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I always wanted to be a father one day. And as soon as I decided to come out of the closet as gay, I started thinking about how I could go about doing so.
My first approach was to find a way that is suitable for my Muslim family and culture.
Another approach was inspired by a TV show titled Raising Hope, in which a single father becomes a father after sleeping with a girl who was actually on a death row. (And he turns out to be a great father, indeed.) I wanted to find some similar sort of deal, but after deeper consideration, I scrapped the idea.
As my longing for fatherhood became more serious, I began to explore the concept of surrogacy: it seemed like the perfect option. Being a Canadian citizen living and working in the United States, I limited my search for surrogates to the United States and Canada. It turned out that it is absolutely impossible unless I dish out a minimum of $100,000: a ridiculous figure, since more than 80% of the money goes into legal and medical costs.
Disillusioned, I turned to Google. And all of my searches pointed me to India.
And Google was right. India is the perfect place for such a thing. Surrogates and intended parents are both protected by law.
Selecting Clinic and Choosing Egg Donor
Initially, I started talking to agencies. I wasn’t convinced by them, though. I searched for IVF Clinics on Google Maps. I noticed clinics all over the world, but very few and scattered. However, I did find two places in the world that were full of such clinics: New Delhi, and Mumbai. After further enquiry, I finally settled with Dr. Rita Bakshi’s clinic in New Delhi. The clinic seemed much more mature than the other ones which often had a team of students working along, as opposed to a body of experienced professionals. I felt secure with Dr. Rita as she herself had had 30 years of experience. I spoke to her via Skype. Her assistant gave me a fee structure converted to US$. She also sent me very limited profiles of a few egg donors available. I chose one of them. I also got to interview a few surrogates at this point on Skype.
Securing Indian Visa
Hold on a minute! I was born and raised in Pakistan. Huge red flag!
I started to think if I should just lose hope of becoming a father. But if other gay parents so often travel to India for surrogacy, why was I any different? I am a law abiding citizen, I thought. How hard could it be? I contacted Indian embassies in Ottawa and Toronto. The customer service for all of them gave me a list of required documents to obtain an Indian visa.
Since I live in Michigan, I decided to go to Indian Embassy in Chicago, instead. It turned out they outsourced visa processing to Travisa. I personally went there in the middle of May 2012. They said it was not a problem: they would simply issue the visa on my Pakistani passport, and that the clearance would take from 6 weeks to 2 months. I gave them my application, passport, and started driving back to Michigan.
A couple of hours down the road, Travisa called me and told me that they are missing some documents. Oh! I am not driving back there. I urgently mailed them the next day. A few days later, they asked for more documents. I sent another e-mail.
My application was accepted on 30th June 2012. After that, Travisa would send me automated e-mails every week telling me that my clearance is still in process.
Finally, after about 6-8 weeks, I received the e-mail that my clearance was received. I was so excited. I made arrangements with Dr. Rita’s clinic. They wanted me there in middle of September. I called Travisa who demanded the exact dates of my flight, and said that the embassy will issue the visa only 3 days earlier. I booked the flight, immediately.
It turned out the visa agent at the embassy received my application only 3 days before my flight. She called me a couple of times, and was very reluctant to give a visa to Pakistani. And she didn’t. And I thought, there was my money on the flight and the clinic thing was over, too. I decided to urgently ship my sample from the US. But it turned out that the mighty Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) homophobic laws wanted me to dish out thousands of dollars on useless blood tests and make my sperm quarantined for 6 months! Those tests would have to be repeated after the quarantine period was over.
Really, FDA, really?
I looked for other options, and found out a trip to Mexico will achieve this task. So it did.
A month later, I received pregnancy confirmation. Yay!
Some time in February and March, I decided to skip the embassy and directly contact the Ministry of Home Affairs in India, asking them if my clearance was still valid and if I would I get a visa. Three weeks later, they responded by saying that my clearance was given in July 2012.
I contacted the embassy with this information. I said I would personally visit the embassy this time, rather than through Travisa. They asked me to wait. A week and a half later, I just went there. Few hours waiting with no satisfactory answer for reason for wait, they called me inside, and asked me questions. I provided all the legal definitions including the ART 2010 clause which allowed surrogacy for gay and single parents. Yet, still, they did not give me a visa. But they gave me their email address, so that I could provide them with the links to that clause, and also actual notarized in India surrogacy agreement and letter from Canadian embassy that my child would be granted citizenship.
