Sunday, 27 May 2012

Indian surrogacy industry: we could never have imagined we'd be parents

When Alex and Amelia Hill are told of how they came into the world it will be no ordinary story.

They will learn of their parents flying back and forward to India, watching the twins growing in their mother’s womb over the internet, then spending the first weeks of their life not in the nursery prepared for them in the West Midlands, but a cramped New Delhi hotel room.

But what they will be told most of all will be the pure joy which their arrival brought their father Stephen Hill and his partner Johnathon Busher.

As Stephen and Johnathon held the twins in their arms for the first time little more than 12 hours after their birth, both men simply cried.

“I was overwhelmed,” said Mr Busher.

“I burst out crying like a baby myself and fell apart, and I couldn’t stop crying. We were both found it very hard to keep it together and then Stephen cried and cried. It was a very emotional time as neither of us had really prepared for this moment.

“We could never have imagined it a couple of years ago and we both fell in love with our children immediately and all the parenting instincts kicked in.”

The road to standing in the Delhi maternity hospital on the morning if April 21 had begun more than 18 months ago.

A couple for 18 years, they became convinced that the love they had always had for their nieces and nephews showed what was missing in their lives: a family of their own.

Mr Hill said: “John and I were surrounded by nieces and nephews and we had always adored children. We both talked about what was missing in our lives and agreed that we wanted to be fathers. We realised we needed to see new life around us and we started exploring the possibility of adopting children.

“It was a minefield, with very technical legal problems and waiting lists of up to two years and with visits from social workers. Adopting is so difficult in Britain and all the checks that are made on you, although absolutely necessary, can take years before you can adopt.

“We had heard about gay men becoming surrogate parents and knew all about Sir Elton John and David Furnish. But our first thoughts were that this was something only for celebrities who could afford it.”
But the idea did not go away, and it became clear it was possible. The couple began research on the internet, ruling out Eastern Europe because of stories about would-be parents being defrauded and the USA because of the expense.

“India kept popping up as the place to go to as there were so many good reports about not only healthy babies being born, but the surrogate mothers being well looked after too which was important to us,” said Mr Hill.

They found the clinic of Dr Anoop Gupta, medical director at the Delhi Fertility Research Centre, whose team has been behind a total of 6000 surrogate babies so far.
“We had carried out three weeks of extensive internet research before we made the decision to come to India,” Mr Hill says.

“Neither of us had been to this country and of course we still carried some uncertainties, but our minds were made up.”

Mr Hill travelled to India to make a sperm donation, using an egg supplied by the clinic, from a donor who neither man or the children will ever know.

“I was shown a book with body types and details of the women’s genetics and I chose a picture of a young woman who had an athletic build,” he says.

“Both John and I are quite tall, so I chose a woman with a good height although I never saw her face and will never know who she is.

“The first attempt was not successful and Johnathon and I did think maybe this wasn’t meant for us.
“But then our attitude was along the lines of 'If you fall off a bike, get back on the saddle’.

“When I was back in Birmingham and after a few weeks, I found out I was going to be a father and we were absolutely delighted.”

In fact, they found soon, they were expecting twins.
“We broke all the rules,” he says.

“You are not supposed to buy children gifts until they are born, but we were so happy we bought clothes for up to the age of five, and bottles and things like that months before they arrived. We were so happy. We did not know their sex, but we correctly guessed they were a boy and a girl. The full set.”

But the months were anxious: progress was monitored over the internet, by email and by calls to Dr Goopta on Skype. As the couple prepared to bring their children home, they also had to prepare for a legal difficulty which means the twins are still in India.

All that was put to one side on the day they went to see the twins, the morning after the evening of their birth.
They met Noorjhan, the woman who had carried the babies.
Perhaps inevitably, all was not straightforward.

Mr Busher said: “Noorjhan’s husband had been going around the hospital saying the babies were his and we found out that medical staff there had not been told the twins were surrogates. We got very worried as her husband had been allowed to see the babies in our absence.”

According to British immigration law, Noorjhan’s husband is recognised as the legitimate father until citizenship and UK passports have been issued.

“It was only when Dr Gupta telephoned the hospital to tell them Amelia and Alex had been born through our surrogacy arrangement and we produced the contract, was it that we were able to take them out.
'Then we were so happy, our feet didn’t touch the ground.”

Both struggled to communicate properly with Noorjhan.

“I thanked the surrogate mother very warmly and she was very happy for us and appreciative of what she had done for us,” said Mr Hill.

'Her English wasn’t very great, but she was perhaps a little bit too attached and there was a little bit of an awkward time when it came to handing the babies over and for her to say goodbye.

“She was reminded that it was a deal and she was fine. She was quite tender with them because they are cute and they are twins. But the reminder to her by me and the carer was a simple pointer that it was a deal and the time had come for her to say goodbye to them.

“I understood her attachment to them, but it was going too far and she needed to be reminded.”
But even then it is no simple matter for two homosexual men to take home their children.

British immigration procedures will take at least another month and until then, because Mr Busher has had to return to the UK to care for his terminally ill elderly mother – the couple are her joint carers – Mr Hill is effectively a single father. A quirk of Indian immigration law means foreigners cannot return to India for 60 days after they have left, making it impossible for Mr Busher to come back.

Now Mr Hill describes himself as “a hotel prisoner” as he cares for the twins alone.
He is surrounded by piles of nappies, baby milk powder, clothes for children up to the age of a year and in the corner is a twin pram and piles of toys.

Even the formula milk has been brought from Britain, just in case the Indian product is not good enough.
“I wear cotton combat trousers to help with the heat and use the pockets around the knee to keep their milk bottles,” says Mr Hill.

“Right one for Alex and left for Amelia. They say motherhood is a full time job. well, tell me about it. There is no let up. It is so full on.

“Yesterday, Alex grabbed my arm as I was feeding him and it was a wonderful moment and like a kind of 'hello dad’. You cannot put a price on that type of feeling and everything being worth it was summed up by that moment.”

In the Midlands, meanwhile, Mr Busher is looking after his extremely ill mother and preparing for his family to be reunited.

“I was very sad when I had to leave them and Stephen behind. I wish I was there with them now,” he says.
“But if Stephen is not home in six weeks, I will be able to go out and rejoin them as the 60 day rule on returning will have expired.”

Both men also have some trepidation about the reaction they will receive where they live.
Mr Busher says: “The word has leaked out that we have become parents and some of the early comments have not been very nice.

“We don’t want our children to live in fear of being attacked because we are gay and some people have a problem with that. We may have to move to a more friendly area.”
And Mr Hill adds: “We have had a hard time back in the West Midlands with being called names and people having a go at us.

“I am worried about the reaction from people in our area, when we get to England, but right now I can only think about the babies.”

But they have no doubt they have done the right thing: the reaction from their families has been one of delight.

“My mother was in a state of disbelief,” Mr Hill said.

“When we told her, she was so happy and said a fortune teller had once told her she would have five grand children and with these two, she now has five.

“She said she could never have expected me to give her any grandchildren as a gay man.”
Already the couple are planning for Alex and Amelia to have siblings – this time with Mr Busher as the biological father.
“In a couple of years I intend to go to India and father children too and we will all be one big happy family,” he said.

- Shekhar Bhatia

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