"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
As my beautiful wife Rhonda promised, I am going to try and paint a picture of what it was like for us to take our son Blaze to the US Consulate to receive his citizenship and passport. This is an all important and momentous time in the life of your child, and it's grandeur is a bit lost in the myriad of things that are required to do in order to get your child home. This almost gets to become just another checkoff on your list, but if you can, take just a moment to savor what it all means. Many, many lives have been laid down over time, so that we can enjoy our freedoms and the rights that come with that great honor, of being a United States Citizen.
I guess I will start from the beginning. In our particular case, we were told by Dr. Yash and Dr. Soni when we should arrive in Mumbai for the birth since it was their intention to remove KT's cervical stitch and then either allow her to go into labor naturally or to induce her, but bottom line was that we had a date that our child was to be born on. So with this, I called the US Consulate in Mumbai and spoke with Rachel Crawford, of the Citizen Services Unit, who has taken over from Marissa, whom others that have come before us are surely familiar with.
Her contact number from the US is 001 91 22 23633611, ext 4237. To call from Mumbai it would be 022 23633611. The Citizen Services Unit number is ext 4306.
I explained to her our situation, that we were having a child born in Mumbai via surrogacy and that I would like to schedule an appointment for a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA). I told her the approximate date of birth and was able to get an appointment at the end of the same week. The Consulate only has availability for CRBA appointments from 9 am to 12 pm, Monday to Thursday. And don't forget that it is closed during US holidays and some Indian holidays. A couple we know recently had to wait over a month and a half for an appointment, so that is the reason, if at all possible to get an appointment early. You don't want to wait that long!!! This may take some coordination with the Docs, and in the end you may not be able to know when the child will be born, but in that case, once your child arrives, call for an appointment ASAP.
So once you are given an appointment, the American Citizen Services Unit emails you a letter explaining the process and what documents are required. It also gives you the links to the various forms that need to be completed. Most of the information on the forms can be completed prior to the birth, and then once the sex of your child is known (and the all important name that you have been keeping a secret for so long!) and the date and time of birth as well, can all then be filled in the appropriate spots. Ensure that the date in the top right corner of each of the forms is still valid. The link to the passport form the Consulate sent me, had the form expired, but luckily the forms are available online.
So we were given a Thursday, 9 am appointment. Luckily for us it was the last day of the Ganesh Festival and the final immersions, so traffic at that hour of the morning was relatively light. But ensure that you plan ahead, you definitely don't want to be late and miss your appointment. The Consulate is in Breech Candy area in South Mumbai and very easy to get to, again ensure your driver knows exactly where to go. The building in itself is very unassuming and blends in with the other surrounding buildings. Space is at a premium in Mumbai, so it is not a stand alone structure that I definitely expected.
We arrived in plenty of time. There is no parking in front of the consulate on either side of the road, but luckily our taxi driver Hassan, found an open spot right next to the consulate in front of a few small shops. Since it was raining, and raining heavily I might add!, I went over to find out where the entrance was. There was a very long lineup of people waiting outside, and I hoped in my mind that this wasn't our line. I spoke with one of the Consulate security guards, they wear light blue uniforms that are very close to my air force uniform. He spoke English very well and directed me to the door just down from the one with the long lineup. I proceeded to that door and it is an entrance where you enter and come to a window with another of the Consulate security guards. I spoke with him and explained that I had an appointment for 9 am. I was instructed that they begin to allow people in at 845 am. Awesome, I was in the right place, and given a time that we could go in. I went back to our taxi and told Rhonda what I had found out. When it was time to head over to the Consulate, Hassan had an umbrella waiting for us, how nice was that. So a word to the wise, if you are in Mumbai during the Monsoon season, bring an umbrella, we didn't!
Once in front of the window, you hand them your passports and they fill in a small white slip of paper that they hand you back after reviewing your passports. The slip is then given to another security guard who opens the door to allow you into a screening area. No electronics are allowed, so we had to give up our cell phone which was logged onto that small piece of paper and he then placed the cell phone in a cabinet and locked it. Just like at the airport, everything out of your pockets, and our baby bag and bags containing our files was xray'd. We had 3 small baby bottles prefilled with water for feeding and they didn't have us remove them. Others have said that they weren't allowed to bring in any liquids, so be prepared. I think though that you will be safe with the small amounts that are in the baby bottles if you chose to follow our lead, your choice.
Now was the fun part, you pass through a large metal turnstile and then have to go from this building, across a courtyard to the main building, did I mention that now it was really, really, raining? Rhonda and Blaze took the umbrella, and I just ran trying to avoid getting totally soaked. We made it!! In through 2 big glass windowed wooden doors we went, through another metal detector and hand in that small piece of paper to the person sitting at the desk. They take it and you are directed to a small room on the right. As you enter this small, plain looking (DMVish looking room) there are rows of chairs and we went right up to the front row and sat down.
