How had this happened?
Here I was, on a flight from Heathrow to Mumbai, on my own. John should have been there with me, we should have been collecting our twins together. But he had been prevented from coming because he was their biological father. While I was free to go and collect them. Despite my frustration I had to give a wry smile at the irony of the whole thing.
Staring into the darkness as we flew east, I felt worried. How was I going to cope with two small babies on my own? Somehow the idea of looking after the babies had seemed so much less daunting when I thought we’d be doing it together. Wishing I’d been to a few early-years parenting classes, I stared gloomily out of the window.
John had hugged me goodbye at Heathrow, both of us close to tears. He was certain that he would be able to come out soon – four weeks at the most, he thought. And in the meantime, he had hastily consulted a lawyer and given me Power of Attorney so that I could make all necessary decisions about the children’s welfare in his absence.
Heavy-hearted I thought back to our last trip to Mumbai, seventeen months earlier. We had both been so excited about starting the journey towards parenthood. Now the birth of our children was a day away and we should be travelling together to meet them and begin life as a family. Instead I had to do it for both of us. It was a difficult situation and I was just going to have to manage. If I didn’t know much about caring for new born babies, well, I would learn fast.
We landed in Mumbai early on the morning of March 25. I hadn’t slept a wink throughout the nine-hour flight. Grabbing my bags, I jumped into a taxi and headed for the Novotel at Juhu Beach, on the west coast of the city.
The birth of the twins, by caesarean section, was due that afternoon and I hoped to be able to see them soon afterwards. I was due to speak to Somya mid-morning, but our relationship had become strained since her misjudged advice that John needed a medical visa. Her recent emails had contained one-sentence replies to our questions. Was she going to cooperate now that I was actually here and the babies were due?
I wasn’t even sure which hospital to go to. I called John and told him I had arrived safely and he’d said he was sure everything would be fine. But after the call ended, I felt alone and ill-prepared. I sat at the desk in my room, staring out at the street below. It would all work out…wouldn’t it?
I called Somya, who told me to go to the Hiranandani Hospital where the twins would be born. At least that was the first step sorted. I showered and changed into fresh clothes and then left the hotel and found a taxi in the rank on the other side of the road.
‘Hiranandani Hospital’ I said. ‘How much?’
The driver nodded his head and said ‘1000 rupees’. That was around £11, exorbitant for a taxi ride; the hospital had to be some distance away. But I had to get there, so I nodded and got in. We drove along the expressway for what seemed like hours. We left the city behind and kept on going.
I leaned forward. ‘Are you sure this is the right way?’
‘Oh yes sir, Hiranandani Hospital is in Thane, it is north of Mumbai. We are almost there now.’
Ten minutes later he deposited me outside the hospital. I asked him to wait, since I wasn’t sure how long I would be there or how I would find a taxi back.
In the maternity unit I found a nurse and asked her where I could find the surrogate mothers. She led me to the Sister, who spoke some English. ‘I am sorry Sir,’ she said, ‘We have no ward for surrogate mothers here; I believe you want Hiranandani Hospital in Powai’.
I stared at her in disbelief. ‘There are two Hiranandani Hospitals?’
‘Yes,’ she nodded. ‘And you are definitely in the wrong one.’
I rushed back outside to find the taxi still waiting. Sliding into the back seat I asked him where the other Hiranandani Hospital was.
‘Oh,’ he smiled. ‘That Hiranandani Hospital is back in Mumbai. Where we came from,’ he added helpfully.
Had he not thought to ask me which one I wanted? I didn’t even try asking that, I just told him to take me to the other one.
An hour and a half later we arrived outside a large rectangular, white building with a pillared entrance. By this time I was very hot, cross and suffering from lack of sleep, plus jetlag as a result of the five and a half hour time difference.
‘We are here Sir. That will be 2000 rupees,’ the driver said, still smiling.
