Surrogacy, India, & Pakistanis (Part I)

Similar to many folks who opt for surrogacy, we gave serious consideration to services available in India. We had to consider the possibility of a more affordable option as well as the obvious cultural appeal with our Pakistani backgrounds. It never occurred to us that the appeal would not be mutual. It never occurred to us that while we determined whether surrogacy in India was right for us, India had already decided we were not right for them.

It was fall of 2008, a little over three years since our first miscarriage. With three miscarriages behind us and two fertility-related surgical procedures, we decided to attempt a second IVF; our last attempt to get pregnant. If the cycle was not successful (i.e. another miscarriage), we were ready to shift our dwindling emotional, mental, and financial reserves to adoption, surrogacy, or both. We had already spent a couple of years gathering as much information as possible on adoption in the US, in Pakistan, and other countries. It was clearly going to be a formidable process. In comparison, surrogacy was likely the easier next step, in theory at least, but due diligence was required before making any final decisions. We had to first learn about the services available both in the US and in India.

Our plan was to visit India, meet with various clinics, become familiar with the surrogacy process for foreigners there, and determine logistical needs. After that, we would return to the US and meet agencies and clinics here. Naturally, the greater anxiety was for an international endeavor and the many unknowns in a different country. No doubt logistics of a surrogacy abroad would present challenges, but it was too important a decision to be left wondering “what if”. It made sense to us to go to India first, return to the US, compare both options, and decide where to pursue surrogacy; that is, would we return to India or to continue in the States.

It was late 2008. The IVF was scheduled for January 2009.

With the IVF in a few months, it would have been ideal to make a trip to India beforehand. If there was to be another miscarriage, we could hit the ground running, with all relevant information for surrogacy in India readily available. This is an example of how Infertiles begin to think: how and where to save time; when to plan ahead by anticipating several (mostly negative) outcomes. However, it proved difficult to multitask in terms of exploring surrogacy while also preparing for an IVF. The mental and emotional capacity just wasn’t available to us at that point. So we decided to wait and go to India, after the IVF, if needed. There were many reasons we felt India may have been a good match for our surrogacy, and a few reasons why it may not have been. While a discussion of pros and cons for surrogacy in India deserves its own separate post, this post is about how we never had the chance to determine for ourselves what was best for us.

We wanted to go to India. We needed to go. And we couldn’t. A sore reality encountered during our efforts to have children; one more senseless obstacle, another painful blow. Spinning wheels and going nowhere is the typical experience of one’s infertility journey and something you come to expect it.

It was February 2010, and I miscarried. Of course, there was the instant pang of regret, wishing we had traveled to India in the fall, prepared in advance, and could have been ahead of our situation. But we spent little time looking back, and instead, immediately sprung into action.

By Friday of the same week I miscarried, we decided to leave for India the following week. We contacted the clinics and set up appointments. We booked hotels and cars in each city. My friends from India sent me details about what to see, where to eat, and where to shop, as well as generous offers of personal contacts for their family and friends who live around the country. I was very excited about the added perk of sightseeing and shopping in India, not to mention getting away with my husband so soon after the miscarriage. For travel visas, we scheduled an appointment online at the Indian Embassy. All of this was done in three days, between Friday and Sunday.

Our visa appointment was for Tuesday, and we were scheduled to depart on Friday for a 10-day whirlwind trip to learn all there was firsthand about surrogacy in India. On Monday, my husband figured out his work schedule and arranged for time off from work. By that same evening we had confirmed all, including flights. Final steps included visas and packing, and there was no doubt we would leave in 4 days; after all, we had pulled off last minute trips plenty of times.

On Tuesday, we arrived early morning at the NYC office that process Indian visas, dreaming of new adventures in three days time. Our application requested the maximum 5-year tourist visa, but when we entered the processing center, a reviewer immediately cut it down to 3 months. A slash of a pen adjusted our expectations upon entry. That’s okay. We’d simply apply again when needed, we thought. The applications and passports were submitted, and the typical one-day turnaround on visas, informing applicants by email. When there was no word by the afternoon, I went to the office the next day. Indian embassy outsources their visa processing, so when talking to anyone at the office, the only response to any question was “we don’t know; we only process the paper work”. The staff had no insight, no guidance, and no answers.

It was Wednesday, and we still thought we were leaving for India in two days. Perhaps the Indian embassy needed an extra day to process our paperwork.

Not too long before, a friend also of Pakistani descent shared how her sister and brother-in-law intended to maintain a long-distance marriage while she on a two-year assignment for work in India. The sister had a work visa but when it came time for the husband to visit, he was unable to obtain a visiting visa. Even after several attempts, he received no response from the Indian embassy. In the meantime, in the same family, an aunt, uncle, and cousin were all able to make trips to India on visiting visas. I assumed the husband’s situation may be due to an uncertain job status and how Muslim males face greater challenges traveling alone in general. It was one of those stories you think of as random. There was no reason to expect we’d have similar difficulties, as my husband and I were traveling together, he worked for an international company, I lived in the states for 40 years, and my husband was born in a country other than Pakistan. I thought that we’d be okay.

Our first indication something may go wrong should have been when filling out the online visa applications. The form asked to list countries visited as well as place of birth for applicant, parents, and grandparents. We did notice that anywhere Pakistan was entered, the text was automatically all-capped and bolded. But we weren’t surprised and didn’t consider it cause for worry. After all, Pakistan and India have complex histories and existing relationships. But surely, these were just processing details and did not cause concern. Besides, with today’s technology, I was sure that even a perfunctory look at our backgrounds would show Indian officials we were hardly the people to cause concern. No doubt, screening had to involve more than just a label of “Pakistan”.

What we had yet to realize was how the time between our decision to explore surrogacy in India before the IVF, fall of 2008, and the latest miscarriage in February 2009 much had changed between the two countries due to the horrific, senseless attacks on the Taj Hotel in Mumbai. Of course we knew of the events, but we were unaware that that India had clamped down on travel into the country, particularly for those of Pakistani and Bangladeshi descent. And it seemed the rules were particularly strict for those living in Western countries regardless of citizenship. The new rules also affected non-resident Indians and limited frequency of travel to and from India within certain time periods for almost every type of visa…. To be continued in Part II 

End of Part I
Next post Part II

 

Tags: , , , , ,