(This is an excerpt from the book titled 'Tries, Sighs, And Lullabies', written by Dr Anjali Malpani, a Mumbai-based gynecologist, who started India's first sperm bank in 1990.)
On September 6, India officially passed Act 377 that decriminalised same-sex couples and legalised homosexuality in the country.
‘It is difficult to right a wrong by history. But we can set a course for the future. This case involves much more than decriminalising homosexuality. It is about people wanting to live with dignity,’ said Justice Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud.
Rakesh and Arjun were on cloud nine. At last, they could live openly together with dignity. The relief of acceptance and authenticity after years of avoidance and surreptitiousness was enormous.
On 15 September, they flew down to meet me and start their treatment.
‘We were all out there in the streets of Bhopal, with rainbow-painted faces, carrying flags and banners and distributing sweets!’ Arjun recounted. ‘What was stunning was the number of people who had turned up to celebrate,’ Rakesh chipped in.
‘We always thought that we were the only two strange people in this world. At least that’s what the world made us believe. But that wasn’t so. It was a massive world of beautiful people in all different shapes and sizes, speaking different languages, hailing from different parts of the country, all united by this one simple and yet intense emotion, love.'
'For the first time in our lives, we felt accepted just the way we were. We didn’t have to fake anything or pretend. We could just be ourselves. Do you understand, doctor, how beautiful that feeling is?’
I wished I did. I wished I could feel that moment as intensely as they had described it and as deeply as they wanted me to feel it. But I realised I would have to be in their shoes and live their lives to really be able to understand them.
After a heartfelt conversation, we decided to go ahead with the procedure immediately.
Rakesh and Arjun couldn’t believe this was actually happening and that their dream of having a baby was actually going to come true soon. But fate had a different story scripted for them.
October 2018: But Fate Had Other Plans
We collected the eggs from the egg donor, fertilised them with Arjun’s sperm, and froze the embryos while we were waiting for the surrogate to be ready for her embryo transfer. We started doing ultrasounds on the surrogate to check whether the lining of her uterus was thick enough for an embryo transfer.
Unfortunately, her lining did not grow in the months of October and November, and I had to call her back in December. But as fate would have it, she lost her mother in early December and had to go to her village suddenly. She promised to come back in a month’s time.
Rakesh and Arjun, who were desperate to transfer the embryos, had no choice but to wait until she came back.
But luck did not favour Rakesh and Arjun as on 19 December 2018, the Lok Sabha passed the Surrogacy Bill that banned homosexual couples from attaining parenthood through surrogacy.
This came as a rude shock to all of us. There was widespread criticism and the media went crazy about the adoption of such an unthoughtful bill in the country. The general feeling was that there was very little point in legalising same-sex marriages if they couldn’t complete their family by raising a child of their own.
We met the following week. Both Rakesh and Arjun were extremely disheartened by the news. As they sat silently before me, I could sense the many hardships and struggles they had gone through on this long, bumpy journey over the years.
It was a battle they had almost won and now, to suddenly end up on the losing side, was perhaps, the most terrible thing that could happen to them. No, I didn’t expect them to stay strong or put up a bold front after what had happened. Every tear, every sob was justified.
I have seen many women bear the brunt of the groundless and unjustified stigma of childlessness in our society and it turned me into a staunch feminist. But for the first time, I was witnessing the raw pain of two men who wanted a child as badly as any woman could.
It made me realise that love knows no gender, bias, caste, creed, or colour. Love is beyond those boundaries. It is something that keeps humanity together and keeps the world moving.
There have been times when I tried to offer broken couples hope, optimism, and a reason to smile. But today I felt helpless.
‘Can’t we go ahead and do it anyway doctor?’ they cried.
Loopholes Vs Morals: An Ethical Dilemma
Yes. We could have gone ahead, using the technicality that a bill is not a law, which is why doing this treatment was still not illegal. Many doctors have treated celebrities even though they are single, using this very loophole.
But for me, it wasn’t so easy to resolve this quandary. My heart went out to the two men crying in front of me, but being an ethical doctor, my conscience came in the way and I slowly shook my head.
I watched the duo walk out of the clinic dejected and shattered. It broke my heart. That day, I learnt three important lessons. First, that there was nothing more powerful than fate.
The second being that there was nothing more frustrating than helplessly watching my patients walk away from the clinic in despondency.
And lastly, that there was nothing more painful than the shards of two shattered hearts and in this case, the agony of two men who knew how to love yet were denied it. They were so near and yet so far!
We still hope that there will be amendments to this law and that it would be made more progressive to allow gay couples to use surrogacy to raise a family of their own.
(The above is an edited excerpt. Paragraph breaks, blurbs and subheadings have been added for readers’ convenience.)
(Published with permission from Hay House Publishers. The views expressed here are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses them nor is responsible for them.)