I paid him and then called Somya to ask her why she hadn’t told me there were two hospitals with the same name. The connection was bad and I couldn’t understand what she was saying. Then the line went dead. I stared at my phone – had she just hung up on me? How dare she?
Clearly things were going from bad to worse. I just had to hope all would go well with the birth and the handing over of the twins. Somya I would reckon with later.
At the entrance there was the usual cabal of security guards who frisked me and searched my bag.
Inside I found myself in a large reception area, where I headed for one of two receptionists.
‘I am here for the surrogate Rehanna Khan and the expected birth of twins today?’
‘You will need to go to the hospital social workers’ office, just behind this reception to your right,’ she said.
I found the social workers’ office, but I could see through the glass window that there was no-one there. I knocked anyway, in case one of them was hiding under a desk. No reply. With no choice but to wait, I crossed to the nearby waiting area, close to a Hindu shrine of the deity Ganesh and took a chair between an elderly man and a pregnant woman.
This wasn’t going well. Perhaps the babies were here by now. Would I even get to meet them today? My head buzzed, but I could only wait and see. Surely my day had to get better at some point…
Half an hour later two social workers, a man and a woman, arrived back from their lunch breaks at the same time.
‘Hello,’ I said, ‘I am here for the twin births of surrogate Rehanna Khan.’
‘OK Sir, please come and sit down,’ one of them said. ‘I am Santos and this is Maria.’ He indicated the other social worker, who had come into the office with us.
I fumbled through the sheaf of documents in my bag and passed him the Power of Attorney, the Surrogacy Agreement naming me as John’s next of kin and our Civil Partnership Certificate, showing that I was his spouse. This combination of documents should have been enough to verify who I was, my connection to the twins and my right to see them. But Santos was shaking his head.
‘Forget about this document,’ he said, passing back the Civil Partnership Certificate. ‘Indian authorities do not acknowledge this. You will need to go to a notary office and have a statement notarised on stamped paper and signed by the notary, a government-appointed legal practitioner, explaining that you have this Power of Attorney and, as the next of kin, in John’s absence, will be acting as Guardian to the babies.’
‘But surely the Power of Attorney and the Surrogacy Agreement give me that right, even without the civil partnership,’ I protested.
‘I am sorry Mr Andrew,’ Maria said. ‘Here in India, you will need this additional notarised document, tying these two documents together. Then you may see the babies. There are many notaries in the city, just ask and you will be directed to one.’
There was no point in arguing. Promising I would be back, I picked up my papers and my bag and headed back outside, where I jumped into a passing rickshaw.
‘Notary office please’.
‘Huh? What is this?’
I got out my phone and looked up Notary Office in Powai and an address popped up. I showed it to the driver and he nodded and set off. Fifteen minutes later we stopped outside a residential address. I knocked on the door.
A young man answered the door. ‘Notary Office?’ I asked.
‘No, sorry,’ he said. Then he added, ‘There is an area a few kilometres from here where there are several notaries.’ He spoke to the driver in Hindi. The driver nodded and beckoned me back into the rickshaw.
We drove for 45 minutes through the bustling, honking Mumbai traffic until we reached one of the poorer districts, where tiny passageways criss-crossed one another and most ‘shops’ were simply open counters in the doorway of a small house. The driver stopped at the end of one of the passageways and pointed to it. ‘Down there,’ he said. I thanked him, paid and asked him to wait for me. He pointed to a tea-shop across the road. ‘You will be some time. I will be there,’ he said.
How long was this going to take? I headed down the alleyway, clutching my bag, which contained not only the precious legal documents but my money and passport, tightly under my arm.
There was no sign anywhere saying ‘Notary Office’. Why had I thought there might be? I was rapidly learning to adapt my expectations. I had to ask half a dozen vendors before I found my way to a small staircase leading up to a tiny, very hot waiting room where I sat for the next hour.
