The Full ’Harvest’ Moon

What with another full moon on this Friday 13th September, another instalment of ‘Eighteen Moons’ here is chapter 5 ‘Hands on Dad’. Hope you enjoy the read.

I manoeuvred my two car seats into the lift at the Lakeside and breathed a sigh of relief. Almost there and so far, both babies were still sleeping. Maybe this parenting thing wasn’t going to be so hard after all. 

‘Oh, my goodness they are gorgeous.’

I hadn’t even noticed her; I was so wrapped up in checking on the girls. Standing next to me, a huge smile on her face, was a tall, blonde woman. She was stunning.

‘I’m Rene,’ she said.

‘Nice to meet you. I’m Andi and this is Tara and Amritsar.’

‘Oh, such lovely babies. You must be very proud. They’re beautiful. ‘She bent down to stroke the soft hair on each small head. ‘Are they yours?’

‘Yes, mine and my partner’s. We’re from the UK. I’ll be staying in India with them until he can come over and we can take them home. Not sure how long that will be.’

‘I’ll be here for a while too.’

‘Are you on holiday?’ I asked.

Rene smiled. ‘Not exactly. I come from South Africa and I’m with a group here for work.’

‘Oh right, well I hope you enjoy your stay.’

As I heaved first one and then the other car seat out of the lift on our floor, Rene held the doors open for me.

‘Bye Rene, thanks.’

‘See you later Andi,’ she called as the doors slid shut.

She seemed nice. I wondered what kind of job she was in India to do. It looked as though there were going to be plenty of new friends around and that would be great, as so far I’d felt I was on my own.

First things first, though, right now I had two 10-day old baby girls to care for. And they were just starting to wake up and make the kind of whimpers and mewly noises that I was fairly sure meant, ‘please feed me’.

I still dreaded feeding time. It never seemed easy or straightforward getting each of the girls to engage and take the teats. And now there was just me to manage the two of them, a lot of my time was going to be spent coaxing them to take their bottles.

That afternoon they settled into their new crib surprisingly fast. I’d put it in the corner of the small living room and I put a rolled-up towel between them. They were so tiny that there was plenty of room for both. As they slept, I slipped into the adjoining bedroom and called John to report our successful transition from hospital to hotel. At last I could send him photos of his new daughters, and I did, by the dozen. He was enchanted with them, and desperate to be able to hold them in his arms. Waiting was awful, for both of us. John was still trying for his medical visa and still being told that it was ‘being processed.’ It seemed incredibly heartless. We could only hope that it would be granted soon, and meanwhile all I could do was send him photos and descriptions of his children.

‘I’m going to take their photo in and show them in the visa office,’ he said. ‘Maybe that will guilt them into giving me the visa’.

I think we both knew it probably wouldn’t, given the stony reception he’d had so far. But we needed to clutch at every straw, no matter how unlikely.’

Tara and Amritsar slept peacefully all afternoon. They even slept uninterrupted as I transferred them back into their car seats and took them downstairs and out to the hotel pool, so that I could have a cigarette and a breath of fresh air.

Back in our room Kayla tapped on the door.

‘Can I see them?’ she whispered.

‘Yes, of course, come in. Just don’t wake them up.’

She tip-toed in and stood over the crib.

‘They’re beautiful Andi.’ She paused. ‘You do know that sleeping all day means they’ll probably be awake half the night, don’t you?’

‘Um, no, I didn’t realise that. Don’t babies this young sleep all the time?’

‘No,’ she laughed. ‘They sleep about two-thirds of the time. So, if they’ve been sleeping all day, be prepared.’

She slipped out, suggesting we meet by the pool with all four babies the next day. Jamie had just gone back to England so she was up for some company. I closed the door behind her and gazed at my sleeping girls. I was a bit worried now, but what could I do? Wake them up so that they’d sleep later?

I decided not to do that. They looked so peaceful. I tried to get some rest myself, but as it was early evening, sleep was impossible. I sent for some supper and settled down with a book. It would be fine, I told myself. After all, how bad could the night be? 

If only I had known.

The following morning Kayla called. ‘How are things?’ she said, sounding ridiculously bright and chirpy.

‘Awful,’ I croaked. ‘I don’t think I’ve slept all night. The minute I put one down, the other would wake. It seemed to be a non-stop round of feeding and walking them up and down and humming to them and nothing seemed to work…’

‘Hmmm.’ I could almost hear Kayla resist the urge to say, ‘Told you so’.

‘You need a night nanny,’ she said. ‘I have Riah and she’s wonderful. She manages the babies while I get some sleep.’

It sounded so appealing. But surely things wouldn’t be this tough for long? ‘Thanks, I’ll think about it,’ I said.

