The “donation” trip to India was fairly straightforward. We were there for five days, at the clinic every other morning and the rest of time sightseeing. The clinic actually included the cost of the initial stay at one of the Taj hotels and the sightseeing in their package so it wasn’t too expensive. Both of us had been to India before and we had a bit less of the culture shock some experience so I thought I’d include a list of random advice and observations that I’ve culled from my experiences in India over the years.
1. The airports in major India cities are quite nice. The new New Delhi airport is one of the nicest in the world. The madness starts when you get out of the airport. It can feel a bit overwhelming (though not nearly as bad as it was a decade ago). My advice for first timers is to arrange an airport pickup with Hotel. If not, every major airport has a pre-paid taxi booth right outside arrivals terminal. You tell them destination and pay and they hand you off to a driver. If I do take a regular taxi, I find it useful to know what typical price is for that route. I then add 20% (tourist rip-off penalty) and tell driver my price as I get in cab. I also like to take the direct flights from US whenever possible. It is especially nice on return when I’m ready to go home ASAP.
2. I prefer to stay at the better business hotels when I travel to India. They are often quite affordable and they give me a bit of an escape from the chaos of Indian cities. Also, the concierges there tend to be really good at dealing with unusual requests, including arranging car to clinic. A cheaper option is to call a local travel agent. Typically, a car/driver including up to a two-hour wait can cost less than 20 USD. One warning though. I found that rather than risk the awkwardness of telling you they do not understand what you are asking for or know where you want to go, hotel concierges can sometimes nod and then you later discover they send you to the wrong part of town. I find it helpful to print out addresses on google maps just to be sure or at least repeat my request.
3. Another thing I noticed about drivers, taxi and otherwise, they can sometimes ask a lot of what feel like very personal questions. I’m often asked why I’m in India, if I am married, how many children I have etc. I’ve never tried actually being honest and saying I am a gay man looking to have a baby via surrogacy in India. One day I might.
4. Westerners might be surprised that the clinics and hospitals involved in surrogacy tend to be quite modern and clean. I remember falling into the Ganges in Varanasi on my first trip to India and spraining my knee. The hospital I went to in Delhi was brand new, empty and super cheap. Much more pleasant than anything in the US. Of course, these are hospitals meant mostly for rich Indians and foreigners. Most Indians don’t have access to that kind of health care.
5. Even though this was not necessary, I found it helpful to visit consulate where I will need to go to get US passport once baby is born. I met with the person in charge of the process and she gave me lots of material to read. At least when the baby is born and the craziness ensues, I will know whom to look for.
6. My yiddisher tummy struggles with spicy food and this is a big issue in southern India. I used to ask for food to be made non-spicy. But even that was too spicy. Now I say: Imagine making this food with a little spice as possible, now make it less spicy than that. I’m sure Indians love me! A doctor once told me when all else fails, take two pepto bismol tablets every four hours during the day while in India (especially if eating outside hotels). It creates a temporary lining in stomach that protects against spice-related heartburn. Also, no tap water including ice (unless it is filtered water) and teeth brushing.
7. Couple of things about the trip to clinic: I found it reassuring to see surrogate quarters and meet some of them. If they cannot show me where the surrogates live, that might raise a red flag. In general, I found a good tour of the clinic to be reassuring as well. In my case, it felt like a real working clinic and not something built to lure in unsuspecting foreigners. I also asked a lot of questions, particularly about extra fees that might come up. I also found myself asking former clients and referrals how much they spent in total to try to have an average figure in my head. Finally, this might be a bit crass but I advise bringing your own “material” to the clinic if you need it, all they had was a copy of GQ.
8. Things seem to run at their own pace in India. I try to leave a lot of room in my schedule for lots of delays and surprises. I prepare for what I can and then surrender to the process.