Deep breath! I make sure that all of my paperwork that I have brought with me is still intact. And we wait. There are 2 windows at the front of the room, just in front of where we are, and 2 women sitting at desks just behind them. to our surprise, the one lady called me up, early!! Wow, I like this place already. I told her that I had an appointment with Rachel for a CRBA. She then asked for my documents.
All originals are required, which they copy and return. She asked for: Doctors letter from the clinic, Marriage Certificate, Divorce Certificate if applicable, Baby's Birth Certificate, completed CRBA Application (if both parents are US Citizens, section 12, Precise Periods of Physical Presence in the United States can be left blank), completed Passport Application (photos can be taken at the Consulate for a fee of RS 200, and are ready in 10 minutes) we chose to do this, and you get 3, 2x2 photos, 1 for the Passport Application and 2 for the FFRO, completed Social Security Application, Surrogate Agreement (and 2 copies which we made beforehand to save time).
She took all of these documents and then collected the fee. You can pay in either Rupees or US dollars, but if paying in dollars you must have exact change. The total for us was RS 7500 or $150.00. If you use the in-house photographer, they will bring you the photos once they are printed and remember to save RS 200 to pay him. One photo is then given to the woman for your Passport application. You then take a seat and wait for your documents to be reviewed.
After a brief wait, a younger woman came to the window with all of our documents and introduced herself, we finally got to meet Rachel. She is a very nice lady and very eager to learn all about surrogacy. As a side note, something I am quite proud of, the US Consulate has requested and set up a meeting with Dr. Yash and Dr. Sudhir and will visit the SI clinic, Hiranandani hospital and as well Lilaviti hospital. They want to see the entire process of surrogacy from start to finish, since it is becoming so popular in India for American couples. This is quite an honor for SI, since the only other clinic in Mumbai to do this was Rotunda. Now back to where I was. Rachel then asked to see the paperwork from Rhonda's stimulation, EPU, Transfers, Medical Tests, Sperm Freezing and Testing and also the Surrogates Medical Tests (which SI ensures are downloaded to the Internet for each IP). Luckily I am very meticulous about all of this and had everything in order. I guess that's my military training kicking in, or is it just being a bit anal? Rhonda don't answer that!
Rachel then flipped through the stack of documents and asked us questions concerning the process. She was not asking questions in a dis-believing manner, but to truly understand surrogacy. She asked questions like 'what is the name of your surrogate?", "how did you find the clinic?" , "tell me a bit about the process", "how did you pick your surrogate?", "did you know if you were having a boy or a girl?" and she even looked at the dates of transfer and the corresponding Beta numbers to see if they went together. She even took the time to look at Blaze. All in all, she really liked the paper trail that we had created, which laid out the pregnancy from the start to the finish. So definitely keep copies of everything relating to the pregnancy including the medical reports from the Stimulation, EPU and Transfer. The more prepared that you are ahead of time, the faster you will get completed.
After she was satisfied with all of our submitted paperwork, she stamped and signed them and then had us both raise our right hands and swear that all of the information given was correct. And with that, Blaze Xennon Wile was a United States Citizen, YAY!!!
Since we did not need an Emergency Passport, and yes if you request it, you need to have a good reason, not just because you want to leave to go home early. Blaze's passport will be ready in 5 days which will be Tuesday morning. Monday is a holiday in the US, it's Labor Day so the Consulate is closed or we could have had his passport then, but Tuesday will do. We know when we are leaving to go home, we don't want to rush out of here just yet and don't plan on leaving any earlier. In order to pick up the passport, you do not all have to go in, just one of you will suffice. I will just need to call at 830 am to ensure that it is ready and then go down to the Consulate, show them the receipt that I received after payment and his passport is all mine, process complete.
At the same time that you pick up your child's passport, the Citizen Services Unit will also give you a letter that is required to be taken to the FFRO when you go to get your child's exit visa, which is another hurdle that everyone in this journey faces. We had the opportunity to meet Peter, who is a US Citizen living in Singapore. He just went to the FFRO and in a few short hours he had the exit visa with relatively little headaches. He passed on what he did during that process and I will do the same when I go through it this week. The Consulate recommends that you go to the FFRO as soon as you get your child's passport, to ensure that there are no hang-ups, which only makes sense.
So I am hoping that this lengthy post (sorry) will be possibly of some assistance to you. That truly was Rhonda and my goal throughout this whole journey, to be able to help others and to have others help us as well. I am also planning on an upcoming blog entry, a review of the good, the bad and the ugly of baby stuff that we have bought, brought, or forgot. Please stay tuned for that one.
And now some random pictures of cuteness brought to you by Blaze Xennon...