‘OK, see you down by the pool in an hour.’

It had been a long, lonely night. I’d had no idea looking after people so small could be quite so time-consuming and arduous. Or that a baby’s cry could by-pass all logic and cut straight to your heart. I prided myself on being a strategic, analytical thinker, but that went out of the window when the girls cried. I couldn’t bear the idea of leaving either of them in distress, so at the first small cry I would leap up, picked up whichever baby was crying, and set about soothing and comforting.

Cheered by Kayla’s call I had a shower and got the girls fed and changed – I was getting good at the nappies, but getting their arms and legs in and out of vests was definitely a challenge – and with a car seat in each hand and a beach bag over my shoulder – headed downstairs.

By the pool I parked the car seats, placed a towel over the top of each one for shade, and settled down for some breakfast, a cigarette and a nap. I spotted Rene on the other side of the pool, laughing with a group of fellow Amazonian beauties. She waved and I waved back.

In the afternoon I tried to keep the girls awake for a bit. But just as nothing the night before had settled them, now nothing would wake them. The moment they were fed they nodded off again, the heat of the day proving utterly soporific. I tried to take advantage, snoozing while they slept. But any kind of proper sleep was impossible.

That night I put the girls to bed and told them firmly that I needed some sleep and they had better start learning that night was sleep time and day was the time to be awake. Two pairs of eyes looked solemnly up at me and, minutes later, closed.

Success, I told myself. They’re off. I think they got the message.

What foolish optimism. An hour later both babies were awake and bawling. What to do when two are crying at once? I ended up pacing the room with one in each arm. After an hour of walking, rocking, singing and (in desperation) describing the view to them, they finally appeared to be asleep. How to put one down without waking the other? Pretty much impossible, as I discovered. Each time I slid one baby into the crib, the other woke and the whole cycle started again. 

The night wore on and on…and on. By morning I had decided to go the night nanny route. It was that or insanity via lack of sleep.

As soon as the hour was decent, I called Kayla. She told me she’d heard that a nanny called Bharti was available; she had been working for two Israeli men who had just left. Calls were hastily made, arrangements put in place and Bharti started work that evening, arriving promptly at eight.

Small, round faced, middle-aged and exuding competence, I liked her from the moment we met. She promptly swaddled both girls in brightly coloured cotton wraps and laid them down to sleep like two miniature mummies. Bharti stayed with them in the living room while I, torn between guilt and deep relief, slipped away to the bedroom.

After two nights without sleep I sank into a deep, grateful slumber and knew nothing for the next ten hours, until Bharti gently shook me awake to tell me it was seven in the morning. Both babies, freshly changed and fed, were gurgling happily. At that point I personally elevated Bharti into sainthood. She stayed with them until eight, giving me time to go and get some breakfast before beginning the day shift.

From then on things went smoothly, with me on days and Bharti on nights. I learned how to get the girls into a routine with changing, feeding and sleeping. We spent several hours a day by the pool, where I chatted to Kayla and we sneaked a cigarette or two, as all four babies slept in their car seats under artfully draped towels.

Bharti, who arrived every night at eight, always dressed in bright, jewel-coloured saris, not only took care of the nights, sleeping on the floor beside the babies’ crib, she also taught me the knack of bottle-feeding. How to keep the baby upright, keep the milk in the teat so that air didn’t get in and how to remind the baby to feed by tapping the bottle, or turning the teat gently round in her mouth. It all seemed so simple yet these little techniques made a huge difference to feeds. She also taught me how to wind the babies fully after feeds, rubbing their backs while sitting them on my lap or holding them over my shoulder. I was soon a dab hand at all of it.

Tara and Amritsar looked very alike; they were more like identical twins than fraternal, but from the start I always knew who was who. Not only because of small physical differences, like Amritsar’s large almond-shaped eyes, which had been blue at birth, until they turned brown, but because their different personalities were emerging. Tara, always noisier and more excitable, was a bit of a Dadda’s girl, always preferring to be on my lap rather than Bharti’s, while Amritsar was quieter and more docile. I sent John photos every day, so that he could share the small changes in each of the girls that happened almost imperceptibly as they thrived and grew.

With Bharti on duty I was able to go down to the bar in the evenings. After full immersion in the world of babies it was good to spend time with other adults and to meet new people. Kayla had introduced me to a few people by the pool, but it was the evenings when the place came to life, as children were settled and adults came out to play.

The Lakeside was full of ever so slightly eccentric characters. In fact, it sometimes reminded me of the cast of an Agatha Christie novel. There were a number of couples, both hetero and gay, there to collect surrogate babies. But there were plenty of others, there in transit for one reason or another.

