Sunday, June 3, 2012

Book Review: The Sacred Thread

So in my anxiety during this 7-8 week gap between baby updates, I desperately search for other blogs of folks who've done surrogacy in India. I find plenty, but most are from the Surrogacy Centre in Delhi. Only two used my clinic, and don't go into the ridiculous level of detail that I would like them to because I'm obsessed and it's all I can think about.

Along the way during my Googling, I find that a woman named Adrienne Arieff has written a book called "The Sacred Thread." She had twins and used Dr. Patel AND wrote an entire book about it.

I frantically order it from  It only takes a few days to arrive but feels like forever. Below is the summary of the book from their website Order it on Amazon or read other reviews here:

When Adrienne Arieff and her husband Alex learned they were unable to have children, they considered, like millions of American couples, the traditional options. And then they chose what many would consider the most unlikely and unexpected path: surrogacy.
In India.
The Sacred Thread, Adrienne Arieff’s compelling, insightful, and informative chronicle of her journey into the heart of India to become a mother. With the help of an inspiring Indian doctor, an Indian surrogate named Vaina, a loving husband, some skeptical friends, and a cast of surprising and hospitable Indian friends, Adrienne experiences her own unique path to motherhood. Along the way she discovers the challenges and promises of the growing global phenomenon of foreign surrogacy— what it is and what it means, both for Indian families and for the American couples who seek them out.
After three pregnancies, three miscarriages, and dozens of tests and disappointing diagnoses, Adrienne and Alex realized they must seek an alternative route to their happily ever after. Adrienne’s doctor advises that she consider a possibility as far from her mind as motherhood once had been: surrogacy. After Alex reads in the New York Times of the Akanksha Clinic in Anand, India, where a Dr. Patel works to bring together two women from disparate cultures to help each other, the couple immerses themselves in research surrounding a phenomenon they’d never heard of: foreign gestational surrogacy.
Several months, hundreds of research hours, and thousands of dollars later, Adrienne boards a plane for Mumbai. There, in the 107 degree heat of Indian summer, she meet Dr. Patel, undergoes IVF treatments, and forms a deep bond with 26 year old Vaina, a surrogate mother who would eventually give birth to Adrienne’s children. Whereas most women like Adrienne return home after the fertilization, Adrienne was unable to stay away. Placing her life and business on hold, Adrienne packs up and moves to Anand for the duration of her surrogate’s pregnancy, immersing herself in the culture and traditions of India, and shaping a lasting friendship with her surrogate, Vaina. As Adrienne and Vahina share their stories with each other, aided by the visionary Dr Patel, they witness first-hand the challenge and promise of international surrogacy.
The stories of these two women—an American woman and an Indian woman—are intertwined, creating a surprising and heartwarming narrative that results in the birth of twin daughters, Emma and India, but also gives birth to a transformative and mutually beneficial relationship between Adrienne and her surrogate Vaina. The Sacred Thread offers a unique and revelatory look at the landscape and culture of India through the lens of an American couple searching for family, an Indian family searching for a future, and a doctor offering a chance for both to find what they seek.
A timely, challenging, informative, and heartwarming story, The Sacred Thread offers one woman’s perspective on a trend that illuminates our global interconnectedness. Above all, it is the story of a unique friendship between two women from two entirely different worlds, who, with the help of a committed physician, are able to reach out to each other and cooperatively change one another’s lives, through their physical and spiritual gifts to each other.

I think that reading this book will keep me busy for another week while I wait for an update and keep me calm. Who am I kidding? I read it in about 6 hours between midnight and 9am the next morning and go to work dog tired the next day.

There are a few things I disagree with or had a different perspective on, but partly I think I went into this with a better understanding of Indian culture and had some more adjusted expectations. But I'm so glad I read it and it eased my mind and gave me the sense that I know what is happening with my babies on the other side of the world. I went from anxiety to being in a much more relaxed state after reading it, which is the most important thing I can say to anyone expecting through Dr. Patel who thinks about buying it. If you are thinking about using Dr. Patel then this is a great book to read to get you more prepared in the emotional/culture shock sense, especially if you have never been to India.  The only thing that prepares you for the finer details is just reading the Dr. Patel surrogacy blog as well as this blog and any other links I've mentioned. We all have to do our own research. I truly appreciate the time and effort she put into this book, and her style of writing does bring you into the story with her. I did laugh out loud several times. But most of all as she sees her twins being born and brings them home healthy, I let the hope that will happen to us in 3 1/2 months finally take roost in my brain and settle in.

Things I learned and random thoughts on the book below:

* I love her descriptions of the town, how it has grown because of Dr. Patel's business, and the impact it has had there. These are things I was too self absorbed and nauseated to look around and notice while I was there.

