On July 26, 2011, we receive a call from the Senior Embryologist, Dr. Rajyalakshmi, of Dr. Rama Devi’s Institute of Fertility. The embryo will be formed tomorrow—on my birthday—and will be implanted in the surrogate’s womb. The day after, we’ll finally get to meet the woman who could make our family complete. Wow!
And the joy begins with the 11-page contract emailed from the clinic’s legal department. With a smile on his face and anxiousness in his tone, my husband asks, “Ready to make this legal? Wait-a-minute, are we the ‘2nd Party’ or ‘intended parents’?”
Our lawyer reviews and confirms the contract is legitimate and fair per Indian regulations. The clinic’s main concern is that the baby(ies) should have a loving home, whether or not we—the “2nd party” and “intended parents”—separate, or one or both die during this process, and we must provide a name and contact information of another, responsible, guardian, should any of the above occur. We read it three times, but it’s still so confusing.
And there are sections we don’t agree with, but I suppose there’ll always be restrictions and guidelines in any path we choose. And we just have to keep faith that the good will outweigh the not-so-good. My heart freezes for a moment, as my husband reads aloud, “The surrogate is not responsible if the fetus is stillborn, born with an illness, defect, or has a miscarriage. Fetus reduction may occur when one more may be eliminated if it poses a threat on the surrogate’s health, or to one of the other fetuses. However, the intended parents are to compensate the surrogate, even if the surrogate miscarries, or doesn’t deliver a normal, living baby.”
I can’t seem to sit still, and my husband can’t stop smiling, and keeps fussing with his iPhone while we wait in the doctor’s office. I thought he would have hesitations, act ashamed, or be less involved in the process and appointments. But he reminds me of every other expectant father I’ve seen.
With every creak and footstep, my eyes move to the shadows in the hallway, wondering if the young woman passing by is the SM—surrogate mother. We’re told our doctor is tied up in the Operation Theater down the hall, and soon I hear moans of another surrogate in labor. I smile. We could be the lucky couple in nine months.
The contract is signed and we’re waiting to meet the surrogate. Months ago I envisioned a young woman sitting in front of me, making me feel like she was doing me a favor, or like I was less than a woman. But Sumalatha doesn’t appear to be smug, or like she has the upper hand. She’s 25, quiet, and she doesn’t talk much at all. She smiles a lot, and nods her head. With the counselor in the room, it feels awkward. She says the medicines she takes to help the embryo to attach to the uterus are making her nauseous, and she is a bit sore from the implant but, otherwise, she is feeling ok.
The clinic advised us not to meet the SM, for fear that she may grow attached to us, and they didn’t want to encourage any type of emotional fix on the child that is biologically ours. But after reading umpteen positive stories of patients from this clinic and others, we decide that we need to be a part of the process and witness the development. The fetus hasn’t formed … yet, but meeting the woman who is helping our embryo grow is calming and brings a sense of reality to our dream.
Sumalatha needs to lie down, so a nurse helps her up to the patient’s ward on the fifth floor. We’re told she will be there for at least 21-30 days, and she’ll be monitored several times a day, fed different medications to assist in the transformation of the embryo into a fetus. Rajyalakshmi tell us that it will take anywhere from 15 to 21 days for a fetus to form, but for full confirmation, it is safe to make it official on the 30th day.
My husband and I smile at each other. It’s like anticipating a Christmas gift, only a hundred times better. At this point, we both realize it’s really no different if the SM has our child (or children) or if I do, and when we’re alone for a moment, he whispers, “Don’t know why we waited 11 years to do this.”
I only smile, because I want to be positive, but I know it can still go either way.
On our way out of the hospital, we meet Sumalatha’s husband, Ram Krishna, who isn’t much older; he is 27, and used to work as an ambulance driver. My husband tells Ram Krishna to let us know if Sumalatha needs anything, and we exchange phone numbers. His only response in his mother-tongue, Telugu, is, “We just want this to be successful for you both.”