I collected all the documents in two weeks, including original surrogacy agreements that were at the clinic (which the clinic urgently mailed). I went to the embassy again on a Friday morning and I got visa at 4:00 after all day of waiting on my Pakistani passport.
Anyways, most of these months – since I initiated the procedure all the way to getting a visa – were quite nerve wrecking. I am pretty sure it was also nerve wrecking for the surrogate mother. The clinic continually asked whether I would get a visa on time or not.
I am not saying this procedure isn’t nerve wrecking for other parents who apply for surrogacy related visas. However, being a Pakistani, the procedure for me was much more problematic. But I knew what I was signing up for. So I stood my ground.
Travel to India and Planning
Dr. Rita’s assistant Mamta told me to come sometime in the middle of June. I booked a flight arriving Delhi 1:00 AM on June 19th. A pre-arranged vehicle by the guest house picked me up. The hotel charged me Rs. 1200 for that, which is still quite a lot for taxi, but I wanted it to be hassle free. The immigration at the airport went smoothly, as the officer I got was a nice gentleman. (If you don’t know what I am talking about, Pakistani passports can be burdensome!) He still had to fill out an additional form required for Pakistani citizens. It took him a few extra minutes.
Immigration was cleared. I was told by several of my Indian friends to act like an Indian or a Canadian, and never mention Pakistani origin to anyone that doesn’t need to know.
Anyways, I proceeded to the money change counter. A girl was working there. I asked for US$100 changed. She asked me for my passport, which I didn’t want to give, but I had to. As soon as she saw my Pakistani passport, she agitated, and literally talked to the wall behind her, “Should I send him inside”. I knew I was doing absolutely nothing illegal. So I stood my ground. And the money was exchanged within a few minutes after she took my hotel’s address. She wanted my Pakistani address, but I said I don’t live in Pakistan.
The cab drove me to the hotel. But left me there. It was like a big house, while workers were all sleeping. The cab driver told me to go upstairs. And that’s it. I had to actually knock on some guest room, who told me where the employees are (they were really little kids under the age of 15). I spent the rest of the night sleeping (4:00 to 10:00) and then walked to the clinic which was 3 minutes from the hotel.
Surprise! Surprise! And I to my surprise my baby had already arrived in the hospital at 10:00 PM last night. Anyways, Dr. Rita and the staff had to talk to me before they took me to ADIVA Hospital. It took them 10-20 minutes before they told me it’s a boy.
I already had names in mind for both a boy and a girl. For a boy, it was Epicurus (or Epic in short). A few of my friends imagined it was a girl by looking at the ultrasound of the face. Actually, even at my baby shower, I was gifted with girls’ clothes! I really hate the fact that in USA all the new born clothes have to be gender-specific. It’s a pretty bad commercialization culture. Anyways, Epic had to wear a lot of girl’s clothes for the first few weeks of his life.
Local Maid Help
Dr. Rita told me to keep the baby in the hospital for a day, so that I could start to get adjusted in the area. And since it was in the newborns ICU, he was in good care. Also, the doctor asked me if I needed local help, which I did. The clinic arranged a maid on daily wages through an agency. And since Urdu/Hindi is my mother tongue as well, I got her cheaper than someone who only knows English.
Delhi Police Bhawan (Alternate of FRRO for Pakistanis)
Another thing Pakistani nationals have to do is to report to a police station within 24 hours of landing. Afghan nationals have to report to the FRRO within 2 weeks. Other foreign nationals have 180 days to report to the FRRO. Anyways, the clinic staff also helped me reach police station first in an auto-rickshaw with a nice gentleman to accompany me. After waiting there for half an hour or so, the officer gave the address of Delhi Police Bhawan, that has a specialized section for Pakistanis.
By this time, I was fully comfortable with moving around in Delhi on my own since having grown up in Karachi, I am familiar with how to hire auto-rickshaw. I headed on to Delhi Police Bhawan’s Pakistani section on my own. I was expecting the police to be nutty seeing Pakistanis, but the staff were extremely helpful and nice. They asked me to get a couple of passport photos of myself. I went out to get them. And then within a few minutes, I got a paper – a residence permit – that I had to hold on to until departure. I asked whether I could get an exit visa for baby Epic from the same location or not, and they said, “Absolutely!! Make sure to get him a Pakistani passport. Otherwise if you get him Canadian passport, the matter would go to FRRO, and it can take days to clear.”
