Winning our hearts through movies and modeling, battling cancer and now mother to twin daughters through surrogacy at 46, Lisa Ray truly knows how to live her life and make the best out of it. So, engrossed in parenting is Lisa that she often finds herself humming ‘The Wheels on the bus goes round and round’. Guess it is the mommy brain !
“My husband, Jason and I have entered garden bursting with colour and while the tending can feel trying at times, it has been an incredible initiation to received grace and boundless love through these two perfect beings, our daughters Sufi and Soleil. Collectively we call them Souffle,” says Lisa Ray about her experience of becoming a mother.
She feels that she has grown into motherhood. Lisa was very open about the fact that becoming a mother was never her plan during her younger days. She thought it would tie her down as she was eager to expand herself in all ways- through travel and experience.
“I was never someone who cooed and fussed over babies and I’d change my seat if I was close to a crying infant.” But how quickly that has changed.
Lisa expresses that motherhood is like drilling into your heart. “It’s also like trying to change your clothes in the middle of a roller coaster ride. It’s completely nuts at times, the level of anarchy and love in our home has reached new levels.”
Sufi and Soleil were born one month premature, which is standard for twins. They were tiny and frail like baby birds slipped out of the nest. “My husband and mothe- in-law were with me for only two weeks, and then I was on my own in a strange city with two new borns and our nanny,” says the 46-year-old model and actress.
“The benefit of having children much later in life is that you have perspective and a greater mastery over your emotion. I only panicked once in the beginning, rushing little Soleil to the hospital after she spit up all her milk. The pediatrician laughed at me and said it was a rite of passage for a mum to freak out at least once.”
For her the first two months passed like a dream. “I hired a night nurse as the drawback of having children at this age is that one’s energy levels are not at their peak. I made good friends in Tbilisi and my kids and I explored the city. I even managed to do one health retreat, leaving the girls with my nanny.”
Lisa’s idea of parenting
Lisa and her husband made a vow to each other from the time they saw the first ultrasound of their kids that they were going to do ‘parenthood their way’. So, at three weeks, Sufi and Soleil were piled into their friend, Vishakha’s car in Tbilisi to drive through the beautiful landscape of Georgia into the Caucasus Mountains for a three-day break. The driver was so alarmed by the size of my girls that he turned a two-and-a-half-hour journey into four hours.
Both Lisa and her husband are determined to build a lifestyle that expands all of them. Travel and adventure will hopefully continue to be a big part of all their lives. “Of course, there are adjustments. I can’t just charge out of the door now if the girls are coming there are nappies and wipes and bottles to be packed.”
What’s been remarkable is how different both her kids are. Sufi and Soleil are fraternal, not identical twins. Sufi is very willful and stubborn and Soleil is a dreamer, she gazes quietly at everything from gentle eyes. “I can’t wait to bring them to India, it will be a big part of their upbringing,” says Lisa.
She happily says that her girls will be brought up with multi-faceted identities. “India and my experiences there have shaped who I am today and the country will play a big role in my girls' lives. They will hopefully imbibe the tolerant, sacred, joyous aspects of the culture, though along with whispering ‘the future is female’ into their ears, I’m going to begin explaining ‘patriarchy’ to the girls as soon as I can.”
“My father is with me here and his delight every morning fills me with warmth. He sings Bangla lullabies to the girls, we speak English and Hindi to them, my husband gives them an Arabic lesson every weekend, and they will learn Mandarin at pre-school.”
I want to enjoy every moment of this phase of Sufi and Soleil’s development- it’s traumatic how fast they grow. I think this first year is crucial for bonding and I know I’ll have to be flexible with my schedule, but fortunately, my work has always been flexible. I am showering them with love and snuggle before coming to India in November for some work.
Motherhood through surrogacy
Being vocal about her cancer journey, surrogacy too was a tough, long journey for Lisa. But the actress didn’t shy away from sharing her experience. Initially, Lisa and her husband wanted to adopt and they still might, but they opted for surrogacy because it was a quicker option. It didn’t turn out that way though.
When India banned commercial surrogacy just as they were about to begin the process, Lisa was really crushed. She asked herself, why not tighter regulations? Why not more accountability? It’s not like this ban will prevent exploitation and all the unsavoury aspects of surrogacy in India- the exploitation will go underground and continue. India’s draft surrogacy bill still needs to become law. So, there is so much confusion while some clinics in India are still finding loopholes.
Allowing only ‘altruistic’ surrogacy- where a consenting female family member bears a child for a heterosexual Indian couple without pay- feels like a step backward. India has a variety of domestic configurations, with a lot of young nuclear families in the cities. This bill sounds like punishment for stepping out of the joint family system.
Says Lisa, “Some people advised that I could go ahead with surrogacy in Mumbai, use my influence or ‘convince’ a government official, but to my mind, this was not the right way to bring our kids into the world. So, we hired an agency called Elite and the founder David Sher worked hard and became invested in figuring out a way for us.”
“We tried Mexico unsuccessfully. But life has honed my tenacity so it never occurred to me to give up. I researched countries myself and Georgia came up. The more I read, the more encouraging it seemed. I passed on the information to David and he flew down to inspect clinics and returned very impressed,” she further adds.
She has AR Rahman’s first production and an Amazon original series with an almost all female cast and technicians. Her memoir will be published next year and she hopes to jump into her next book after that. She says, “I will continue my advocacy for cancer awareness and living your best life by giving talks across India. I hope Souffle (her twin daughters) will join me soon as a way to prove there are no limits to love and manifesting your dreams.”