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One Mother’s Story of How She Finally Got her Twins
Most women take childbirth for granted until they realize it is a privilege. There are so many women who just cannot become mothers, no matter how hard they try. In an earlier feature we had explored the route of adoption which can create families where none existed.
There are many young women who agonize about starting a family during their child-bearing years and are searching for solutions.
Komal Mulchandani was one such woman who with her husband Jaideep tried many different paths to having a family and finally decided to go with surrogacy, a controversial method about which we don’t know much. For Komal and Jaideep, it was a bold step and they took it – and now have a great family of two adorable twin daughters.
Many couples are not aware of their options and that surrogacy is a possibility.This is an issue that a lot of South Asian couples need to be more open about in sharing their experiences. Komal sat down for a detailed Q and A with Lassi with Lavina as she feels it is an extremely tough process for couples and the more support they get the better. Both Komal and Jaideep had to go through many hurdles to get their twin baby girls and we thank them for sharing their experiences and resources with our readers.
All that You Wanted to Know about Surrogacy but were Afraid to Ask
Face to Face with Komal Mulchandani
Did you ever think it would be difficult to have kids during your growing up years? When did it first dawn on you that pregnancy may be elusive?
I never thought this was something I would have to experience but like the age old adage goes, what doesn’t break you only makes you stronger. I have learned so much from this experience that looking back at it now I am almost glad this happened because I was able to grow so much as a person through this whole process.
What were the various options you tried first?We first went to renowned fertility specialists at both Cornell and NYU and I was put on fertility medication for a few months to see if that would work. That was a very tough period for me because of the side effects these fertility drugs have like mood swings, weight gain and swelling of the whole body. You become a completely different person. I was able to get through it only because of the unconditional love and patience my husband and family showed me during this time.
Eventually after several months of trying with no success, the doctors told us we had two choices, surrogacy or adoption. I was inclined towards surrogacy because of the genetic link we would share with the baby versus adoption where there would be no genetic link at all.
Was surrogacy something difficult for you and your family to accept?Absolutely! It is an extremely big decision and not one to be taken lightly. My husband and I thought about it for months before committing and deciding to go forward. My husband’s family is entirely in India whereas my immediate family is all located here in the USA. I was extremely scared to tell them and after we did tell them, I did not speak to them for quite a few days as I was just anxious to speak with them after they found out as I felt like they would treat me differently.
At the time, surrogacy in India was a very taboo topic and something that was not very well accepted although there were many cases in India itself. My in-laws, despite living in India and being part of the stereotypical conservative Indian society, were extremely supportive and never once made me feel like I was less of a woman or person because of this. Although of course in the beginning there was the initial shock.
Since my family has been here in the US since the mid 70’s and are a bit more liberal, it was a bit easier for them to accept. A lot of it also had to do with the fact that both my family and my in-laws’ family consist of highly educated individuals which makes it easier to understand such things. My in-laws and my parents and all our siblings were extremely supportive of us from the very beginning and are the reason we made it through the process.
How difficult was it to actually get it done? You mentioned to me it cost almost as much as a down payment on a house! Can you give details on the costs?The costs are indeed a big part of this process but the emotional aspect of the process is the most difficult aspect. Not every couple can afford this and we are extremely lucky that my husband and I were shrewd enough to start saving from a young age and were able to do this process without taking any loans.
The costs in India are approximately half of what it would cost here in the USA. However, with that difference comes the loss of control you have over the process when you are doing something like this abroad.
How difficult was it to be doing it in India and dealing with the bureaucracy there?
We had an edge since both my husband and I speak the local language and could communicate easily with the agency staff. However, one thing with people in India is that they constantly need pushing to get anything done and you have to constantly follow up with them and keep track of your money and the payments you are making to these agencies and really read the fine print in the agreements carefully. To these agencies, NRI couples like us are nothing more than cash cows and they play on the emotions of the couples to extort more and more money.