I went back to the clinic and told them how smoothly I could get the exit visa. They were surprised, but also scared since it was a pretty unique situation, and they had never dealt with Pakistani before. The clinic asked me to go through a lawyer to be safe. They chose a lawyer for me to hire. And the lawyer also was very scared with the situation, advising me to go through the Canadian passport and FRRO route.
Baby Released from Hospital
The next morning, I returned to the clinic. They asked me to wait there until the maid shows up. Dr. Rita asked her a few questions and then approved her. The clinic kept her ID copies. Then, we both went to the hospital in an auto-rickshaw. I took one set of clothes, two baby sheets, some diapers, a formula bottle and Infantino baby backpack (which paediatrician told me not to use at the moment since he is too fragile). Once the hospital staff trained the maid and me in the basics of ‘baby care’ and got proof from the clinic that the charges had been paid, they released us, with the baby wrapped in two sheets. I asked the nurse if it’s safe to take him in auto-rickshaw and she said yes.
The maid was hired on a per day basis for a minimum of 10 days from 9AM to 7PM. She was a very street-smart woman. She had worked with babies in government clinics in the past. She told me that she could bring a baby comforter set with pillow and side rolling pillows, a tub for baby bath including mug, and a few extra bottles if I gave her the money the next day, which I agreed to.
After the maid left at 7:00, I was all alone with Epic. I knew I had to feed him every two hour so I decided to stay up all night. The great thing was that I was able to I call my mother on Skype and she told me to sleep whenever Epic sleeps. I was hesitant since I didn’t know if I would wake up on time to feed him. My mother told me not to wake him up to feed him, but to let him sleep. When he would wake up and be hungry, I would know pretty well. There is no way I could continue sleeping with the baby crying.
Although, Epic turned out to be really good and well-mannered, as from the very first day, he easily sleeps 6 hours or so straight without bothering at all.
The clinic sent me a photographer they had worked with in the past. And he took really nice shots for the passport.
Canadian High Commission
After few days of waiting for birth certificate and completing forms, I went to the Canadian high commission with Epic and the maid. The security kept my driver’s license before letting us in.
The lawyer kept the birth certificate and decided to come separately to the embassy, which was an unheard of practice by high commission security. They left me with the copy of birth certificate. The high commission told me that they need original. But the lawyer’s team left for the day. The high commission agreed to accept rest of the papers, but asked me to tell the lawyer team to come next day with originals.
The high commission told me to wait for further instructions as they forwarded my application to the CIC in Canada. And they did not require DNA testing unless the CIC’s next instructions demanded so. It took them several days.
Meanwhile, I decided to get a duplicate birth certificate from the copy. And since I grew up in Pakistan, I knew how to work around local ministries to get things done. And I got the certificate.
Pakistani High Commission
I decided to get a Pakistani passport as well. I had done my homework a long time ago about that as well whether they accept surrogacy or not. And big question was, would they accept children out of wedlock. I read the laws, and they said anyone whose parents were ever Pakistani citizen can inherit Pakistani citizenship. I once talked to their Facebook page. They asked me to call on the phone. I called on the phone. Although they never heard of surrogacy before, they asked me to come to the window and explain.
The Pakistan embassy was under extreme security. Although the building is huge, only two windows on the boundary wall were active for service. Both had tents for people to wait standing or sitting on personal sheets on the foot path (wide side walk). One for visas and one for passports. Although the windows had a service hours duration, the person serving only comes for few minutes, and takes all the applications immediately inside after hearing everyone’s cases.
Anyways, the guy was extremely nice and polite. He heard my case, and asked me to explain surrogacy. I gave him a copy of the surrogacy agreement and birth certificate. He asked me to get the birth certificate attested from the MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) and to get forms filled by a typewriter from the servicemen sitting outside. They filled in my application. They also facilitated getting an affidavit attested by the MHA that the child had not applied for Indian passport. If there were two parents, both affidavits were required. After obtaining all the documents, I again went in the evening and submitted the application for a passport. The serviceman asked me to come again on Monday.
