When toddlers attack

Saturday, August 11, 2012

And while we're on the subject...

...of comparing my daughter to baby animals...

Here's Clara just before this morning's bath:

And here's a shot of a baby swallow we snapped a few years ago at El Alcázar in Segovia:

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Monkey no more

When we met Clara for the first time in May, she was already three weeks old but weighed less than 1700g.  We took her home four days later, just as she was nosing over the 1700 mark. 

Besides being amazed at how tiny she was, I was also struck by how... er... simian she looked.  Basically, she still had the look of a fetus clinging to her.  With her huge eyes and the way she would cling to the front of our shirts, she looked like a baby monkey in a National Geographic documentary.  I would nudge Adrian and just say "look" as I pulled up a picture on the internet:

Yes, I know orangutans aren't monkeys
"You're disgusting," was his stock reply.

Well, over the past two weeks, fleeting smiles have started to flicker over the girls' faces, and look at Clara now (I've already been tormenting my Facebook friends with this photo, but you all get it with the boogers at the corners of her eyes Photoshopped out):

You may all say "awwwwww."

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Surrogacy in India isn't for everyone.  Control freaks: it will make your head explode.  Compulsive worriers:  it will send you into cardiac arrest.  See, here's the deal:  you sign a contract in a foreign country on the other side of the world with a complete stranger to bear your child.  You have no contact with the surrogate; no day-to-day conversations about how her belly is swelling or how the little one is beginning to kick.  You wire thousands of dollars over the course of nine months in the blind faith that everything is going as it should.  And, miraculously, most of the time, it does.

But sometimes, it doesn't. 

Bernadette and Duane's twins, Scarlett and Hayden were due two weeks before Clara and Olivia.  Instead, they were born five weeks before -- and ours were born seven weeks early.  Bernadette didn't think twice -- she flew alone to Delhi, and she's been there for 128 days as Hayden lingers in the NICU.

Sometimes you wonder where people find the strength to endure life's most trying situations -- how would each of us fare?  Would we fall apart?  How would we meet the challenge?

In Bernadette's case, she makes it look, if not easy, at least not a trial.  She writes flawlessly about her more than three months of tribulations in India like a seasoned travel writer -- with grace, humor, self-deprecation and an obvious affection for India, its culture and the people she's met, in spite of the difficulties she's faced.

I was in awe of Bernadette even before we met her.   When Clara and Olivia came nearly two months early, she snapped some of our first photos of them without us even having to ask her.  She was a few doors down from us at Svelte, and invited us in for a glass of Indian wine ... all she had, it was part of the minibar ... a few minutes after our arrival.  At the time, I thought it was surprisingly good.  Later, cracking open the bottle in our room, I noticed it was -- flat, with notes of rubber tire and old socks.  Maybe it was the jetlag the first time.  Or maybe good company makes bad wine drinkable.

Our twins' three weeks in the NICU had us breaking out the credit card and breaking into a cold sweat.  While we had banked on the cost of the surrogacy itself and a little extra, we just weren't prepared for that kind of extra expense -- so imagine what Bernadette and Duane are facing, especially now that they're trying to get Hayden home.  A collection has been taken up on PayPal:  https://www.paypal.com/webapps/mpp/send-money-online with payments made directly to Bernadette and Duane:bmhunton@gmail.com .  I urge all of you to help out as much as you can.

One morning at breakfast, I found myself worrying out loud to Bernadette about Clara's possible vision problems.  I stopped myself, and apologized for sticking my foot in my mouth.  After all, we'd been so lucky:  no apparent problems.  Worrying was something I could do because I had that luxury.  "That's okay," said Bernadette.  She said she felt lucky too.  After all, she had two beautiful children she loves.  And her bravery, persistence and optimism are an example to any parent.
Our month in India was obviously an emotionally charged time we'll remember for the rest of our lives.  Bernadette is an intricate part of those memories.  We feel lucky to know her.  Even though she did get a silk rug for less than my stupid camel hair rug.

That wasn't so bad - Leaving, Part II

As we jubilantly left the FRRO, I said to Adrián "that wasn't so bad."  And -- aside from the toilets -- it wasn't.  But as we headed towards the U.S. Embassy, I had the sinking realization that we'd left the girls' passports in the hotel room.  Gagan had specifically told me to bring them because they'd forgotten a stamp of some kind.  That meant that we had to drive all the way back to Svelte to get them, adding yet another leg to our spin around Delhi. 