Thanks to the background I had in the law field and my sheer determination to make sure things went smoothly, I was able to work through the signing of the contracts relatively smoothly. There were several other hiccups in our story, where the NOC (No Objection Letter) from the Indian government to be able to ship our embryos from the USA to India took double the time to receive than normal. We went through 4 rounds of queries before finally getting approval. It was quite frustrating as some of the queries were due to lack of clarity in some of the documents provided, even though we had provided all the details and also some change in procedures that took place at that time.
How did you go about choosing a surrogate?Selecting a surrogate was also another nightmare during the process. These agencies normally have a database of profiles where they post information such as height, weight, and medical histories including past pregnancies and so on for each surrogate that is part of their agency. Normally the intended parents, meaning my husband and I, go through the profiles and give top three choices in case something goes wrong with our first choice. In our case, the agency personnel who were working with us failed to read the initial email where we had given our initial top three picks.
When we followed up two days later we found out they did not see the email initially and that all our picks were currently already undergoing surrogacy with other couples but due to the database not being updated we were not aware of this.
We then went back in and did the selection process again and started the process with another surrogate, when all of a sudden she decided to go back to her village due to her mother’s illness and did not know when she would be back. For the third time we went back and did the same selection process, and were getting ready to do the implantation when we found out that due to some abnormality in a lab test result, the surrogate would not qualify to proceed further.
Each time it was extremely difficult to get so excited and then be let down again. Then in October 2015 we found out about the surrogate we used. My husband and I were traveling in Paris when we found out about her and immediately logged in and checked out her profile. We let the agency know we wanted to proceed and decided to enjoy our vacation and not get too excited and wait and see what happens. Little did we know what was in store for us when we returned from our trip!When we returned from our trip, we were unaware that a few days earlier, the Indian High Court had issued a rule banning NRI couples from doing surrogacy in India. My mom had found out about it earlier but did not want to ruin our vacation and decided to tell us only after we returned. The next two weeks was wait and watch as our surrogate had already been implanted by then and we were just waiting for the pregnancy test results which would be done ten days after implantation.
The High Court also still had to issue a statement regarding what would happen to couples like us who had already started the process. Lucky for us within those next two weeks the High Court ruled that if a couple’s surrogate was already pregnant they would be allowed to continue the process and the stars aligned and our surrogate was confirmed pregnant.
Those two weeks were the worst two weeks of my life where I felt as if my entire time and effort over the past 2 years had been wasted. I just couldn’t come to terms with the fact that I may have to start the entire process over again in another country. My work suffered so much during the entire process so much to the point that I had the worst performance review ever in my ten year professional career. I managed to bounce back, but it was not an easy road and a lot of tears were shed during the entire process.
There have been many horror stories about a surrogacy gone wrong. What were some of these that you may have heard?One horror story that stuck in my mind was of a couple from Australia who did surrogacy in Thailand and when trying to take their children, twins as well, back to Australia were denied permission for one child who had Down’s Syndrome and ended up leaving with only one child and due to civil unrest in Thailand were unable to go back to get their second child. The surrogate had expressed an interest in keeping the child due to a fortune teller telling her this child would bring her good luck but was in no condition to care for the child and pay for the child’s medical expenses. I can only imagine the heartbreak this couple went through.
When I first saw my children right out of the operating room I fell in love with them and vowed I would not leave without both of them in my arms. There are tons of horror stories floating around in social media regarding surrogacy and my only advice is to try to tune the negative out and focus on the positive and just do your research well in advance of starting the process. Of course sometimes you cannot help but think of the ‘what ifs’ but I just kept my faith in God and with the support of my husband and family was able to get through the whole process.
What were the hard parts of giving over the ‘carrying’ experience to another?For me not being able to experience the changes a body goes through during pregnancy was extremely hard to accept. I didn’t get to feel the babies’ first kick or experience going for ultrasounds where I would be able to hear the heartbeats. I was very worried that my babies would not share a bond with me because I did not carry them when they were born. I would not be able to also breastfeed since I was not producing those particular hormones that would help stimulate the production of milk.
