Elliot and Matthew knew they weren't in for an easy ride when they decided to start a family. They weren't against adoption, but they wanted their first child to share their genes. So, when Matthew's mother offered them a solution, their lives would change forever.
Meet Matthew and Elliot
Like many couples, Matthew Eledge and Elliot Dougherty’s love story began by being in the right place at the right time. In the case of these lovebirds, that was the set of a short film shot that Matthew was working on in 2012.
Although an English teacher by profession, the 34-year-old decided to slip into the director’s chair on the project — a move which would lead him to finding the love of his life. Elliot was hired to do the hairstyling on the film, and the rest, as they say in the classics, was history!
Tying the Knot… and Getting the Boot
It was not always legal for individuals of the same sex to get married in the US state of Nebraska, but that all changed in 2015. The ruling by the Supreme Court meant that Elliot and Matthew could finally call each other husband and husband, and the pair took advantage of the new law that same year.
Yet, the happy news was tainted with a dose of bitterness as not all had embraced equal rights for those in the LGBTQ+ community. At the time, Matthew had been working at a private Catholic high school, with the same-sex marriage contradicting the teaching of the church. As a result, Matthew was fired from his position.
A Rude Wake-Up Call
News of the dismissal understandably left many in shock, and they refused to accept the school’s decision without a fight. A petition was started to have the teacher re-instated at the Omaha academic establishment, with more than 102,000 people signing their names for the cause.
Despite the encouraging support, the head of the school defended his decision and the newlywed chose to move to a workplace where he was warmly embraced, regardless of his sexuality. However, the experience highlighted that Nebraska’s deep-seated conservatism would make growing their family difficult for Elliot and Matt.
Dreaming of Being Dads
Matthew described the situation that he and his partner endured as exhausting and hurtful. More than that, it made them anxious about the process they’d have to go through to add children to their lives. “We were really nervous to navigate a system that might not be super accepting of gay couples,” Eledge shared.
Despite the obvious challenges ahead, expanding their family and raising children in a loving home is something that both men knew they wanted for their future. “We realized that we could do this with each other,” Matthew explained. And so began the expected windy road to being dads.
Fighting an Archaic System
Adoption is a common route for homosexual couples who decide they want to have children. The tough process involves being placed under severe scrutiny by adoption agencies and social workers to ensure that the pair is fit to raise a minor, but it also means that a child without a family will be welcomed into one.
Providing a loving home for a kid who had never had one is something that definitely crossed Matthew and Elliot’s minds. As much as they would love to, Nebraska’s LGBTQ+ discrimination was still in full force at the time, as it was not even legal for couples of the same sex to act as foster parents.
More than One Way to Have a Baby
The prospective parents shared their woes with their family and friends, but amidst the sadness was a speckle of hope that could help turn their dreams of becoming fathers into reality. The outdated government of Nebraska may not have been on their side, but science was.
In vitro fertilisation, commonly known as IVF, is the process of fertilising an egg with a sperm without the need for sexual intercourse. It is a practice that is not reserved for same-sex couples as many who have struggled with fertility issues or who have chosen to become single parents have conceived a baby in this manner.
A Willing Donor
One component was easily attainable as both Elliot and Matthew were young and fertile enough to donate sperm. That doesn’t mean that it did not come with its fair share of overanalysing and guilt. According to Matt, thoughts included, “Why do we want to have a genetic connection? Are we just obsessed with ourselves?”
Even though IVF was the simpler path compared to adoption, the husbands still required an egg that could be fertilised and a woman to carry it. And if that wasn’t enough, oftentimes these cannot be the same person for legal reasons. The task was naturally overwhelming, but the universe was on their side.
Mama to the Rescue
Most mothers, if asked, will tell you that they just want their children to be happy in life. In this case, that could not be more true. Matthew’s mother, Cecile, understood her son’s wish to be a parent — after all, she had three kids of her own — and so she offered to help them in however she could.
At age 61, Cecile had already experienced menopause, meaning that she no longer possessed viable eggs. But unlike most women her age, the sexagenarian was in incredible shape. And so, Mrs. Eledge volunteered to be her son’s surrogate and carry her own grandchild.
A Good Shock
Cecile was not the couple’s first choice, of course. But health issues had prevented their best friend from helping out. “It never entered my mind until Matt was telling us about how they were struggling with their original surrogate,” Cecile recalls. “I just got that instinct of a mother right away. I thought, well. I'll do it.”