The Indian carrier Jet Airways used the Lakeside as a base for many of their pilots. Kayla was very friendly with Caroline, an Irish pilot with a crazy sense of humour. I also met Desi, a Bulgarian who, with her pilot husband, was relocating and waiting for a more permanent address. Desi was friends with Sandra and both of them were a lot of fun.

I actually met Sandra for the first time behind the bike sheds, so to speak, both of us sneaking away for a quick smoke. After that she and I shared the occasional naughty cigarette. Sandra was married to Jaques, a French national who was a chemical company manager; they were resettling in Mumbai after a few years in Rio. She was a big personality and wickedly funny, I enjoyed her painfully accurate observations of all the other guests and we became good friends.

The very first time I left the girls it was with Sandra. I needed to go grocery shopping and Sandra offered to look after them while I nipped to the shops.

Grateful for her help, I settled them both into one car seat and left them sleeping beside Sandra in the corner of the Crimson restaurant, the focal point where we’d all gather to eat and chat. Sandra, lying back, book one hand and the other giving the car seat an occasional rock, waved me off.

I left the compound, through the security gates and walked down the driveway to the main road to hail a rickshaw.  I was in the back of the rickshaw, halfway around the lake on my way to Heiko, the supermarket in Powai, when I started to worry. I had only known Sandra for a week, why had I not asked Kayla? Just how well did I know Sandra and Jaques, I wondered.  As we sped towards the supermarket, I worked myself into a frenzy, visualising my new friend and her husband checking out in a hurry, bundling the girls into the back of the company car and heading into the darkest depths of India.

Fellow parents might recognise my wild fantasies for the separation anxiety I was feeling at leaving my two new born babies, as I screamed at the rickshaw driver to turn around and go back to the Lakeside.

Fifteen minutes later I arrived back, half-crazed by imagined disasters, and hurled myself through the doors…to find Sandra as I had left her, enjoying her book and gently rocking the car seat where the babies were fast asleep.

She looked up, no doubt started by my feverish appearance.

‘That was quick.’

What could I say?

‘I forgot my wallet,’ I muttered, slumping onto a seat beside her. ‘I’ll try again tomorrow.’

Sandra and I went on to become good friends. Eventually she moved out of the hotel and into a glamorous apartment and I missed her. We stayed in touch and a year later we met in London, where she dragged me into a sex aids shop in Kensington High Street, insisting she was buying a gift for a friend.

Then there was Catherine, a solicitor, Ivanna who was in human resources, Josh and Todd, American riggers on contract to India Oil and famously fond of a drink or two. As was John, who was there with his wife Maria and their son Gordon, who John informed us had been named after a certain green bottle of gin. Gordon, a teenager who was used to following his parents about as they lived their expat lifestyle, took this in his stride and informed me that he was off to China soon to go to ‘Kung Fu school’. Right.

For several evenings a chap known only as Fred entertained us with his guitar in the hotel restaurant. He managed to get just about everyone singing Beatles songs. He even got me going on an Elvis number – and I don’t do a lot of singing.  Rene and her group were there, sounding like a heavenly choir as they all joined in. There was a lot of laughter and warmth between the guests; in some ways it felt as though we were one big, hugely dysfunctional family.

The following day by the pool Kayla nudged me when Rene and her group settled onto some loungers not far away.

I’ve worked out what they do,’ she hissed.

‘Really?’ I was curious. I had tried and failed to work out what 20 or so stunning South African women were doing in Mumbai.

‘They’re egg donors,’ Kayla said triumphantly.

‘What!’ I was incredulous. ‘How do you know?’

‘Well,’ Kayla glanced around. ‘You see that woman over there…Lauren. She’s their mother hen, she shepherds them around and organises things for them. Her friend is Sophie who works with Doran.’ I had already met Doran, an Israeli working for a surrogate agency called Tammuz Fertility. He was facilitating surrogate babies for a number of Israeli couples.

‘I think Sophie runs the donor side of things,’ Kayla went on. ‘I’m pretty sure that all those girls are donating eggs for Israeli couples.’

I was amazed. ‘Blimey, you’ve been keeping a close eye on things! I’m impressed by your investigative skills.’

Kayla laughed. ‘I just keep my eyes open Andi, it’s not that hard to work out.’

By this time my brain was buzzing. Rene, I realised, might just be the answer to my dreams. I still longed to be the biological father of a child. Perhaps, with Rene or one of the others from her agency as donor, it might be possible. Not here in India, since that was illegal now, but somewhere where surrogacy for gay parents was still allowed. I filed the idea away in the back of my mind to look into later.