After the kids were born, I felt like everyone judged me for not breastfeeding and I would get really emotional. However, at the same time I made myself strong and kept reminding myself that I did not owe anyone an explanation for what I was doing. It was my life and I make the decisions in my life and would not allow myself to be influenced by what others thought.
Did you have ways of safeguarding the health of your future baby?Absolutely. One thing which we chose to do at our own expense which helped me retain some of my sanity during this time was to ask the surrogate to stay at the clinic run by the agency we were using. They had 24/7 medical supervision and were allowed to go outside for walks and get some fresh air and were taken for their ultrasound tests and other tests at regular intervals by the staff. All test results were scanned and sent to us regularly for review.
Also, the dietician at the agency nursing home was able to prescribe and monitor the intake of food. A glass of milk was mandatory in the morning for all the surrogates staying at the clinic. Clients like us could also pay extra or provide additional items we would like our surrogate to have like dry fruits (raisins) and nuts (almonds, cashews). We gave our surrogate a whole stock of mixed nuts for the 9 months along with some chocolate for those weak moments where a craving hits. We all know we have had those! And chocolate can truly sometimes cure all!
We also asked our surrogate to let the staff know if she had any special requests for food and once a week we allowed her to order that at our expense. You have to remember that India is a country where you can get whatever you want if you pay for it. We were willing to do that to ensure that our surrogate was happy throughout the process. Staying away from your family for 9 months is hard as it is, so we did what we could to make it easier on her.
Over the period of nine months, we had frequent visits to see our surrogate at the agency by us, my parents and in-laws and my aunt who lives in Mumbai. Also, my husband and I had regular Skype video calls with our surrogate. This way, we were able to make sure she and our babies were doing well.
What was the final outcome? How difficult was it to actually get your babies out to the US?It is an extremely difficult process, but due to the preparations my husband and I had done beforehand we did not encounter any roadblocks. In fact, every single officer in the governmental agencies in India we visited commented on how quickly we got everything done.
Normal process takes about 6-8 weeks and we were back in the US at home within 15 days after the kids were born, which was quite a feat. The sheer amount of paperwork is daunting and getting that together is a very tedious task. Every detail has to be checked and re-checked because in India, one small mistake will cause delays that could prolong the process by weeks.
It was also difficult because the governmental agency in India required us to bring the children in person which due to the monsoon season in India, and with viral fevers being rampant, was extremely difficult. We had to take a lot of extra precautions when taking the kids out.
Another added issue is the sheer bureaucracy, poor service and without bribes you cannot expect anything to move. For example, it took 3+ days for the hospital to submit the record of birth to Mumbai municipality. Only after six personal visits and four phone calls to the Medical Records office at the hospital, did they finally do the work.My husband and I had to really fight and bribe some peons and officers to get the kids’ birth certificates. The process would not have moved forward without the birth certificate so it was an extremely important step for us to cross in order to get out of India quickly. Moreover, India does not really have the concept of children’s car-seats, so traveling in the car with kids was the equivalent of a joy ride where you prayed no one would come and side-swipe you.
Going through Mumbai Airport to bring twins home, we were full of uncertainty and nervousness. We had every legal document with us – embryos’ creation certificate from NYU, legal permissions from Government of India to conduct surrogacy in India, our OCI cards, statement from the Surrogacy Agency of no outstanding dues, NOC from our surrogate that she has no rights on the twins.
And for the twins, we had – birth certificates from India, US consulate issued statement about children born to a US citizen in India via surrogacy, US passports issued in India & their Indian Exit visa. But still, the nervousness of what if some officer decides to give us trouble at the last minute remained. Also, for 15-day-old babies to travel for 15hrs in the air, gives you the chills.
The one moment I will never forget is when our plane from India finally landed at Newark Airport and the sheer tears of joy we all shed. Emotions really ran high and it is something I will not forget anytime soon.
