Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Leaving nothing to chance, Shannon, Archer and I arrived at the airport about four hours early. Built on a swamp, Mumbai International must be borderline unbearable during the rainy season. March, relatively dry and temperate, is no more considerate. Filled with a hot, humid air, the terminal made every effort to reproduce Archer's very recent uterine experience. This leaden sensory weight was enhanced with thrill ride-like movement undertaken by mom and dad to spare Archer from attack by squadrons of mosquitoes. Leaving was bittersweet but desperately welcome.

Praise be, we found ourselves in a center row with an empty seat. This meant we could put Archer, resting in his awesome EuroTote, between the two of us. Resigned to the idea that one of us would be holding Archer for every minute of the 16 hour flight, we celebrated this karmic gift, India's going away present.

Archer very excited to be going HOME!

The flight itself was uneventful. We even discovered that our worries about disturbing other passengers were misplaced. The engine noise more than drowned out Archer's month old chirps. The layover in New Jersey for our connection to Boston was stressful only to the extent that seconds passed like hours. The transition itself was easy enough.

We had traveled for over twenty hours with a newborn, a boy so young that his passport photo was borderline comical, and we hadn't had one inconvenient minute.

We deplaned in Boston and flew through Customs to meet a crowd with signs and flowers. Archer met his extended family for the first time and then somehow managed to fall asleep, leaving his parents to fend for themselves as they fought a potent combination of exhaustion and relief.

The entire India experience was over. We were just another family.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The handler handles

We had no hotel receipt and no summary hospital receipt. Indian bureaucracy was salivating at the thought of how much longer we could be kept in India. I'm not a panicker but this was too good a moment to pass up a respectable emotional breakdown...

Our handler took over and kicked ass. He called the hospital and ensured everything was ready and waiting for me when I showed up so they would quickly sign it over. He also called the hotel and arranged for them to fax a document attesting to their possession of a credit card pre-charged with the outstanding balance, ensuring they'd be paid in full. We went to the final interview room, shared the news with my very crestfallen wife, and then I ran outside to grab our driver for a sprint to the hospital.

Get a driver while in India. Surrogacy India ensured we always had one and they were worth their weight in gold. Driving in India is a test of courage for anyone but to drive paranoid foreigners takes real skill. And I don't care how safe India can be. I want to know that my driver isn't taking a detour to Mugging Central. You are at their mercy so get someone trustworthy. Once you have them, they literally sit around and wait all day for your call. Our driver was outside the FRRO. He gunned the (tiny) engine and sped me to the birthing hospital.

Needless to say, I got the receipt and - upon returning to the FRRO - drove with the handler to a local Internet cafe to receive a fax from the hotel attesting to my ability to pay. With all of these documents in hand we returned to the FRRO for our interview. Shannon and Archer were sweaty and cranky but relieved.

The interview comprised mainly of my sitting humbly in a chair while a blue-shirted government employee flipped through my binder and collected fees. At one point we were sent away and told to wait. The handler spoke to the employee one-on-one to find out the delay and then came to us with a request for 500 rupees. You got it! Problem solved, I sat back down at the desk, eyes lowered in submission, and collected Archer's officially stamped exit visa.

Holy crap. It was 4pm on Thursday, March 10. We had been in country for 24 days. In my hands were every document we needed to leave India with Archer. The process was over. Now we were just tourists heading home.

Oh handler! How I love thee! Let me count the ways..... 2000 rupees will do the trick? You got it!

The beginning of the end

[With Archer came release in more ways than one - including my drive to publish new entries. Shannon has been begging, pleading, threatening me to finish this blog. There is more to share and the story should be told. Let's pick up the thread...]

All told, it took us three weeks of aimless waiting to get Archer his US passport. We literally had to sit around and bide our time on a three week waiting list because the US Consulate had limited visitor hours and one heck of a backlog. The only solace was our understanding that once we established Archer's nationality and got our hands on a passport, the final pre-departure step - getting our little guy an exit visa at the FRRO - could occur the morning of the flight home. As our three week clock (and aimless pleading with the US Consulate for an earlier visit) wound down, we gambled on this next-day fact and booked a Thursday evening flight out of Mumbai, the day after our Wednesday appointment to get Archer his passport.