The next time Rene and I stopped to chat I asked her for the agency’s details. I had liked Rene from the moment we met in the lift and I had a good feeling about her and the part she might play in giving us another child. I talked to John about it and he agreed that I should try again, but the question was, where? Researching potential surrogacy destinations, Thailand seemed like a good option. I could travel there from India for a brief visit to make the deposit. Maybe, just maybe, I would still be able to father a child.

With this in the back of my mind it was time to focus on the immediate issues – like how long our passport application for the girls would actually take,

Kayla and I looked on enviously as people of other nationalities got their passports and exit visas for their children and went home. Top marks went to the USA. Their embassy sorted DNA tests soon after the birth and then processed the babies’ passports within two weeks. Job done and the Yanks could hop on a plane home. The Israelis were a close second, coming in at four weeks (later we heard this was down to two weeks). Canada and Australia were also around four weeks and the Scandinavian countries took six weeks. How could it be that the UK nationals had to wait several months? Ridiculous and shameful. But Kayla and I could rant and rave all we liked, nothing was budging.

Doran sympathised with us, and told us that Israel welcomed all new citizens, surrogate babies included, and so had a very positive and helpful attitude. It was good to know that the UK’s obstinate and somewhat disapproving attitude was not universally shared – in fact it made the UK seem backward and perhaps even prejudiced.

‘Where are you planning to spend the next few months, while we wait for the passports,’ Kayla asked me as we lay by the pool one afternoon.

I groaned. ‘I’m not sure. I was hoping for a miracle that would speed things up, I guess.’

‘Not likely to happen,’ she said, sipping an iced water. ‘And this place is too expensive. I’ve been thinking about going down to Goa to wait it out. It’s much cheaper, and it’s quiet at this time of year, while it’s out of season. Why don’t you come too?’

It sounded like a good idea. The Lakeside was costing an arm and a leg, so we couldn’t stay there much longer. That afternoon I started researching apartments in Goa on my laptop. Kayla was right, they were much cheaper, and I liked the look of the area. 

I lived in hope that John would suddenly appear. I missed him and I felt desperately sad that he was missing the girls’ early days. It seemed so heartless. Clearly the change of legislation in India, outlawing surrogate births for gay couples and for those heterosexual couples not married for two years (Kayla and Jamie fell foul of this, as they weren’t married) had caused the entire system to jam. It seemed cruel, as our babies were already well underway when the law changed. 

Before we moved to Goa, I needed to send John all the necessary documents for their British passport applications, most of which had to be supplied by the fertility clinic. Leaving the girls with Bharti, who agreed to stay on one morning, I got a taxi over to the Rotunda Clinic. Somya came out of her office to greet me, smiling broadly. I showed her pictures of the babies and told her I needed the girls’ prenatal scans, Rehanna, the surrogate’s identity card and her divorce papers, which had to be originals.

Somya waved her arms and assured me that she would get all these documents together and send them over to me.

‘There is no hurry,’ she insisted. ‘Besides, the notarised document can only be signed six weeks after the birth.’

This was true. We also needed a signed and notarised document stating that Rehanna did not want to be a mother to the surrogate children. This wasn’t just for the babies’ passports though, it was also for a Parental Order, which John and I would need to apply for in the UK, once we were all home. It had to be signed by Rehanna after a six-week cooling off period in which she was, legally, entitled to change her mind.

‘You can send me the notarised document later,’ I told Somya. ‘But I need the rest as soon as possible. We’re going to Goa in three days’ time and I need everything before we go.’

Somya insisted that her admin people were dealing with it all and would send it to me but I didn’t trust her. I said I would be back in two days and asked her please to have everything ready.

It was Sandra who borrowed her husband’s official car and drove me back to the Rotunda Clinic to collect my documents.

Needless to say, the documents were not ready. Without them the passport applications couldn’t even be started, so Somya’s nonchalant attitude was infuriating. I couldn’t afford to alienate her though, so I remained patient and polite, while insisting she express them to me in Goa as soon as possible. She promised that she would and I could only hope that she understood how important they were.

I had found a small apartment in Goa, and persuaded the indispensable Bharti to come with me. She was even bringing her friend, Geeta, who would share nanny duties with her. With the cost of renting and living in Goa so much lower, we could afford the extra help.

Two days later, bags packed and entourage in tow, I said goodbye to my Lakeside friends and checked out.

‘See you down there in a couple of weeks,’ Kayla said, kissing us all.

As the doors closed behind us and we climbed into our taxi I tucked one car seat under each arm.

‘Come on girls, ‘I said. ‘We’re off to the seaside.

And here is a direct link to Amazon

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A Gay Dad reflecting on life in the Shires of England with my not so famous five and two rapscallion Dalmatian hounds

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