Thursday, March 17, 2011

We're Home!

Sorry for the long delay but between jet lag and an immeasurably large mob of family and friends, we've just not had the time or ability to post. The good news - great news! - is that we're home and can now lose sleep in our own house, and not a hotel, like any other couple with a newborn. We have much to share about our last couple of days and will do so soon. For now, however, it's stunning merely to realize we're near the end of the Indian chapter in our lives.

Our pediatrician tells us that Archer is supremely healthy and quite impressed at how our little guy has already grown over 1 pound (to 8 pounds 13 ounces) and 1.5 inches (to 22 inches) in less than a month. Today is his one month birthday and let me tell you, after all we've been through, it's hard to believe Archer's just barely 30 days old.

Our love to everyone out there in the blogosphere for your support during that oh so long stay in Mumbai. Here are some pictures to say thank you. (Clicking on them opens a larger size.)

Just after Archer's first real bath. Sponge baths on Marriott beds don't count!
In his very own Moses basket.
Note the white mitten. Archer's always landing planes with his hands,
even in his sleep, so the mittens keep things soft and safe.
The kind of hat mommies go crazy for.
This is what greeted us at the airport.
And this is what greeted us at the house.
The view outside our house. It's good to be home!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Our Big Break

Three cheers for Shannon's kidney stones and the pain she's been in for about two months! Thanks to a note faxed by Shannon's physician to the US Consulate about this chronic kidney condition, our appointment was moved up. First it was moved from the 15th to the 11th, a Friday. Nice - better than nothing - but still keeping us here an extra weekend as the passport takes one business day for delivery. Then, magically, a phone call Wednesday asked if we could come in Thursday. Um, yes! The beauty of this last shift is it means we can fly home Friday instead of Monday. Shannon's already put in a cheeseburger order to Five Guys.

Shannon's kidney stones make infrequent but always memorable visits, particularly when she's under a lot of stress. In fact, the last serious bout before this trip to India occurred during the weeks leading up to our wedding. Shannon was literally on bed rest and Vicodin for the week following our I do's. It's a good thing we'd put off a serious honeymoon until later in life because we would have had to cancel it. Anyway, as our return to Mumbai loomed, coupled with the threats of an early delivery due to R's placenta previa, the stones decided to reappear. We typically don't even think to mention the pain because, sadly, it's just something Shannon periodically needs to tolerate until either natural elimination or surgery. But once we heard a medical emergency could expedite our appointment, silence went out the window.

Having just come back from the US Consulate we remain a little dumbfounded about why they limit each day to two Birth Abroad visits. Getting through security took longer than the actual governmental red tape - maybe ninety minutes all told. Certainly, it helped that we had our act together. Here's what was required:

  • Completed passport and social security applications, no different from applications one would complete in the US
  • Completed Consulate Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) form
  • Copy of the surrogacy agreement we'd signed with R during our first trip to India back in February of last year
  • Copy of letters from our clinic, Hiranandani Hospital and Babies R Us IVF, all of which attest to our pursuit of surrogacy and the birth of Archer
  • Two 2" x 2" photos of Archer (we had a photographer come to our hotel room last week to take these photos)
  • Copy of our passports and marriage certificate
  • $205
That's it. We handed over the above, waited about 25 minutes, and then - with right hands raised - attested to the fact that Archer was indeed our son and that all the information we'd provided was accurate. Boom! Archer became a US citizen.

The Consulate was, as expected, a bit of a compound, populated with armed, Indian guards inside and out. We had to check in at a non-descript kiosk behind bullet-proof glass and then put up with a fairly extensive bag search that included my tasting of Archer's baby food. Limited to one bag and not allowed to bring in our bottles of hand sanitizer and hand cream (the Consulate's tougher than an airport), we put excess items in a locker and then walked through a metal detector and metal turnstile onto the grounds. It was a short outdoor walk to what appeared to be the main Consulate building, climbing marble stairs into a sterile lobby with doors off in all directions. On the wall was a picture of President Obama - and yes, I couldn't help but feel a bit of pride and place. Shannon and I were buzzed through to a small, heavily air conditioned room filled with straight-backed chairs facing another bullet-proof window. It was with the folks behind this window that we exchanged all of the above paperwork. Throughout the entire experience, all interaction was with locals except for the very end when we were sworn by a young American woman, Christy.