So, I went Monday morning. The guy said he would take me inside for an interview with the ambassador. I got to see inside of the embassy, which most people don’t get to do. I went to the ambassador’s office. She was a very nice and sophisticated woman and asked me about how I had the child, and how will I take care of the child. I downplayed the gay part. I said I am single father, and I have my parents back in America. All I need is a passport to get a US visa. She asked if my parents are settled in the USA, and I said yes. That was pretty much it. I asked her if she received any other surrogacy cases before, and she responded in the negative.
After the interview, the serviceman gave me a payment slip to deposit in a particular branch of the bank. First he told me to submit a normal processing fee, but I reminded him that it was urgent. So he said to deposit an urgent fee of Rs. 3000. I did so, and submitted the application in the evening. He asked me to come back Wednesday evening and gave me the passport. (Unfortunately, there is only one-year validity, since there is no National ID card issued, and the number field is left blank. Also, the religion field was left blank as that is how I filled the form.)
US High Commission
Since I am on a TN visa, my spouse and children were qualified for a TD visa. At the US Embassy in Delhi, the fee for any visa is the Indian rupee equivalent of $160, and it is to be deposited on one specific branch of a bank. The applications are then taken at an outsourced agency at Nehru place. I completed the forms and submitted the application there, for an actual appointment at the embassy was a couple of days later.
After reaching the US embassy with Epic and the maid, there was a huge secured line at the road. But security let me skip that because of the baby, and gave me a fast track number. The maid had to wait outside. Inside, there was another waiting area with seats and numbers. But my fast track let me skip that one as well. And then there was another waiting area with a shorter crowd and windows. But my number was also much faster than the rest. At the window they checked the papers. I got a bit confused about Canadian and Pakistani passports. I explained that the Canadian passport is taking forever, and I have to get back to work. They said that they would confirm with Washington and let me know. Two days later, the website showed that visa has been issued. I collected from it from Nehru Place that evening.
So in total, both the Pakistani passport and the US visa took less than 2 weeks.
Exploration of Delhi with Dusty Chaitanya Alter’s and His Family
I met Dusty bhai on Facebook, and we had a very good friendship especially from his group Indo-Pak Heart to Heart. He, along with several other Indian friends, gave me lots of tips about travelling in India whilst I was still in the limbo about whether I would actually get the visa or not. After seeing Epic in the hospital first day, and coming back to hotel, I gave Dusty a call.
After two days, when my maid started to babysit and I could move around, he came and picked me up. And I started to drive around the roads of Delhi, showing me around. Then, he took me to his family’s home where his parents were visiting, too. It turned out his father grew up in Karachi before partition. We exchanged some info about Karachi, and some laughs with his mother’s post-partition stories. Although the story wasn’t very pleasant, her way of explanation made us all laugh. His maids made several dishes.
From that day onwards, he used to pretty much come every day or every other day: sometimes alone, other times with his wife to show me around. He showed me the meat market, although I am vegetarian, but it was a good experience as I got to know that the meat market was made up of mostly Muslims, which looked like an open-minded version of Pakistan to me. We also once visited the Jamaa Masjid area, since my father and most of the Pakistanis who know Delhi wanted me to visit it. It was a really congested area. It was nothing less of a pilgrimage site for not only Muslims of India, but also Muslims of Pakistan who actually succeeded in securing an Indian visa. Also, many stores had Pakistani visa forms because a lot of Indian Muslims have families in Pakistan and probably want easy access to those forms. We had dinner at Khan’s.
One night Dusty bhai and his wife took me out to visit the Delhi Gymkhana for a nice dinner. At this time, Epic was with me, and I enjoyed the Indian beer Kingfisher for the first time. We also visited the mall. It was like a regular American mall but 100 times more crowded with several security scanners. We then went to watch a movie. This time his maids took care of babysitting Epic. Then on another night, I went to a big concert where Dusty’s daughter was an instrumentalist. They had been practising for several days. I had never seen such a live concert in my life with highly energetic young college student singers. We had an amazing night. Afterwards, we had dinner at a restaurant late at night.
Other than that, we had several other lunches and dinners outside, often hosted by Dusty.
Although the clinic was very hesitant of letting me leave on a Pakistani passport, I called the FRRO and specifically asked about surrogacy on a Pakistani passport. They responded, “We don’t deal with Pakistanis, go to the Delhi Police Bhawan.” I was 100% definite that this was the right route to go with. I told the clinic to verify the information individually, as well as with the lawyer. They finally agreed as long as it’s a legal way to go. In the Delhi Police Bhawan station, I asked them to verify the procedure with the MHA as well, since surrogacy is involved. They called the MHA and verified it everything with them. The Delhi Police Bhawan said come on the day of the flight, as they had to stamp within 24 hours of the flight. I did so and they stamped it near the US visa.