Would you recommend this to other women? Though, as you mentioned, currently this process is not allowed from India. Are there other countries that people use like Nepal?Yes I would recommend it to other women for sure because surrogacy is definitely something that has given women like me a lot of hope of having children of our own who share our blood.
However, my advice would be to definitely be prepared for an emotional roller coaster. The process is really long with full of uncertainty. And just remember at all times to stay strong and have faith that God will make everything right.
Currently, after the ban in India, the only countries that allow surrogacy at this point are the USA, Nepal, and Thailand. Doing something like this in a foreign country requires a lot of grit and determination and recognition that not everything will go your way but you have to be willing to ride the tide and do your best to deal with the issues that come your way.
What are the cautions you would say in taking on a surrogate?One risk is that the surrogate will play on your emotions and emotionally blackmail you into giving them more money because they think as NRI’s you have an unlimited amount of money. Women who become surrogates solely do it for financial reasons and nothing else and do not honestly get paid much for such a long painstaking process. Another risk is you never know what can happen and if the surrogate miscarries at any point, there is nothing you can do as you have no control over it. It’s an extremely difficult and long process for which you need a lot patience and strength.
What are the rewards of the experience?Of course, my two gorgeous baby girls! There’s also so much growth I’ve experienced as a person. This experience has definitely taught me never to take anything for granted and that the support of your family is of monumental essence – so never discount that and lose your bond with your family. I definitely feel like I became a stronger person and can take on anything life will bring going forward. I used to always be the timid weak one but now I feel far from that and refuse to take No for an answer. Anything is truly possible in today’s world and I am a true example of that.
Tell us about your twins? Share some anecdotes of being a mother – finally!Being fraternal twins, they are definitely opposites of each other! Amairaah is the happy-go- lucky baby who is very independent and will be completely content if you just give her something to play with and will put herself to sleep. The other one, Shania, is a naughty little one who wants to constantly be held before going to bed and will make you laugh and smile with all her mischief. Shania loves to try and eat my nose any time I play with her, whereas Amairaah loves it if you bounce her up and down on your knee.
We were so nervous on the plane ride back home, with the kids only 15 days old. All the flight attendants stopped by and would look at them and then tell me how brave I was for doing this and that they don’t know if they would have been able to do the same thing. Becoming a mother has taught me not to put up with anyone’s nonsense and that ultimately you will get a lot of unsolicited advice from people and you just have to remember that you are the mother and that your husband and you make the ultimate decisions as to how to bring up your children.
What have been the reactions of your family and your husband?Our immediate family – parents and siblings – everyone was beyond ecstatic. Our families are just so happy to see our dream of having children come true. No one ever imagined it would be twins.
My husband was there with me every single step of the process. The emotional roller-coaster could have become a turbulent flight, but my husband was a security blanket that was wrapped around me all the time. Like every husband and father, he loves spending time with the twins – changing diapers, bathing, feeding, burping, playing and singing Hindi lullabies.
Is there any contact with the surrogate?We decided not to have any contact with the surrogate after the kids were born because we wanted to “cut the cord” , so to say. As a human being, this is something that we did not wish or want to do. But we also didn’t want her to get emotionally attached with our twins by hearing from us.
Would you do it again?If the regulations were to change to allow me to do it I would 100% do it again and have a third child!
Surrogacy Resources from Komal
“One very valuable resource I used was a movie that I found online called Google Baby. It was extremely helpful in giving me an idea of what to expect in the process,” says Komal.
(Komal actually spoke with Doron on whom the movie is based and he was extremely helpful as well and now runs his own surrogacy agency in Nepal.)
PVED is a useful forum on which women who are facing infertility post their questions and the members help by answering if they have information
Lastly, US Embassy consulate website in Mumbai had a lot of information regarding the paperwork and what all would be needed.
To our readers: Please do share your own thoughts, opinions and experiences in the comments section
Related Article on the Joys of Adoption
Adoptions from India – Everything You Wanted to Know