The passport will be available for pickup at 9:30 in the morning tomorrow. The three of us will grab it and then immediately head on over to the Foreigner Regional Registration Office (FRRO) - an Indian agency tasked with doling out, among other things, exit visas. Shannon and I will be enlisting the help of a partner to our surrogacy clinic who specializes in work with the FRRO. We want smooth sailing, no surprises and an exit visa for Archer on the same day. (Technically, exit visas can take anywhere from 1 to 15 days for delivery.) If all goes to plan, we'll be done sometime around lunch with perhaps a little time to spare for a visit to the Colaba markets before our 2pm late check out. We'll be begging for an even later check out as our flight doesn't leave 'til 11:40pm. That's a lot of time to kill.

Cross your fingers. We were able to purchase two aisle seats in an empty three seat middle row. (No bassinet seats were available.) If that middle seat remains empty we'll have a place to put Archer during the 16 hour flight back to the States. Otherwise, we'll be holding him all the way back - a nice capper to a long stay away.

We're ready. You can tell just by watching Shannon. She's skipping right now and will do so right until we're seated, buckled in and on our way home.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Random Thoughts While Killing Time

My hair grows like a weed. This fact isn't normally at the top of my 'share with others' list but I have to mention it because I'm approaching afro stage. We always knew this was a possibility and even took the precaution of a visit to my hairdresser a mere day before our departure to Mumbai. As we enter the uncharted waters of week four and I'm Code Orange for excessive hair, I have to confront one of two options - let it approach comical proportions, only minorly tamed by hair products, or let Shannon grab a pair of scissors and embrace her inner Tabatha Coffey. This decision is further complicated by relationship-bearing overtones. If I go with the 'fro, is it because I have trust issues? If I truly love my wife, particularly on International Women's Day - completely unknown to me until the Mariott Courtyard slipped a card, addressed to my wife, under the door - shouldn't I throw caution to the wind and let her untrained hand give it a go? Me and my mane will sleep on it.

Today we'll be ordering Domino's for dinner. The store's only a three minute walk from the hotel but, as you read in an earlier post, that walk takes one via time warp into an earlier age that screams pizza delivery. The trick is communicating what we want over the phone. Look, we're in India. The fact that most locals speak English at all is such a blessing for an outsider that I remain quite humble and patient in my communications. Nevertheless, I confess to a slight bit of frustration when trying to get past the accent. (Yes, they have the accent - not me!) If I could communicate with Domino's by written word, Shannon and I would be golden. Unfortunately, that's not the case.
  • Restaurant - "Domino's pizza. [something something] you?
  • Geoff - "Yes, I'm at the Marriott Courtyard right down the street. I like to order a pizza for delivery, please."
  • Restaurant - "[something] [something]" that I think sounds like "Small or large?"
  • Geoff - "What? Sorry. I'm at the Marriott Courtyard."
  • Restaurant - "Marriott? Ok. Delivery?"
  • Geoff - "Yes. I'd like one large pizza, half cheese and half sausage."
  • Restaurant - "Two large sausage pizzas with cheese."
  • Geoff - "Yes. Absolutely. That's it."
Mind you. The person on the phone is speaking perfectly correct English. I just can't weed through the accent, apparently no better than they can weed through mine.

We're timing our food order so it arrives just as we finish feeding Archer. This process takes about 45 minutes to an hour between waking him up - he almost never wakes himself - changing his diaper, delivering between 3 and 4 ounces of formula, and playing/cuddling with him until he's ready to drop off for another nap. Every step is an absolute joy and characterized by some overly cute maneuver that just floors us. For example, he's got this very rapid 'angry fish caught on a hook' head shaking maneuver - it must be some sort of rooting instinct - when the bottle first goes in his mouth and it makes us laugh every single time. The burps - adorable. The gas - endearing. Those gummy cries - how can you not hug him? Right now Shannon's doing a little Jazzercise with Archer, pumping his legs back and forth. He's this little beeping, grunting and gasping squeeze toy in the midst of a king-size bed that's burrowed his way into our hearts.

