Monday, February 4, 2013

More than four reasons not to use Surrogacy India

Four is sometimes associated with luck - such as a four leaf clover.  In Chinese culture, the number 4 is considered unlucky.  And then there is the four elements of existence - earth, air, fire and water.

Whatever the significance of that number, today we got the results of our fourth attempt (third FET).

Once again, we received a negative result.  We're generally okay.  As you would expect, it is disappointing.  But surprisingly, it is a massive relief.  Why?  Let me explain.

Although it is easy to blame the clinic for negative results in a moment of emotionally fuelled disappointment, I can no longer overlook the glaring incompetence of dealing with this ART clinic - and let's use that term fairly loosely.  And just to clarify; I'm not necessarily assigning blame here - but I honestly believe that ART pregnancy is a combination of luck, fertility and professional medical intervention and assistance.  I think there are plenty of other clinics in India that provide this service better than SI.

For months I have posted about our journey, alluding to our struggle with trying to get pregnant, but never fully conveying or explaining about how difficult it has been working with Surrogacy India (SI).  Most of you out there will have been on a steep learning curve when it comes to understanding what everything meant when you received e-mails from your clinics explaining a test result of x or the endometrial lining is y thick.  SI provided little to no explanation of anything.  Of course I asked the interweb, but when asking medical questions directed to SI about certain results, the response from their admin staff (the doctors pretty much don't talk to you at all after you've signed up) was utterly abhorrent, usually incorrect and frankly quite reckless when running a business providing medical services.  Although I am not a clinician, I work in health and the information provided to clients by SI is disgraceful.  I recognise that we are not talking about the same levels of health care as Australia, but describing our experience with SI to a number of friends going through IVF in OZ was met with utter disbelief and profound sorrow for us.  Perhaps I was being overly dramatic?

To paint a further picture of the integrity of SI, the evidence:

1.  Surrogacy India pretty much outsource all of their IVF, embryology and imaging.  The latter is not unusual or unexpected - but the former came as a surprise to us after SI claimed during our initial investigation of clinics that they performed IVF "in our lab in Mumbai".  The fact is, it is not their Lab at all.  They outsource this entirely.  And buried in their contract they outline that they would not take any responsibility for third parties "including, but not limited to, the IVF lab.......".  Obviously this sparked confusion for us - particularly when presented with the written confirmation that they did everything "in our lab in Mumbai" - and how they could say that they don't take responsibility for what we are paying them to do.  After no fewer than 20 e-mails with their qualified (severe sarcasm when saying that word) legal team, did we manage to resolve the issue with GB's contract to make them take responsibility for actions of the IVF lab.  After negotiating this term with GB's contract it was near impossible to get the same passage changed in my (LC's) contract as the admin staff that were working in the "legal team" that week, were unaware of GB's contract as well as being unfamiliar with general legal terms or contracts.  This quality service was charged at $1,800 USD per surrogate. Initially believing that they take care of the ART process and take responsibility for our genetic material, it became quite unsettling when we found out the truth.

2. On departing India, an Australian couple who had visited SI earlier that week had to leave the original copy of their SM/IP contract behind while SI tracked down the SMs husband to sign the contract.  They had subsequently done this and when we visited the SI offices they asked us to take the original copy back to Australia with us and post it to the couple once back in OZ.  Apart from being appalled by the absolute lack of confidentiality, we strongly declined and explained how inappropriate that was.  What came as more of a shock was when the same situation arose 5 days later when we went to leave (regarding the SM husband not having signed), they proposed sending it home with another Australian couple.  Needless to say, the contract arrived a week later FedEx'd from Mumbai after some very honest words were had with Dr Ajja before leaving.  They advised that they had done us "a favour" by not charging us for the courier service.

3.  On our second attempt, we innocently asked when the FET would take place.  The SI team had advised that the surrogate had finished her menses (at around the 3rd of the month) so I thought it would be around the 14/15th of that month.  To our shock we were told that it was going to be around the 21-23rd from the trusty receptionist (again no contact or QA from the doctors at SI).  Obviously this seemed strange, so we pursued it further and were then lectured about how the doctors know what they're doing at that have delivered XXX number of babies.  After becoming exasperated dealing with the SI admin team (they essentially don't answer questions properly), we decided to leave it - until 8 days later when we were told that the scan had been done for our SM's lining and the transfer would occur on the 16th of that month.  We then asked to speak to the doctor as we were very confused by now; and they simply refused to speak with us.  The result came back negative and we heard nothing further from SI team until we approached them for our 3rd transfer - to which we received an invoice before any further details would be discussed.  Again, no further medical contact since signing up.