A half-hour back to Svelte -- an hour there, eating, cooling down and changing the girls -- then back to the car.  A change in itinerary:  since the girls didn't have to go to the embassy, just their passports, we'd head to show them off at SCI, then go to the embassy, then back to the FRRO.  But first, a stop at Dunkin Doughnuts.  As an American export, doughnuts for me rank up there with Miley Cyrus, mouth grilles, and those animated, wall-mounted fish that sing.  In fact, I think they're kind of nasty.  Every time I eat one, its grease-infused ghost comes back to haunt me for the rest of the day with every belch.  Nasty.  But someone told us they were popular with SCI staff, so doughnuts we bought. 


We'd been told they were Bangladeshis.  We'd been told they were tribal people from Rajasthan.  While we never saw the crowds we've heard live on the streets of Mumbai, every overpass in Delhi seems to house its own street family.  The children head bravely into traffic, sometimes doing backflips and handstands, sometimes with tears streaming down their faces as they approach your car.  Once, we were approached by a couple with a limp child in their arms.  The mother held a medical bill up to the car window.  All an act?  No doubt, plus we had heard that any money collected is given directly over to a handler and the people dodging buses and tuk-tuks see next to none of it.  But we nevertheless quickly had grown tired of earning evil karma staring straight ahead pretending to ignore them, or making eye contact and shaking our heads as we smiled sadly.  So we bought a few bags of candy and some chocolate bars to hand out.  There was no way we could change their lives -- no way we could even give all the kids at one corner a full meal -- but we could give them something to make their day suck a little bit less.

But on our way to SCI, it quickly became clear that candy wasn't cutting it.  The first to approach the car was a little girl around nine years old.  She did a cartwheel between our car and a nearby truck.  We watched out of the corners of our eyes.  Then she walked over to the car and knocked on the window.  I rolled the window down just enough to hand her some candies.  She took them in her hand, looked at them a little disdainfully, raised her glance again, gestured that she still wanted money -- and then her eyes fell on the boxes of doughnuts in the front passenger seat.  She knocked on the window again and pointed at the doughnuts. 

"Give her one," said Adrián.  I did:  an eclair.  As we pulled away, we looked back and saw her heading away from traffic, back under the overpass, munching happily.

At the next stop, the first doughnut we handed through the window attracted a dozen more kids.  These were a bit more demanding: "Chocolate!  Chocolate!" insisted one as I tried to paw off a plain cruller on him.  We ended up passing a whole box through, warning them they had to share.  I don't know if they did. 

We showed up at SCI with a box and a half left.  A quick chat with Meg and Dr. Shivani, a meeting with Gourav to settle the final bill for the last of Clara's stay at Delhi Newborn, and we were done.  Vishal and Dr. Shivani walked us out to the car and waved as we drove away with the girls snoozing in their Cocoons on our laps... two and a half years of investigating, scrimping, saving and planning completed.


By this time, it was nearly 2:30 and Svelte, the FRRO and the embassy were all equidistant.  We'd been told to return to the FRRO at 3:00, and John said it was even better to get there by 2:00.  We decided to head directly there, feeling like incompentent, disorganized parents for subjecting the girls to yet another unecessary trip across Delhi.  Not that they knew the difference.

Adrián, Anan (our driver, who had replaced Satish after lunch) and the girls waited in the car, air conditioning blasting, as I headed back into the FRRO.  First stop:  the reception desk, where a pile of documents was waiting for me.  The man scribbled something at the top.  "Go to desk 10," he instructed me.

Desk 10 was behind a pillar.  A small crowd was already swarming around it.  After about five minutes, the man behind the desk -- who had been helping a European man with a ponytail and capri pants -- shouted "Everyone sit down!  I will call you according to your number!"  People sat.  I stood, clueless.  "I have a number?"  I asked. 

"Let me see your paper," he said.  "There, at the top.  You're after him," he said, indicating Capri pants man.

My turn came, he shuffled through my papers for about five minutes, then:  STAMP.  STAMP.  The girls' passports were, quite literally, good to go.

That was it.  No "where's the mother."  No "where's your wife."  Just a "go to the Cashier desk." 

A quick payment of INR 4360 (we'd brought cash... thanks John!), a final stop at the In-Charge Desk, and I walked out, the unused adrenaline in my body draining quickly, leaving me a little dazed and light-headed.  I half expected someone to come running after me telling me there'd been a mistake and that the girls were missing a crucial piece of documentation and we would have to drive across Delhi once again but -- oh!  So sorry -- that office is closed until tomorrow!  But no.  It was over.  I was done.  "That wasn't so bad," I said to myself as I walked back to the car.  "That was easy," I told Adrián as I got in.  We were finished with the big, bad FRRO.  Total time for the second visit, maybe 45 minutes.