*She describes the outlook and percieved perspective of the surrogates well, and they do vary widely. Some surrogates have very personal career related goals for the money, others dedicate it to their children or community, but many do let their husbands utilize the money as they see fit. I didn't know that Dr. Patel counsels them about how to best handle their new windfall of money to help build a better future for themselves and their family, and operates a trust at the clinic and makes sure the money is issued to the surrogate herself.  The book did remind me of the roles of men and women in this culture that I do take for granted at times because I am such an independent woman and used to gender equality and "love marriage."  It helps to hear more about the life of a woman in a small village with an arranged marriage, and what can be see as exploitation can also be seen as placing trust in her husband and his role and decisions in the family. It is very different, but as much as I am for the equality of women it isn't necessarily different in a bad way. It made me think. It reminded me of one of my favorite books "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down" by Anne Fadiman, that helps you look beyond what you know and see that what the West judges about the East can often be hasty and misinformed.

*Her experience getting bitch slapped by a cashier at the Ahmedabad embassy after she bawls her out for raising a fee and having  inconvenient hours and making unreasonable demands is an important reminder. Unless you are getting completely swindled, if someone in an official capacity says jump you say "How high?" When it comes to getting your babies home, play by the rules even if they seem to change them every 5 minutes. You have no power here. My mother always said you catch more bees with honey than with vinegar. No where is this more true than India.

*Don't email Dr. Patel incessantly with long emails full of questions and demands, and try to understand when the communication is slow, incomplete, or non-existent.  I learned that 5-8 new clients arrive every week, and the NICU has a few new babies every week. She also runs an OB/GYN clinic for local women, which I had suspected  because of all the locals in the waiting area, but this book confirms.  She is crazy busy. She is a force of nature with so many balls in the air juggling, that your anxiety and control issues about your growing baby or your questions about whether you choose her clinic must barely register. She has bigger things to worry about with the influx of people to her daily, like caring for the surrogates and patients and babies right in front of her. She has a lot of life and death in her hands and is also a mother and wife who is a community leader changing the lives of so many.  She would rather help as many women and families as possible of those who always find their way to her in high numbers, and I think that is admirable. There is another path where I could see them focusing on building the business and marketing to Westerners and making the appearance and communication the priority. Somehow I think if that happened this clinic would not be the passionate force that it is, and things that matter most would get delegated. I like that Dr. Patel tries to do so much, because it is what tells me about this clinic's ethics and integrity and heart behind it are in the right place. Seeing what kind woman Dr. Patel is makes me trust I came to the right place.  I'm frankly amazed that she manages to be as hands on as she is. But in the end, she puts priority on the things that matter despite so many demands for her time. I could learn something from her about that. Though I really would like to know if my package with my contract  arrived with gifts and a letter for my surrogate, but like the rest I will have to wait for a response or not get one. But this book reminded me to keep my requests for information in perspective. I wish I could find a way to help as many people in such a profound way as she has, but for now I'll just hope that this blog helps just one person. From my posts on an infertility forum two women have sought me out and are now going to Dr. Patel's clinic for an attempt, one after talking to me on the phone for an hour about my experience. Woo hoo!

* I knew the surrogates were well cared for, but I didn't know how much. They have a cook that makes balanced meals for them. There is a nurse on site that takes care of them, and ensures they each take their pre-natal vitamins. They have a sonogram machine there it sounds like, or have easy access to because it is close to the clinic. They get checkups weekly. They offer more classes than just English classes, and many of the women study books and take it very seriously. Religion is a big part of India, but also a big part of the surrogate's lives with many ceremonies and blessings occurring with Dr. Patel's participation. They have a strict schedule for the surrogates that includes plenty of naps, especially at the hottest parts of the day. The family may visit the surrogate more often and freely than I thought previously.

*You don't have to feel guilty if you approach this more as a business arrangement and don't develop a relationship with your surrogate. Dr. Patel says that a bond or relationship not really the point, and I am with her on that one. But other women feel a strong connection and need to bond with their surrogate. They are the exception, of which Adrienne is a huge one. I have never met our 2nd surrogate, but I know that when I do we will share a connection, however brief, that lets her know just how much what she has done for us means to us. My incessant sobbing at the sight of her and unintelligible "thank you's" will fully get that point across I'm sure. I think in the end as long as you find a way to communicate your appreciation beyond just the financial compensation, that is what really matters.

*I'm not sure how long ago she did surrogacy and when she wrote the book. Some things seem different. I think there is a Domino's and not a Pizza Hut, and there was nothing in our contract about providing breastmilk that I read.  I think that the Rama Residency has a better rep now than the Laksh Hotel as a meeting place for Dr. Patel's clients. Either way, they are both nices places to stay. I'm note sure if they both existed at the time she was there.

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