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The Jew, the Hindu and the petri dish: East Bay rabbi and her husband find joy in Indian surrogacy

Having kids in the 21st century can be a real adventure. Let me elaborate with the epic tale of Rabbi Jennifer Flam and her “rebbetzman” — me — who traveled from our East Bay home to the other side of the world, and back, to have our children.

This is also the tale of the doctor who sets the golden standard for how the surrogacy industry should be regulated — a hot topic, especially when it concerns the Third World.

In 2008, we were ready to start a family. Getting pregnant was the easy part. What followed, not so much.

After recurrent miscarriages, the damage was done. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. We were pretty much ready to give up on having our own biological children. However, after consulting with a reproductive specialist, we were told that surrogacy was one of our two best options. Either that, or adoption.

Surrogacy? We figured “Wow, this is amazing! Using a gestational carrier would provide us with an incredible opportunity to have our own biological children.”

Then we looked at the price tag. True, you can’t put a price on children. But in the case of surrogacy, there’s a reason why the only people who can afford it are celebrities and multi-gazillionaires.

So we started looking into adoption. Went to some meetings. Researched domestic and international options. Filled out applications. We were in the middle of the process when the agency we were working with misplaced our file.

Then, through our Jewish social network, we met a Berkeley couple that had success with surrogacy. They were now the proud parents of an adorable little girl. Neither the wife nor her husband were celebrities or multi-gazillionaires, so how was this possible?

Oprah Winfrey. In a 2006 episode of her syndicated television show, Oprah featured a fertility-challenged couple from the United States that traveled to the tiny town of Anand, India, in order to conceive.

Anand is where, since 2002, Dr. Nayna Patel has helped struggling couples from all over the world achieve biological parenthood through her phenomenal Akanksha Infertility and IVF Clinic.

Indian surrogacy is not without its critics. The major complaint is the lack of regulation by the Indian government.

But doesn’t every industry need to be regulated? Of course. Are parts of India the “Third World”? Sure. But it’s very easy for Western journalists staying in their five-star hotels to paint a picture of India using “Slumdog Millionaire” stereotypes. The reality on the ground is not always that black-and-white.

Dr. Patel’s philosophy is women helping women. The monies provided for women who choose to participate in the program as gestational carriers can significantly transform their lives and the lives of their families for the better.

Jason Schwartz and his wife, Rabbi Jennifer Flam, hold Mia (left) and Eli.

We met the Berkeley couple that had success with Dr. Patel, so the question was: Could she help us? It seemed crazy, but after watching the Oprah episode ourselves and after countless hours of research, we contacted Dr. Patel and, in January 2010, we found ourselves in Anand.

We experienced some culture shock when we first arrived. Cows in the streets. Monkeys in the trees. Cultural nuances and whatnot.

As for medical professionalism and modern medical technologies, Dr. Patel and her clinic excelled on every level.

We stayed three weeks. Jen received daily in vitro fertilization treatments. I gave my deposit. Dr. Patel took Jen’s eggs and my swim team to produce embryos, which were implanted into a gestational carrier. We flew back to the Bay Area and prayed.

We were not successful.

We tried again in June. This time, Jen went with her mother. I was present via a frozen sample from our first trip.

This time, we were doubly successful.

Months went by and we would get updates and ultrasounds as to the development of our twins. Expected due date was March 11, 2011. We were told twins come early, so we planned to be in India by Feb. 11, 2011.

At 9:30 a.m. on Jan. 9, 2011, two new Schwartzes arrived ahead of schedule. Baby Pink came first followed by Baby Blue, although in India, they seem to dress all babies in pink.

After a mad 48-hour dash of phone calls, emails, errands, and cleaning out every Target, Walmart and Babies R Us in a 25-mile radius, Jen and I arrived in Anand last Jan. 14, our four-year wedding anniversary. We received the best gift imaginable in seeing our children for the very first time.

Last week, it was a year later — and it was delightful to see Eli Brody (Chaim Mordechai) and Mia Shaya (Tiferet) Schwartz diving face-first into their birthday cake, surrounded by loving family and friends. Eli is a Ginger-Jew-fro’d little guy with a nonstop smile, and a fondness for “playing the drums.” Mia lights up any room with her sparkling, curious, blue eyes and loves to explore the taste of anything she can get into her mouth. They both seem to like spicy food.

Jen and I are truly the proudest parents on the planet.

As Jewish parents, we will most definitely teach them the strong values and traditions that our faith has to offer. Many Jewish parents reward their b’nai mitzvah children with a trip to Israel. Our kids will get the same — with an extended layover in India.

For more information, Jason Schwartz recommends visiting www.oprah.com/world/Wombs-for-Rent/1#slideshow or www.ivfcharotar.com/meet_dr_patel.php.

Jason Schwartz and Rabbi Jennifer Flam live in Concord with Eli and Mia. Jason is a freelance writer and Jennifer is the director of congregational learning and the preschool at Congregation B’nai Shalom in Walnut Creek.