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We have embarked on a life-long journey to become a family. In June 2013, we have brought home two beautiful babies. Our family is now complete and our marriage formally recognized by state and federal laws.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Goodbye India, Hello America

Que Horrifico (It's Horrific)
Our friend was just saying how horrible it was for her to accidentally cut her boy's finger while clipping his nail. I guess as parents, we'll all experience that awful feeling due to unintentionally hurting our child's finger. So I said to myself, "I'm going to be more careful so that I don't hurt my child". Anyway, the day before we depart was almost uneventful -- until I accidentally cut my little girl's thumb when clipping her nail. This was terrible and utterly horrific! I wanted to bash my head on the wall for being so stupid. Accidents do happen and I learned my lesson from this experience. Hopefully, no more nail clipping accidents in the future. Ugh!

Goodbye Apartment, Goodbye Car Service
The day of the departure was quite stressful. We planned to leave by 6.00PM, but we didn't leave until 8.30PM. One good thing about it is that our flight was delayed for at least 2 hours and we got email notification ahead of time. We stayed at Tulip House's S Block apartment 293. It is a 3-BR apartment on the second floor of the building. We liked having 3 bedrooms, one for the twins, one for sleeping, and the other one for my partner's father (who joined us during our 8th week of stay in New Delhi). The apartment was really close to the M Block market, so we wouldn't have picked a place elsewhere because of this convenience and our familiarity with the area. While there were deficiencies and other problems we encountered at our place, it's hard to imagine other apartments within GK-I being flawless (e.g. cockroach is a common problem in India, and even here in America, despite cleaning the area or using a spray to mitigate the infestation; water supply is definitely rationed and you need to know about turning on the pump for the reservoir ever day; electricity shuts off once a week for at least 20 min on average, but the apartment has a UPS that allowed us to have lights and power to the fans when the GK-I area has a blackout). 

Overall, I recommend this particular Tulip House apartment. More importantly, I highly recommend using Rahul's car service (click here for his website) whether you are an SCI client or not. When we first arrived in Delhi and met Rahul since he picked us up from the airport, he predicted that we will be back within 9 months to bring home a baby. Lo and behold, he got it right, and we got two! :)

Goodbye Polluted Air
Having asthma and living in New Delhi were the worst combination for me. After not being able to breathe normally during the first week, I bought a $400 air cleaner in one of the shops at Select CityWalk. 

I'd like to share my experience for this particular transaction as I encountered a "borderline" to "possibly" a scam. Anyway, the shop swiped my Chase credit card three times for authorization, because the terminal didn't print the receipt needed for signature after the first swipe. The clerk called someone on the phone about the authorizations. After about 20 minutes of patiently waiting, I ended up using my Amex card to pay for the air cleaner instead. So not surprisingly, my Chase account had 3 authorizations when I checked online, so I immediately contacted Chase about the fiasco. Chase the next day paid one of the 3 authorizations, so I lodged an online dispute straight away telling them the incident. What was really annoying is that Chase, one week later, stupidly paid the other two authorizations despite what I have mentioned in my first dispute. In the end, I had to call Chase and spent about $40 using my cell phone (AT&T charges $2 per minute). I got the payments reversed in the end. So as a warning to everyone, do not let any shops swipe your card more than once for authorization regardless of where you are in the world.  

Goodbye Indira Gandhi Airport, Goodbye Immigration
Arriving at the airport after a stressful packing was quite a relief, but I also dreaded the "Where is the mother?" question that every bloggers have mentioned in the past. Prior to immigration, we checked in and the United staff were lovely and very helpful. We requested bassinets and paid $170 for the Econ Plus row to get them, but during check-in we were told that the 777-200 plane originally assigned had mechanical problems (hence, the delay in our flight). We were initially disappointed as we were told the replacement 777-200 aircraft had no bassinets available, but the clerk was kind enough to consider blocking the middle seat for us, since it was still available. We were in luck to get the middle seat (and you'll probably out of your mind if you were to insist to sit in-between two strangers with babies on a 15-hour flight). We were also surprised to know that there was one bassinet available after the plane took off. So, we placed our boy inside the bassinet and our girl in her cocoon in the middle seat buckled up. The flight was overall smooth. One passenger on our row (16) was very friendly and congratulated us, and several flight attendants did the same thing. Our babies were well-behaved and a passenger behind us even commented when we were disembarking how good they were -- I was expecting screaming babies during the flight. We were glad that we didn't have to be the parents with screaming, uncontrollable babies. Whew! The flight attendants did a great job and an overall thumbs up to United for an excellent service on UA83 via Newark and the ground staff in New Delhi as well.

Going back to the Immigration story, I thought that just giving the passports to the Immigration Officer would suffice, so when the officer asked "Where is the mother?" I said she is in America. He then asked "She gave birth and left India?", and I said "No, the babies were born through surrogacy". He paused for several minutes looking at the visa stamp on the babies' passports, and said to me "You don't have permission to leave". I was thinking to myself "I'm really f&@#"!!! This is when I realize that I have to give him the twins' Exit Permits, so I said "I have a permit to take them out of the country", and gave him the printouts. He took the papers and left to consult the main office. About 5 minutes later, he came back and asked me if I am the father, and I said yes. He then placed the departure stamp and off we go to security. 

