to process the passport application for the newborns after the DNA test confirms their citizenship through my genetic link.  The cheeks will be swabbed, the kits will be mailed back to Arizona, and the results will be available 2-3 days after they are received.  The results will be emailed to the consulate, and HOPEFULLY, I will match!  Once a link is established, the passports are issued and the last step is the exit visa.

I have spent hours putting together a plastic binder full of documents that I may potentially need to complete the applications for CBRA, passport, social security card, and exit visas.  While photocopies are pretty easy to obtain in Mumbai, I’ve made multiple copies of everything.  This includes documents to prove my time in the US, including tax returns, college transcripts, utility bills, old passports, and a list of every date and time that I have ever left the US.  While it seems overwhelming at first, the process is actually keeping me focused on my checklist and allowing me to briefly stop stressing about all of the uncertainties ahead.

I can’t believe that I will be a daddy in about 5-6 weeks.   I’m already so in love with our babies.