Jetlag is something that can add a haze to your first few days of travel. It was hard to get to sleep the night before, but even harder still to wake up in the morning. But nonetheless, we threw some overnight things into a bag and headed to Agra – home of the Taj Mahal. Our driver, Agiet, was waiting for us when we arrived downstairs. Agiet was a serious man but quite cordial. We threw our bags in the back of the (mini) minivan and headed out. It was considered a luxury car because it was bigger than an icebox and had a/c. (Take heed when requesting car and driver for long trips – you are going to want what they call a larger car!)
Now, when we first decided to book our trip I had checked to see if there were any major holidays during our stay – there weren’t. But then we had to push the trip back a week and I forgot to check….shame on me, because today was the biggest national Holiday – Republic Day. Republic Day is one of 3 Indian major holidays and honors the day the Indian Constitution took effect (Jan 26, 1950). While I am sure there were all kinds of celebrations – to us it just brought out more traffic and people in the streets. It also meant it took what seemed like hours to get beyond the car-clogged and pedestrian-infested streets.
But once out of town we sailed down the highway through the countryside. A striking sight was having people walking along the side of the highway as cars whiz by. But in India, the drivers are amazingly deft and avoiding pedestrians, cows, dogs, rickshaws and cars. I truly believe if you can drive in Delhi and the environs you can drive anywhere in the world! Through our window the view was of dirt stretches, green fields with dirt roads with periodic abandoned buildings huddled together along the way. We didn’t have a local to decipher things for us, but in truth I think these dilapidated buildings were actually small villages. I do believe that the first few days in India you see all through western eyes, but as time rolls by things become clearer as you adopt a bit of an Indian mentality. But for now – I’m an American in a strange land.
In Agra the traffic reassembled and we stopped and started through congested, air-polluted streets to our hotel – the ITC Mughal. A true oasis. Gorgeous, calm, beautifully appointed. I think Obama stayed here.
A quick lunch of some delicous indian food and we were back in the car and headed to our second Indian IVF clinic – Malhotra Clinic, run by a husband and wife – Dr. Narendra Malhotra and Jaidepp Malhotra (both OBGYNs and IVF specialists.) The clinic was a bit of a shock to us. Dark, with an odd smell. But we were warmly greeted and ushered into a small cramped office with the same odd smell and a fan blasting on to us. The two of us looked at each other and thought – we’d never come here. A few minutes later the two doctors walked in, turned off the fan and sat behind the small desk wedged in the room. What warm, lovely people. They told us how the hospital had been a family business for 60 years. The two were in a long line of doctors OBGYNs, with their own children soon to join them. They were dedicated to health and the community and assisting families in having low cost surrogacy and fertility options. But beyond surrogacy and egg donation in India that they had now built a brand new hospital that would cater to even more medical needs. They wowed us with publications and books they’d written on the subject, organizations that they are leaders in, their research, their ethics, and even a newer commitment to helping educate women on issues for those 35 and up. How they have time in the day to keep taking on more community projects is mind-boggling. They were so impressive and their desire to help so heartfelt. We both felt terrible for the instant judgment we had felt when walking in. We decided to open our eyes and our minds to the differences of India and the west.
Next they told us all about the new hospital they designed with their architect relative that was almost completed. They showed us a drawing but then like excited children with a new toy told us we were going there next. Well, blow my socks off – they took us to the most impressive new facility. A modern, 3 (or was it 4) storied hospital. The top floor was not complete but within a few months the top floor will be a state of the art India IVF Center – offering low cost egg donation with both Indian and caucasian donors, and also Indian donors. There will be pick-up (retrieval) and transfer rooms, an embryology lab, exam rooms, etc. Of course they already offer these things now – but the new site was impressive and it shimmers and glistens in contrast to their existing hospital. The lower floors contain lecture rooms, and offer weight loss assistance,
One favorite spot is in the lobby – a site that shows symbols for all of the religions of India.There, instead of making any other kind of ritual, everyone entering takes a red string and ties it through holes in the decorative metal wall beside it. At that time you make a wish. Then, when the string falls off it guarantees you will come back to Agra and your wish will come true. Again, this just shows the inclusive, and non-prejudice nature of the doctors in charge.
Next we went behind the hospital to the surrogate housing. A nice perk since the doctors would be just steps away during the pregnancy should there be any medical need. Also, at the time of the birth, the GS is within a stone’s throw of where the Malhotra’s will deliver the baby. We saw a few happy surrogates (even though they didn’t smile for the camera) with children in tow. The facility was new and clean. Upstairs we were shown rooms where doctors who were visiting to train could stay, and rooms where IPs could possibly stay too when their baby is born. The rooms were simple but not hard to imagine staying in for a month while the paperwork is process to take the baby home. We saw the kitchen, which cooks for the GSs and were treated to some baked goodies by the doctor’s sister-in-law. Truly a family affair.
As for the nitty grittycost of their program – a surrogacy with an Indian donor is approximately $32,000US. Slightly less if you aren’t interested in an educated Indian Egg Donor. There may be hospital costs for the baby if there are any complication but compared to many countries the costs will be nominal ($100/day).
After spending a few delightful and informative hours together, we drove back to our hotel and ready for our next adventure.