Shannon and I are very much an eat-dinner-with-tv-on couple. I think it comes from being married late in life - both of us were in our mid to late thirties and thus had our fair share of home alone meals. Mumbai is no different but this presents a problem. We've already talked about the limited tv options and how frustrating the Web can be. I've managed to make Amazon Instant Video tolerable but we still default to the potluck randomness of India tv. Sometimes we get lucky with quality like Black Hawk Down. Other times we're lucky if Kenya has extended it's innings performance into the ninth hour of it's Cricket World Cup match. On the list of things Shannon and I have learned about India is the fact that there are only five commercials on tv in any given week. You name the commercial, we've seen it about 183 times. You may have wondered why during both trips Shannon and I settle upon a favorite tv ad. It's because there's so few to choose from and so many repetitive viewings that you can't help but enjoy some rarity and despise most. The Mute button on our remote is about to fall off and the inane tunes from a couple of particularly annoying commercials are plaguing us in our sleep. We practically welcome Archer's whimpers.

Time to call Domino's. I'm hopeful that with a couple more orders I'll be able to keep things really simple. "Hi, it's Geoff. The usual please!"

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Travel Weary

It's been twenty days since we left home and I'm just going to come right out and say it - I'm officially homesick. Don't get me wrong, life could be much worse and I fully recognize that some have it much tougher than us.  Life with Archer is absolutely wonderful and I wouldn't give up this special bonding time for the three of us for anything.  I'm just ready to go home and bond there.  I miss my favorite foods, our washer and dryer, the salty smell of the ocean, cooking in our kitchen, our beautiful house, driving my car, the snow covered trees and our amazing friends and family.  We're dying to show this little guy off and to introduce him to everyone who has been so supportive!

While up at all hours of the night, we find ourselves channel surfing for some show/movie other than those we've already watched multiple times in India.  We have the streaming option using our laptop, but when we're feeding Archer at 3am, setting up the laptop is by no means a priority.  We have a few more English language channels in the hotel (approximately 10), but that has not proven to be much better than the hospital.  Honestly, I can only handle so many reruns of Friends from the 1990's, the same Indian commercials that they run not once, but two - three times at EACH commercial break, the same Animal Planet episodes of animals fornicating and I can only handle watching fossilized movies such as Junior, Throw Mama From the Train and Rush Hour a maximum of three times in my life - let alone in one trip.  Just like our last trip though, we have a favorite Indian commercial that does manage to make us both chuckle every time we see it.  It's for Virgin Mobile - an Indian cell phone company - and the commercial is a guy intentionally angering his girlfriend off so that she'll dump him because he wants out.  His rooster dance at the end is funny - or at least we think so. You'll find it here.

The hotel staff are nothing short of amazing with us and they love Archer.  While there is a plethora of International food options at the hotel, there are also American-ized options and believe me when I tell you, I've exhausted them all.  If I don't see a club sandwich or flatbread pizza for years to come, it will be too soon.  We've become friendly with a few of the chefs and I've begun inventing my own dishes, but even that is getting old.  Along with being tired of the options, I'm now correlating the food with being in a place I no longer want to be and therefore I don't have much of an appetite for any of it anymore.  What I would give for a big salad from the Cheesecake Factory, a fat steak from the Capital Grille, a Boston Creme donut from Dunkin Donuts, a burger from Five Guys and a cold margarita from On the Border!  If only clicking my heels and chanting "there is no place like home" would get us someplace other than the Courtyard Marriot in Mumbai...

A couple updates to report....Archer's pediatrician appointment went well this week and he is now a half pound heavier.  He also had a Hepatitis B vaccination and took it much better than I would have.  He's been a bit fussy since, which is not normal for him, but he seems to be shaking it off like a champ.  That's my boy!  The US Consulate has been in touch with us and there is a possibility our appointment will be moved up to next week.  Fingers crossed and we'll elaborate more on that in future posts.

I shall leave you with some newer pictures for your viewing pleasure....