The US Consulate visit proceeded, shockingly, just as expected. With all our documents in order - including Archer's super cool dual language Hindi/English birth certificate - the local personnel needed no more than 45 minutes to process everything. Shannon and I raised our right hands, swore that all the information we provided was true, and then collected the new passport. Archer was now formally recognized as ours and as a US citizen! Shannon and I locked eyes at the enormity of this moment. All it lacked was a puff of smoke as, like magic, with one hand-raised incantation, Archer officially became our boy. We left with a letter attesting to this fact, a key ingredient for acquiring his exit visa. Overall, it's hard to complain about this process considering the comparatively low hurdle next to most other countries. Try bringing a baby born of surrogacy into, say, Italy or England. Commercial surrogacy is illegal in those countries and the red tape can literally require months of India-based residency before permission is granted to return home.

We ran back to the hotel and packed. The plan was to hit the FRRO - India's exit visa-granting agency - early the next morning and then kill time before our flight. On the spur of the moment we decided to formally enlist the aid of a handler to help us through the FRRO process just to be sure our departure wouldn't suffer any delays. As it turns out, this was the greatest decision we made throughout our entire stay....

Monday, July 23, 2012

No exit

The final step for bringing a child of Indian surrogacy home is to get him/her an exit visa. Sure, your country's consulate has determined that the little guy or girl (or multiple!) is really yours and really a citizen, but India needs to independently reach this conclusion as well. That's the role of the Foreigners Regional Registration Office - or FRRO. Well, that's the stated goal.

The unstated goal is they want to make sure you've paid your bills while in India. Seriously, one of the most crucial stumbling blocks to getting an exit visa for your child is to have paid-in-full receipts from every single vendor you interacted with during your stay. This was the source of our problem at the FRRO - but more on that in a moment.

Our research had led us to believe that use of a handler at the FRRO was a smart move. It could cost us more than 100 USD but the benefit was having a local who understood the official and unofficial processes enforced by this Indian agency. To guarantee a same day departure, and after spending tens of thousands of dollars, another $100 or so seemed a pittance if it would get us the heck out of India. So we called a guy recommended by Surrogacy India and booked his time for Thursday, March 10 - the morning of our flight home.

Consulate papers now in hand, we gathered every scrap of material ever produced in advance of and during our stay in India. The idea was to anticipate any possible question or objection, to have proof of every decision and every step taken, giving the FRRO no leeway to delay our request. We even packed extra rupees to, you know, "accidentally" overpay the bureaucrat handling our case. And let's be clear - our handler told us to pack these extra rupees. It's just how things work.

The Mumbai office of the FRRO was located in a building that, like most building in India, exuded an aura of untrustworthiness. Is it safe? Will it collapse? Who are all those people looking at us and why aren't there more lights?

And like any government office, the FRRO - located on the fourth floor of a walk-up - was a line making machine.

Get there early, we were told. So we met our handler at 10am - the earliest he could meet us - and walked up the four flights with Archer and our 10 pound information-packed binder to start our first line. This line existed to make sure you had what you needed to sit in the second line. Shannon and Archer grabbed a seat in the room where the final interview would take place. I sat with the handler. He went through our materials. Documentation from Surrogacy India capturing the entire process? Check. US Consulate materials? Check. Hotel receipts? Wait, what? We didn't even check out yet. We have to check out before coming here? Well, a few rupees could smooth that over. Hospital receipts? Sure. But where is the final paid-in-full receipt? A what? Here are the receipts.... Sure, but where is the final paid-in-full receipt? I don't have a general receipt saying paid-in-full.  I have lots of little receipts.

No paid-in-full receipt, no exit visa.

It was 11:30 in the morning and I had to go to the hospital - 90 minutes away - to get a receipt. The FRRO closed at 5pm. There was a huge line ahead of us. Shannon and Archer are sweating their butts off in a crowded waiting room. I was in India!

We may not be leaving after all.