As wonderful as Cecile’s offer was, it still came with an expected bout of shock. “If you could have seen the faces on the boys,” she laughed. “They couldn't get out of the house fast enough. It had to sink in a bit.” A generous offer, yes. But possible? Surely not.
Never Say Never
The boys could not be more grateful for Cecile’s kind offer — even though it seemed utterly ridiculous. Matthew’s mother was in the sixth decade of her life; women that age don’t have babies! “We didn't even think it was an option, we'd never heard of something like that. She was post-menopausal,” said her son.
And yet, the wonders of science never cease to amaze. Elliot and Matthew consulted a reproductive endocrinologist and mentioned Cecile’s idea. Her only two questions regarding the possible surrogate were, “Is she healthy?” and “Does she have a uterus?” Despite Cecile being 61, the answer to both was yes.
All It Takes is a Chance
As insane as the idea of a woman Cecily’s age carrying a baby seemed… perhaps it wasn’t that impossible? The odds were not tremendously high, but a chance did exist, according to the fertility expert who would be in charge of bringing Matthew and Elliot’s baby to term, Dr. Carolyn Maud Doherty.
“It's important for people to note that not every 60-year-old is in good enough health to be a surrogate,” Dr. Doherty pointed out. “There are probably only a handful of people across the [United States] who can do this — only a handful of people who have done it.” And Cecile Eledge wanted to be one of them.
History Continuously Being Made
The fact that Cecile was healthy enough to even be considered is credit to the mom-of-three’s life-long passion for eating well and keeping fit. Age may not have been on her side, but it did not entirely disqualify her from carrying her grandchild, as previous examples have shown.
In 1987, a South African woman named Pat Anthony gave birth to her triplet grandchildren at the age of 48. Even more astoundingly, a 67-year-old lady in Greece carried her own grandchild to term in 2016. It may not be common, but history had proven that being post-menopausal did not rule Cecile out.
An Unbeatable Body
Cecile may have been in shape from her consistent commitment to exercise, but her ability to carry a baby could not be confirmed without numerous exams to check what was happening on the inside. These included a Pap smear, a stress test, an ultrasound, a mammogram, and a blood test.
Years of running and cycling had clearly paid off as Cecile’s body was prepared for anything that came its way and she passed all the tests with flying colors. Had her birth certificate not proven that she was 61, it would be easy to believe that the future grandmother was in her 40s!
A Long Road Ahead
Anyone who has struggled with fertility issues knows that the journey can be long and hard, with many tears shed and dollars spent. Managing not to break into a sweat while on the treadmill is one thing, but Cecile and her sons had to ensure that their mental health was in top shape.
IVF is a complicated process that involves retrieving viable eggs which are fertilised before being placed in a womb. The procedure is not always successful at first and can thus result in numerous rounds of treatment. Not only is it taxing on the body, but it takes an emotional toll as well — not to mention financial.
Ready and Willing
Regardless of all the health risks that come with pregnancy (like gestational diabetes), and the possibility of having to endure multiple egg implants, Cecile was still up for the task she had volunteered for. “I thought, you know, I'm here for this reason. We got this far, so we're going to see it all the way through.”
It would be totally normal for a few jitters to creep in with such a momentous undertaking, and Cecile confesses that she experienced her fair share. “The only thing I was worried about was hoping that the IVF was successful,” she admits. “That was probably my biggest fear.”
It would be fair to say that the venture on which Matthew, Elliot, and Cecile were embarking was uncommon by most pregnancy standards. Unfortunately, that is not something which appeals to most insurance companies who favour safe bets and predictability.
Insurance firms typically cover many health expenses during pregnancy, but as the baby Cecile would carry was not her biological child, they refused to do so. Even though the family tried to fight the decision, their attempts were unsuccessful. The financial strain became yet another burden which the husbands had to manage.
An Egg-ceptional Donor
While Matthew and Elliot could easily provide the male component needed for the IVF, neither were genetically able to produce an egg to be fertilized. Cecile was also no help this time as she had already undergone menopause. But thankfully for the fathers-to-be, the solution was not too far either.
Proving that the pair truly lucked out when it came to generous family members, Elliot’s sister put up her hand for the role while discussing the matter over brunch. “I had already told them I would do whatever I could,” said Lea. “When they did get serious about it, it wasn't a question.”
A Family Affair
At the time, Lea was 25-years-old and in the prime of her fertility. As if to emphasize the fact, she had recently given birth to her first child with her husband. With a young family to raise, Lea spoke with her husband about how she wished to provide the same happiness for her brother and his husband.