Finally, I was ushered into the office, another tiny room where a middle-aged man in a well-pressed, button-down white shirt sat at a desk covered with mountains of files and papers. Beside him a small electric fan whirred half-heartedly on a side table, blowing hot air from one side of the room to the other and making no difference at all to the stifling heat. He smiled and stood up to shake my hand. ‘I am sorry to have kept you waiting. I am Mr Chowdhury, the notary. How can I help you?’
I explained the situation to him and dug out the relevant paperwork.
‘Ah, Mr Webb, I am sorry you’ve had to come all this way. This problem can be easily sorted.’
He took a statement from me tying the Power of Attorney and Surrogacy Agreement together and then printed it onto the thin, officially stamped paper used for legal documents. After that there were several official rubber stamps and he signed it. Job done. Thanking him I headed back up the alleyway to where I had left the rickshaw. I found the driver, as promised, in the tea shop and we headed back to the hospital where I rushed to the social workers office.
It was empty.
‘They have gone home for the day,’ the hospital receptionist told me. ‘You will have to come back tomorrow.’
‘But they can’t have gone. They knew I was coming back. My babies have been born this afternoon and I need to see them. Surely there is some other social worker on duty in the evening?’
She smiled. ‘I am sorry, there is no social worker until 9am tomorrow. Come back then.’
I stood looking at the stairs leading up to the wards. Somewhere up there our twins lay, waiting for me. Had the birth gone as planned? Were they alright? It seemed so cruel that I would have to wait another night to find out. But in India, as I was discovering, waiting was a way of life – as much a part of most people’s existence as eating and sleeping. To the unavoidable in life; death and taxes, India has added, ‘waiting’.
I made my way back to the hotel, sad and frustrated. A phone call to John didn’t help. He had gone to the Indian High Commission first thing to tell them his children were being born that day, only to receive a totally disinterested, ‘your visa is being processed, we will notify you when it is ready’.
After a cold beer and a meal, I fell into bed completely exhausted. Tomorrow… I thought, as I slipped into a dreamless sleep… tomorrow everything will be different. Tomorrow I will meet our children and start to make plans to take them home.
The following morning, I was back at the hospital by nine. Maria and Santos were in their office and they seemed delighted to see me, which was encouraging.
‘Is everything in order Mr Andrew?’ Maria asked.
I got out the notarised statement and gave it to her. She read it and handed it to Santos.
‘Perfect,’ he beamed. ‘You can see your babies today.’
‘So, they’re well, everything is alright? Can I see them now?’
‘They are fine, all is well. But you can’t see them yet. Visiting hour begins at 10am. You can see them then and if you would like you will be able to feed them also.’
‘Yes, please, I’d like that very much. I’ll go and get a coffee and come back at 10.
I turned to go and then suddenly remembered something.
‘I’m so excited I almost forgot to ask. What sex are the babies?’
Maria smiled. ‘You and John have two beautiful baby girls. I hope you like the colour pink!’
‘Girls,’ I said, ‘oh that’s perfect. We have two girls.’
I couldn’t take it in. At last, after all the stress of the last few weeks, it was beginning to feel real. We were parents.
‘Have you chosen names?‘ Maria asked.
‘We have. Tara and Amritsar.’
‘They are very lovely names. You will have to decide who has which name. See you in half an hour.’
Too excited to sit down, I paced the reception area, clutching a cardboard cup of coffee from the hospital coffee shop. By five to ten I was back at the office.
Maria took me up to the hospital’s fourth floor, where she asked me to take a seat while she spoke to the Staff Sister. I could see them nodding and pointing in my direction and then Maria came back and said, ‘You will be called shortly. Good luck!’ She disappeared back down the stairs and I sat, tense as a racehorse at the starting gate, watching the Sister bustle off through a set of double doors and willing her to hurry up.
At that point, another door opened and a trolley-cot containing a small baby emerged, followed by two men. They were conversing with one another in Hebrew, but broke into English as a doctor emerged behind them.
‘We are so happy with this moment Doctor Soni,’ one of them said.
‘A very healthy three and a half kilos,’ the doctor replied. ‘Congratulations.’