It was a night flight. The airport had some red flags, as I had two passports with two different names. Although I showed the whole paper work to the airline staff, they still checked in the bags, but made me wait like 45 minutes before they confirmed with my connecting flight. Once they gave me clearance, I proceeded for immigration. I was running out of time. I waited like 20 minutes or so in line. Then immigration officer asked me a few questions, and for my resident permit. But he asked me for a permit for the child as well. I explained that I was never given one: the child is born in India through surrogacy. Another officer told him it’s ok; surrogacy cases don’t require that permit, just a stamp on the passport. But he told him to show the paperwork to the boss, and to never stamp any Pakistani passport without showing the boss. It took him several minutes. He came back and said it will take several more minutes. I reminded that my flight is going to leave, he remarked, “You should have come earlier. Immigration takes time.” I think he was probably looking for bribe. I reminded him, “I have invested so much money in your country, why are you treating me like that?” He smiled, and asked me if he could keep the surrogacy agreement copy for himself. I said sure, just let me go fast. He stamped the passports and handed them to me. Then I proceeded to the airport security scanner. Once, the security woman asked me, “Where is the mother”, I said, it’s surrogacy. She didn’t understand, but I just kept walking carrying Epic in my baby carrier. And then I had to literally run to the gate. A pretty long walk.
I reached the gate when the plane was mostly boarded. I was asked questions by fellow passengers and I explained I had a surrogate. One woman who also had a baby asked me if I am from Delhi, I replied, “I am actually from Pakistan”. What a relief, I thought; that I am out of India and don’t have to worry about the traditional hostility of India/Pakistan. There was one elderly woman who was noticing me caring for Epic alone for a long time. She suddenly came and asked in Hindi, “Where is his mother?” I responded in Urdu, “She is coming from next flight.” She probably didn’t understand well and imagined something, asking, “Did she die?” I replied again, “No, she is coming from the next flight.” She probably didn’t understand but left me alone after that.
The flight went well. The next flight was a relief since it had American bound passengers. Although there was a lot thorough screening of the US bound Delta flight.
Arrival at Detroit
I was asked to go to the visitors’ line rather than the US citizens line as I am Canadian. The officer found something in the system. It was probably because of Delta airline, and I travelled using my older name and Pakistani passport. So he stamped Epic’s Pakistani passport, but sent me in for secondary inspection. It would have taken several minutes, but I tried to remind officers that I am out of sterilized bottles to feed baby, so they finished inspection fast.
My parents and brother visited us in the evening.
A few days later, the Canadian embassy in Delhi responded to my email saying that the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CUC) would send Epic’s citizenship certificate directly to my home. So for us, no DNA test was required. I guess it had to do with the fact that they already knew by now that baby is not stateless and that I’d already given an identity by Pakistan.
Visit to Canada
Since my sister is in Canada, and doesn’t have US visa, I decided to visit her in Windsor with Epic. Remember, the only document from Canada I had at this point was the email from the embassy, which wasn’t really a travel document. I first asked the border through my brother whether they would let me into Canada with Epic without Canadian passport or visa, they replied, as long as I can prove parentage. Anyways, once I decided to visit, using his Pakistani passport with US visa, and birth certificate, they sent me in for secondary inspection. This case was very unique and Canadian kids born outside Canada coming from the US border are pretty much always considered US citizens. They, therefore, had trouble thinking how to enter Epic into the system. It took couple of hours. At one time they asked me to pay a $200 visa fee, but after further discussion with the authorities, they let me in. Following that day, they told me to bring some sort of letter or printed e-mail from the Canadian authorities. I visited several time, and they didn’t ask any further questions.
Happily Ever After
I received Canadian citizenship certificate for Epic in the mail a few months later, and everything fell in place. I applied for his passport at the passport office in Windsor. They kept copies of his birth certificate, citizenship certificate and the No Objection Certificate provided by the clinic with the surrogate’s thumb impression. They just wanted to make sure that I am not in any custody battles with the mother.
A new thing was that passport fees were significantly increased, especially to mail to the US. The passport fee for a Canadian address is $57, while for a US address, it is $100. That, too, for child passport. The adult passport is a lot more expensive now.