Sumalatha and Ram Krishna seem like a decent couple. What is the driving force for this couple to endure such a painstaking and tedious endeavor? Monetary compensation?
Since the couple lives only a block away from the clinic in Ameerpat [Hyderabad], Sumalatha isn’t required to reside in the hospital quarters, as the other surrogate mothers are. She can stay in her home, but a morning and evening nurse will monitor her on a daily basis when she leaves the hospital after 30 days, and there is final confirmation of a fetus (es). The nurses will bring her breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and any additional vitamins—the diet as prescribed by her nutritionist—and they will check her vitals, and administer any medications needed to facilitate a smooth pregnancy. Should everything go as planned, she will have an examination and an ultrasound at the clinic every 15 days, for the first six months, which we will be present for. Thereafter, until the eighth month, she’ll have an examination every week. Once the eighth month arrives, she will reside at the clinic for the duration and be monitored every day. After thorough examination and confirmation that the baby is fully developed, all surrogates are usually scheduled for a C-section at the end of their eighth month, unless the full nine month term is needed, says the doctor. She explains, “This is because the surrogates have been administered medications to push along the pregnancy and development, and 95% of the time, labor must also be induced.”
After 15 days, we receive another call from the clinic. The blood test proves we’re pregnant! On the first try! I can hardly breathe. I never imagined this overwhelming feeling of elation. Tears fill my eyes. I’ve forgotten all about the surrogate, the process, the unconventional method. Now I can relate to an expectant mother. BUT… it’s still too early to celebrate. We’re told that we should be cautiously optimistic, because the fetus hasn’t formed yet, and there’s always a risk, as with any pregnancy. So we’re supposed to hang tight, hope for the best, and try to relax for the next 15 days and maybe even longer.
After signing more paperwork, and handing over another payment, we meet Sumalatha and Ram Krishna outside the clinic. I find it strange that they keep looking over their shoulder. For a moment, I feel like I am in an action movie and we are in the middle of a drug deal. They admit they are waiting for us here, because the clinic regulates our contact, and under contract they aren’t permitted to meet us independently. I can certainly understand the clinic’s point of view. After all, the clinic is trying to protect us and itself. Even though we have signed a contract dissolving the clinic of any liability, they strongly discourage intended parents becoming emotionally attached to the surrogate. But I’m realizing more and more every day that it’s near impossible to be impassive, especially because the surrogate has something very precious of ours. It’s only natural to want to give in to all her requests. I suppose the next few months will be a great balancing act.
Sumalatha looks well. She’s not pale, and is dressed in a simple sari, with her hair in a loose braid. She wears a thick turmeric coated yarn necklace, in place of the traditional a gold mangalsutra. Ram Krishna smiles as he says, “It’s been hard leaving our four-year old daughter with my mother-in-law for the last couple of months.”
Sumalatha gets emotional. “I feel like crying when my daughter asks me why I’ve left her, and starts wailing for me to come back. Krishna can stay with her every day since he lost his job a few months ago, but he wants stay with me. We decided to do this for our daughter. We don’t have much. My father is gone, and my husband lost both of his parents at a young age. Since we have no inherited land or assets of our own, we thought this was a good idea, and at the same time it’s helping someone.” She looks at me, grabs my hand, and suddenly we make a connection, clinic policies notwithstanding.
On the way home we start coming up with baby names. There’s a good chance that we may end up with twins, so we are goofing around with pairs of names, even though we both know it’s completely premature. If the embryo doesn’t attach to the surrogate’s uterus then we have two more tries in the package “deal” we’ve already paid for. And while most would say to believe in William E. Hickson’s quote, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” timing and coordination with the surrogate’s body is everything in this game, plus there’s a money factor, not to mention our visas. The antes are up, but we’re betting our faith will be the perfect “ace” in our sleeve, and we won’t fold just yet.
Part one of the series, titled “Rock-a-bye-baby Chronicles” can be found in the June 2011 issue of India Currents.
Yamuna Kona will continue to share her journey of becoming a parent via surrogacy in future issues of India Currents.