This security portion wasn't too bad, because the officers were quite helpful. One male officer took the first baby from me so I can be searched. He then took the other baby from my partner, while the cocoons and bags were being scanned. I overheard the male officer asking my partner, "Are you the mother?". He completely ignored the question. What would you have answered? :) I would probably joked and said "yes" if it were in America, but being in a foreign country, I thought it was good that he ignored it.

The End of Our Journey
So, this is the end, at least the Indian surrogacy part of the journey. Hence, a new journey in America begins!.... I wish all IPs and new parents the best of luck. Single parents (especially same-sex couples), hang in there -- it seems that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for you this year.


So long... farewell... auf wiedersehen... goodbye!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

FRRO and you -- some info about the process

Before I begin, I would like to recommend to you to get Poonam's help to make things easier for a modest fee. She does all the paperwork and will give you additional insight about the process. Her assistant, Jagjit, is also very helpful (and funny -- we hit it off). Here is her contact email: poonam@pagl.in

I have read many blogs about people's FRRO experience. However, just reading these stories doesn't really prepare you with reality. Indeed, the descriptions on where to go and what to do, whilst I tried to imagine and picture them in my mind, were still not enough. Hence, I decided to include a crude floor plan and explain the process some more so that people can really have an idea about it, what to expect or do, and where to go. The sequence of events may change for you as the counters may get different assignments each day, but hopefully, it will help you figure things out easily.

FRRO floor plan

Anyway, it was a real experience going to the FRRO, and a truly bureaucratic process at its worst in a third world country. If you think going to the DMV in America is bad, then you'll love it compared to FRRO. We didn't think that hiring a nurse sitter will be a real help or any more advantageous to get the exit visa quicker so my partner and his father went with me. One surprise I got was the kindness that one officer at the outside waiting area showed us. We arrived at FRRO's outside waiting area at 9.15AM (even though we aimed to be there at 9.00AM). On the left "Other Nationals" section (see floor plan), the sheet of paper on the front table had 20 names already, and I was 21. The police officer (in his late 50's I think and has white patches of skin possibly due to burn) approached everyone to make sure that the names are on the sheet. Having seen the babies, the officer asked if I have signed up, and told him "yes, I'm number 21". He replied "that's too long. I will put you first". So, at around 9.30AM and the clerk for the table came and started setting up the process, the officer called me and we all went in front to see the clerk on the front table. The other people waiting in front also stood up and started hounding the clerk with their passports, which was fair enough because they were there first. Luckily, the officer pointed out that I have babies in the cocoons and so the clerk took my passport first, and wrote #1 on the piece of paper with the day's date (this is your token). We were then told to go through the door inside the builiding towards the aircon room where the actual office is located (see floor plan).  We just made an effort to have my partner at the sidelines and not stand out once we were inside the aircon waiting area. His father and I carried the babies and sat with them on the same row (my partner sat in the next row behind his father). The place is chaotic and people will take your seat if you stand up and leave, because the room is not exactly big and there are more people than available chairs.

The token (piece of paper with number and the day's date) is important so don't lose it. The Reception desk will call your number and this is where you will give your application packet, and the person will ask you to write a handwritten affidavit that you "promise to take care of your baby" once you are back in your country. After about an hour of waiting, one of the guys from the In-Charge desk asked me to see him. Standing next to his desk, he asked me a few questions, e.g. about my visa status (which was Tourist), my "single" status, why I'm not married or if I'll get married, and who will take care of the babies. Since we were both standing next to his desk, I thought the questioning wasn't an actual "interview" as I was expecting to be in a room with a woman (which many bloggers have mentioned in the past). After I answered his questions, he walked out and told me to wait again. 

After about 2 more hours of waiting (I had to feed my girl, and then my boy during this period), my partner and his father talked about how I should ask someone what the heck is going on with my application. There was some trepidation to approach anyone as being pushy might piss them off and make us wait longer than needed. Anyway, I decided to approach the In-Charge guy who "interviewed" me as I was holding and feeding my boy in my arms, and asked him the status of my visa application. He spoke with another guy in Hindi, and all I understood was "surrogacy". About 15 min later the other guy handed my application to me, and I was told to go to Counter 2. Another 30 min later in Counter 2 and few more questions from the person as he examined the papers, I was then told to go pay the Cashier, and then go to Counter 1 to get the actual visa stamp on the passport and an Exit Permit printout. This is about 20 min before 1.30PM when I queued for Counter 2, and as expected I was told to come back at 2.00 PM because everyone goes to lunch break at 1.30PM. I went back to see the babies and ate a snack bar. Afterwards, I went in front of Counter 2 before everyone comes back from lunch. Another 10 min or so, he asked me to get the print out from the printer -- this is the Exit Permit where you will attach/paste the photo of your baby. The guy stamped the Exit Permit, and then told me to go bring the passports and the permits to the In-Charge desk again for a final signature. That was it! We were done in just under 5 hours (just before the next feeding).

As we walked out down the ramp, I looked for the officer who helped me in the beginning, and saw him sitting on one of the chairs in the waiting area, reading a book. I approached him, shook his hand, and thanked him again for the kindness he showed towards me and my twins. I was tempted to give him cash as a "thank you gift", but because I didn't think it was appropriate or that it's likely against the law, I decided not to do it. The last thing I want is to be accused of bribery! 

I hope that you encounter him in your visit. You'll recognize him easily based on the white skin patches he has on his arms and neck area. Please thank him again for me when you see him.

Good luck to you. Cheers!