Dr. Yash with Dr. Sudhir holding Archer

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Hotel Life

Like most modern hotels in Mumbai - and, I suppose, throughout India - the Marriott Courtyard looks very out of place amongst a dense tangle of aged, sooty, low-to mid-sized store fronts and buildings. An oasis, just getting onto the Marriott grounds by car requires a thorough search by a bomb-sniffing dog and two security guards poking about the hood and trunk - and that's before the metal detector fronting the lobby. The streets just outside the grounds are another world and fairly intimidating. They're thronged with speeding tuk-tuks, garish trucks the length of a scooter but two stories tall, Ford Figos, Chevy Sparks, Toyota Innovas and a swarm of locals on foot. The men wear slacks and a button down long sleeved shirt; the women wear saris. A good portion of these people, let's face it, just look dirty, like street people. In many cases they are dirty and likely live on or close to the street. I'll be honest - leaving the hotel to walk those streets feels risky.

The reality is that the majority of these folks could care less about you and those who do are only interested in giving you a smile or a brief "Namaste". Walk into any of these seemingly decrepit businesses and you encounter well-dressed professionals with a good grasp of English and a work ethic putting most of us to shame. The poverty here is so rampant it's inescapable. The streets are covered in grime and refuse, the needy crowd every street corner, but the locals are used to it and spend little time judging it. It's just how things are. The high and low born mix together so neatly,  they're inseparable. It's a crazy, high energy Indian stew that's worked for centuries. We're just another bunch of outsiders passing through who, other than having an atypical height and skin color, are not particularly interesting.

The staff in our hotel can't be friendly enough and gather about little Archer whenever the three of us head down to the restaurant off the lobby. We time these trips to correspond with Archer's naps so the staff are continually frustrated with closed eyes and an unresponsive little cutie. The lobby is quite expansive and modern-looking, giving off a pleasant, well-scented, business professional vibe. The smoggy smell so familiar to us at the Novotel is still outside though less pronounced here in the city center. Our room is thankfully spared the smell entirely, letting in - through a floor to ceiling window - only a brightly lit view of the pool, construction sites and a vast urban landscape.

We have been provided with a microwave and electric teapot  - our bottle sterilizer and bottle warmer, respectively - so the room is fairly self-sufficient. We have most meals brought to the room just because it's easier so we keep a stack of 100 ruppee bills (about $2.25) for tips. Archer spends his days in our arms or on the bed. To give the room service crew access, Shannon and I will take Archer to the exec lounge - we managed to get ourselves on the Exec floor - which is air conditioned enough to store beef for days but offers free drinks and tea biscuits so we can call it even. We even think of this lounge as our escape hatch should Archer get inconsolably crabby at 3 in the morning. Our neighbors didn't pay good money to be awoken by even the cutest of babies - which, of course, he is.

Surely news to my American friends and family, the cricket world cup is underway with, no kidding, India top ranked. Most days are fairly open ended for us so I've had lots of time to become a cricket "fan" and actually follow along with these eight hour matches. (The quotes mean no, not really, I'm no fan. But hey, sports are sports.) Otherwise, Shannon and I do some reading and have learned to tolerate the very random and often disappointing selection of English-language movies on the tv. As a treat we bundle up Archer and take him down to the pool for some time under an umbrella. Or we search high and low for a bag of Lays potato chips which, for some reason, represent home as well as anything for Shannon.

I'd mentioned in an earlier post my efforts to figure out a way to stream Netflix and Hulu to my laptop here in Mumbai. The good news is I solved the problem. We're using proXPN. Another option is IAPS. The bad news is that the streaming bit rate from the US to India is so slow that Netflix is completely unwatchable - the video endlessly freezes - while Hulu is tolerable but also a trier of patience. It's possible that some company can help compensate for this sluggishness but I've yet to find them.

This is our one room home. We've yet to figure out a way to move our US Consulate visit earlier than the 15th of March, far longer a stay than we'd anticipated. Assuming we can't move that date up, figure another three to five days to physically get a passport in hand and then another day or two to get Archer's exit visa. All told, we may not be out of India until around the 20th. That's over one month in India, nothing compared to the length of time suffered by some of our European blogosphere friends but still a struggle. We'd love to introduce Archer to his own home, not this borrowed one.

And introduce him - through scent, anyway - to a chicken parmesan sub which sounds abso-friggin-lutely fantastic right about now.