A man holds his baby, born to a surrogate mother, after being evacuated from Nepal and landing at Sde Dov Airport in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: NIR ELIAS / REUTERS)
For two full days Amir and Alon Michaeli- Mulian were gripped with fear and uncertainty amid the ruins and aftershocks in Nepal, huddling with their newborn baby girl and two-year-old daughter, preparing for the worst.
“Every aftershock threatened to bring the building down on top of us, and there was wind and rain and cold and power outages and water shortages. It was a nightmare that we are just now beginning to understand,” Amir said on the tarmac at Sde Dov Airport in Tel Aviv, adding “it was 48 hours of pure fear and she [the newborn] was the source of our strength.”
Alon and Amir were among several same-sex couples who landed in Israel on Monday on one of two planes carrying Israelis rescued from the earthquake in Nepal. Their plane carried five babies born to surrogate mothers, as well as three toddler siblings of the newborns, who had traveled with their parents to Nepal previously.
Earlier, a smaller IAF plane arrived in Israel at a military base carrying a number of injured Israelis and premature babies of Israeli parents, who were born to surrogate Nepalese mothers. Over a dozen such babies still need to be airlifted home.
It was an emotional scene at Sde Dov on Monday afternoon. Exhausted parents and their children – who had just been through hell and back – were greeted by the press and paramedics, and grandparents who cried in joy as they met their new grandchildren after days of panic and worry.
The parents repeatedly thanked Magen David Adom for their assistance, as well as Interior Minister Gilad Erdan and the government, their insurance providers and those back home who helped out however they could.
Parents Ron and Eran Farbstein landed on Monday with their newborn son, Tomer, and their two-year-old daughter Shai. Speaking to reporters from the doors of a bus waiting to take them to meet their families, they said that the scariest moments in Nepal were during the aftershocks, which they said kept coming, but also the uncertainty about whether or not they’d all make it home in one piece.
Musician Ohad Hitman, nephew of legendary Israeli musician Uzi Hitman, returned Monday with his partner Ran Harush and their newborn twins, born just before the earthquake.
Harush said they were thrilled to be home, but that “there are other children there who are two weeks old and are in the rain and cold and poor sanitary conditions. Get them home, come on.”
Time and again the new parents were asked if they think the tragedy will change the country’s policies about children of Israelis born to surrogates, an issue that has drawn no shortage of controversy.
Exhausted but happy to be home, Amir Michaeli-Mulian said he was hopeful, but had his doubts. “We’re very pessimistic; this is still a very conservative country. But we hope people will understand that love wins in the end, love is what matters,” he said.
After discussions at the Justice Ministry Monday morning, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein approved the guidelines that would allow surrogates in Nepal who are in the later stages of pregnancy to come to Israel to give birth. The ministry put out a statement that the decision lies in the hands of various ministers who must make the final decision.
The guidelines state that the decision must be made entirely by the free will of the women in question and each individual must indicate such at the Israel Consul in Nepal. Furthermore, either the consulate or a doctor must explain to each of the women the risks of flying in a state of advanced pregnancy.
All the interested parties to the surrogacy procedure must commit to the fact that the decision of the woman, whether she chooses to come or stay in Nepal, will not violate the conditions of the contract. Finally, the guidelines emphasize that the consulate should verify that the women are in possession of their own travel documents and no undue pressure has been put on them to violate their freedom to consent.
Tammuz International Surrogacy, an Israeli firm that coordinates the surrogacy process for Israeli couples and individuals, is still waiting for the final decision by the various ministers.
In the meantime, Tammuz has sent their own team of approximately 10 professionals, including social workers, to assist the women. They reported that all 20 of the women they employ who are in their last trimester are interested in coming to Israel to give birth.
The team is also meeting with the women who recently gave birth. The fact that they have completed their surrogacy does not lessen their need for assistance, according to Tammuz.
“Alongside our worry for the Israeli families who are in the process of coming to Israel, and alongside our responsibility to rescue them, we are also responsible to care for the surrogates. Indian women living in Kathmandu for the purpose of the surrogacy procedure, some of them in the late stages of pregnancy,” said Doron Mamet-Meged, CEO of Tammuz.
The women are Indians brought to Nepal to be surrogates for couples and individuals who wish to have babies and cannot do so naturally. Most of the couples are homosexual. Nepali law only allows non-Nepalese women to be surrogates.