Among those stranded due to the nationwide coronavirus lockdown are several newborns. More than a dozen such babies have been waiting, some for more than a month, at the Anand surrogacy hub in Gujarat, waiting for their biological parents to take them home.
Dr Nayna Patel of the Akanksha Infertility Centre, one of the biggest surrogacy facilities in the country, said that of the 27 surrogate babies born at their hospital during the lockdown, only 10 had been handed over to parents. “It is a very difficult time. Our staff and the NICU doctor are taking care of the babies. The doctor is spending hours together answering queries of parents over the phone. We also understand the emotional toll on the parents,” said Dr Patel, adding that the administration was doing its best to help.
Other centres in Anand also have babies and parents similarly stuck.
Among the lucky parents are a Bengaluru couple, aged 43 and 39, who were able to reach the Akanksha centre just in time for the birth of their son on April 16, after spending three days and 1,600 km on the road. They spent another 14 days in quarantine before being allowed to hold him.
The couple say they were stopped at multiple checkposts across Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat, and spent 11 hours in their car at Valsad alone, waiting for police to okay the “permission” they had got from the authorities in Bengaluru. The mother said the note they were carrying said “travelling for the birth of their baby”, due on April 16, and police repeatedly said she didn’t look pregnant.
It was difficult to explain them about surrogacy, she said. Her husband, a software professional, said, “Most of the policemen thought we were lying. At Valsad, the Gujarat Police told us to apply for permission from the state administration. We did so digitally but the first request was rejected in three hours. I had to make a second request.”
Akanksha has made arrangements for the parents to stay at a residential society nearby. However, Dr Patel said, they faced much opposition from the locals. “They created a human chain to protest… Later, with help from the administration, things were resolved. However, we do understand the concern everyone has about the pandemic. It is a helpless situation and most people are being guarded and helping as well.”
The Bengaluru couple said they had been approached by other parents in the city, seeking to know if it was okay to travel. “There are so many couples like us… The lack of awareness among the administration and law enforcers is making it difficult for surrogate parents to travel,” he said.
Another couple, 40 and 37, have been stranded in Pune, a Covid-19 hotspot, unable to meet their daughter, born in March end. The father said he had made three requests for permission to travel to Anand but the Maharashtra government was yet to approve any.
“My wife and I have been waiting for a baby for 12 years. We underwent several IVF cycles unsuccessfully, which took a toll on my wife physically and mentally. She is extremely disturbed and frustrated about this situation. The hospital sends us pictures and videos every day, but it is no consolation,” said the IT professional.
He added that the charge they are running up due to the extra stay of the baby at the hospital is also weighing on their minds. Couples pay upwards of Rs 8 lakh for surrogacy treatment. Parents seeking the treatment may face a longer wait, with the government introducing a Bill in July last year to ban commercial surrogacy and allowing only altruistic surrogacy.
Another couple, who work with the government in the Northeast, could make it to Anand only a few days after their twins — a boy and a girl — were born in mid-April. The mother said the fact that they are working with the government helped. “Our superiors went out of their way to ensure that we could travel on our official vehicles and reach here.”
It is frustrating to be in an unknown city, so far from home, at such a joyous moment, she said, adding that they had waited for almost a decade to have children. But, the mother said, “Their smile melts away our frustration.”
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