4.  On our third attempt we chose a 25 year old surrogate, that defied the theory of relativity and was a few months off 27 when her HCG test was e-mailed to us.  The age on her initial blood test results and the Surrogate Mother profiles all showed 25 years of age - which was one of the key reasons we chose here; apart from the fact she had been an a successful surrogate before.  On her hCG results her date of birth showed that she was nearly 27.  The error was explained by SI as a "technical error".  Happy for anyone to explain what that means?

5. In addition to the incorrect DOB on the HCG report, we also discovered a different surrogate name on the test result than the SM we chose.  This was also explained as a "technical error" to which their solution was to change the name on the report.

6.  Experienced surrogate fee - SMs that have been an SM before.  This was another exhausting issue that remains unresolved.  SI have information on their google site that provides the following in respect of experienced surrogates:

"They [Surrogate Mothers] normally prefer to offer services at $2500 - $3000 more than a fresh first time surrogate.  This is not included in the package price quoted".  

This cost is passed onto the IPs with the clear wording that this extra fee is determined by the surrogate - which I thought would then be payable to the surrogateWhen I received the SM/IP agreement, this was missing from the SM payment schedule and despite numerous e-mails to their legal team (23 emails in fact), they would only put the following clause into the contract

"2.4  In case of experienced surrogate, an additional amount of USD 3000 shall be made by the Intended Parents".

I asked this to be changed to...

2.4  In case of experienced surrogate, an additional amount of USD 3000 shall be made
by the Intended Parents wholly payable to the surrogate.  This is in addition to the amounts outlined in clause 2.3 [the normal payment schedule]"

They wouldn't change this nor would they explain where the additional money went.  They did however, feel compelled to explain how many babies they had delivered and how transparent they were.  Despite the condescending tone of the e-mail, it was clear that the SM would never see a cent of this payment "they preferred" to offer their services at. When I pushed again, they advised that they would be sending my query to the accounts department to answer??? WTF?

7.  On attempt number 4 we received our FET report, which despite being performed on 21st of January 2013, showed 17th December 2012 on the transfer report.   SI's explanation was "Because of new circular came for single father surrogacy, to avoid controversy our IVF lab put December's date instead of putting 22-January"  Alongside this questionable practice (which was done for SI's benefit and not ours) you'll see another inconsistency of the transfer date by 1 day - but I had estimated this was probably due to another one of those pesky "technical errors".

There are many other instances where their responses/practices/behaviours have been pretty unpalatable.  I always tried to rationalise this as "India".  But after 10 months interacting with SI, I can't accept that this is India.  In fact, I think India would be unfairly represented by the actions of SI.  Although cathartic as it is to finally write all of this, it saddens me that we missed our overall objective of having a child and had to learn the hard way.

So maybe we're being overly critical or maybe we're being entirely reasonable after shelling out thousands of dollars and pouring our heart and soul into this process.  All we have to show for this is a trip to India, a hard life lesson and 307 emails from SI sitting in a gmail account.  I realise others who have gone through SI may have had an entirely different experience and I am pleased for them.  But I pity anyone who chooses to go with SI, particularly if they have read details of our experience.

I strongly question SI's integrity as in nearly every transfer we did with them, there were questionable practices apparent. I dread to think how they actually treat their Surrogates. So we close this chapter on our lives and chalk it up to a very expensive, emotional and financial experience.  I do intend, however, on passing the details of their behaviour on to SI's accreditation body (ICMR) to ensure that these practices are stamped out.

We move forward now with some trepidation about where to from here.  As we mentioned in our post 12 Month wrap up India's window of opportunity appears to have closed for the time being, really leaving the USA or Thailand as further options.  The USA is out purely on financial grounds - which leaves Thailand.  We both have very fond memories of time spent in Thailand (we've travelled there 5 times) and I would love to experience the hospitality shown to us a tourists in undertaking ART and Surrogacy.  But this time, we will be asking a lot more questions and going in eyes wide open.

Goodbye SI, it's been well, overwhelmingly disappointing.  To those considering Indian clinics, I would avoid SI like the plague.  Yes they have a history of babies, but don't believe for a second that this has anything to do with their professional intervention or credentials.  It's wholly reliant on the outsource IVF lab, which they're happy to take the credit for the pregnancies the lab achieves, but no responsibility for any actions by the lab that don't result in pregnancy.  

Thanks for readership and we'll appear again in the near future.