The doctor, who I discovered had also delivered our girls, rushed off and one of the men fumbled in his pocket for a phone and then came over to me.
‘Please can you photograph us together,’ he asked.
‘Of course,’ I replied. ‘Boy or girl?’
One of the men picked the baby up and showed him to me, grinning from ear to ear. ‘Boy,’ he said. ‘Our first child.’
I took several photos of the two proud dads with their small boy.
‘I am Alon, this is Saul and this is baby Avi,’ said the one holding the baby.’
‘Nice to meet you, I’m Andi. ‘I’m just waiting to meet our two girls,’ I told them.
‘Congratulations,’ they laughed. ‘That’s wonderful.’
It felt so good to be congratulated as a new dad. All I needed now was to actually see my children.
‘Maybe see you again Andi,’ Alon called as they disappeared into the lift.
‘I hope so,’ I called after them.
I hoped I would see them again. It felt so heartening to be among people on the same mission.
Just then the Sister re-emerged through the double doors.
‘Mr Webb,’ she said. ‘You can see the babies now. They are on the second floor, in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit – the NICU.’ I must have looked alarmed because she went on, ‘Don’t worry, there is nothing wrong with them, they are not premature, it is usual for twins to spend a few days there when they are smaller at birth than single infants. Tell the reception there that you are here to see Rehanna Khan’s twins on behalf of the father.’
I bounded down the stairs to the second floor where I went to the reception desk and told the stern-faced receptionist that I was there to see Rehanna Khan’s babies.
‘So, you are not the babies’ father?’
‘No,’ I said through gritted teeth. ‘I am his civil partner. Please call down to Maria the social worker and check if you need to. They have all the paperwork.
‘Wait here,’ she said.
Half an hour passed before she returned. ‘You need to bring the paperwork here to us.’
There was now only 15 minutes of the visiting hour left. Afternoon visiting wasn’t until four – almost five hours away. Surely, they weren’t going to make me wait until then.
I shot back down to the social workers office. They were out.
An agonising hour later Maria reappeared. I explained the situation and she frowned. ‘They shouldn’t need to see the paperwork again. But wait a minute, I will get it.’
I headed back up the stairs with the papers and handed them to the receptionist, who was reminding me more and more of Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
‘Wait here,’ she said.
She disappeared with the papers. By the time she returned it was past 12.
‘Come back at 2pm,’ she said. ‘You will be permitted to see the babies then.’
Fine. Back down the stairs again – at least I had to be getting fitter, I thought – I went out and found a cafe where I could sit and wait over a lunch of samosas.
At one-thirty I went back to the hospital and took up position beside the NICU reception, where Nurse Ratched pointedly turned her back to me.
Finally, at five past two, a nurse approached me. ‘Come this way, please,’ she said.
At the door of the NICU I was asked to take off my shoes and to put on a pink hospital gown, a pink hairnet and a pink mask. I was relieved that I couldn’t see myself.
It was hot and I was nervous as I followed the nurse past four Perspex incubator cots to two at the far end of the ward, one on each side. They were labelled Rehanna Baby One and Rehanna Baby Two. In the cots lay two perfect small girls, each one swamped by an outsized nappy. Each had a mop of jet-black hair and eyes tight shut.
‘They are very healthy,’ the nurse said.
‘Can I touch them?’
‘Yes, put your hand in through the hole in the side of the cot.’
I slipped my hand into the first cot and held the baby’s tiny hand for a minute. Then I did the same with the other. Minute fingers curled around mine. ‘Which one is the oldest?’
‘This one weighed two point four kilos, she is heaviest so she is the first one. The other baby was two point three kilos.’ The oldest would be Amritsar. Her sister would be Tara.
I felt such pride and happiness.
‘Welcome to the world little ones,’ I whispered. ‘I am your Dadda.’
(Eighteen Moons is available exclusively through Amazon Kindle, just search within Kindle for ‘Eighteen Moons’)