Not every man would be onboard with his wife donating her eggs, but Lea’s husband understood perfectly and gave her his blessing to go ahead. “He was very open to the idea,” she said of her spouse and father of her own child. With Cecile acting as the surrogate, all elements were finally in place.
A Little Less Stimulation, a Little More Action Please
As skilled as reproductive technicians may be, they are not able to retrieve eggs without first stimulating the ovaries to give up the precious gems. Injections are prescribed to induce what is called ovarian hyperstimulation in which multiple eggs are produced for retrieval.
“It was harder than I thought it was going to be,” Lea recalls of the process. “I definitely knew there were going to be shots every day, but it was kind of stressful — you have to do it at the same time every day, which is tough when you have two kids running around.”
All Eyes on Embryos
Despite the challenges, Lea soldiered on like a trooper and twenty-four eggs were retrieved. It is typical for a considerable number of eggs to be extracted to ensure better chances, which sometimes results in twins and other multiple births. As the egg was coming from Elliot’s side of the family, Matthew donated his sperm.
Combining the genetic materials resulted in the fertilisation of seven embryos. As is common with the IVF process, not all are usable, and so doctors implanted three healthy ones into Cecile who, too, had undergone hormone treatments to prepare her womb for an embryo to move in.
Playing the Waiting Game
Embryos in the oven meant that time was now required to see if the procedure had actually worked. “I was nervous,” Cecile admitted. “They ended up with really good embryos — if the first one didn't take, I didn't want them to waste the others on me due to my age.”
The family was instructed to practise patience — something that is incredibly difficult to do when so much rests on the result! So who can really blame Matt for purchasing a top-of-the-range pregnancy test from the pharmacy just two weeks after the transfer?
From Disappointment to Delight
Cecile peed on the stick and waited the recommended amount of time for the answer to appear. When she looked at the test, her heart sank into her stomach... One lonely line meant that the embryo had not taken and she was not with child as they all had hoped.
The hopeful surrogate was devastated to break the news to the aspiring parents who had come over later that day. But upon taking a look at the test himself, Matt spotted the sign they’d been praying for — a faint, but definitely there, second line. Cecile was pregnant after all!
A Moment to Remember
Remembering the moment fondly, Cecile can’t help but laugh. “Matt was like, ‘You can have a baby but your vision is still bad!’ I never really saw the line, but luckily he has young eyes.” The optometrist could wait — the 61-year-old grandma was expecting. “That was a special moment for us, it was a success.”
Cecile may have loved being pregnant three times before, but number four took a toll on her body. “I had the same morning sickness, but it lasted longer,” she said of the intense vomiting and nausea. Cecile also experienced shortness of breath and developed gestational diabetes which she controlled with her diet.
All for One and One for All
Neither Elliot nor Matt carried their future daughter, but they were doting dads from day one. “It was this really special process where it was me, my mom, Elliot, and my dad, and we'd go to all the appointments,” Matthew remembers of the unique experience.
The unusualness of the situation was not lost on the family — or anyone else for that matter. “People were confused by our situation and we turned a lot of heads.” However, they couldn’t be bothered: “It was really meaningful to be part of the very beginning stages of our daughter's life.”
Welcome, Little One
So much time, effort, hope, and love had gone into ensuring the existence of their child and in March 2019, she finally made her debut. Although the expectant grandmother was induced after a blood pressure spike, she delivered naturally. As expected, the fathers were in the delivery room by Cecile’s side for the big moment.
Seeing his little girl for the first time is something Matthew will never forget. “It was an out-of-body experience,” he recalled. “It just felt like this huge collaborative effort to bring this child into the world. When we first heard her cry I lost it because it happened, we made it happen, and we all worked together.”
The Gift that Keeps on Giving
An 18 hour labour is not something to be scoffed at, but Cecile wouldn’t take it back for a second. Uma Louise Dougherty-Eledge arrived in all her glory on March 25th at Omaha’s University of Nebraska Medical Center, delivered by her loving grandmother.
“It really was this special, magical moment to be able to give them Uma. It just humbles me that I could give them hope when they thought there was no hope to be had,” expressed Cecile. “I knew my part of the story was over. Now it's their time to start their storytelling of her life.”
Just a Piece of Paper
Before Matthew and Elliot could begin that story, documents had to be signed and paperwork filed. The joyous moment of finally holding their baby girl came with a reminder, however, of the struggle they had to endure as a gay couple in Nebraska when it came to filling in Uma’s birth certificate.
Under state law, the sperm donor must be listed as the father, and the person who delivers the baby as the mother on a birth certificate, meaning Matthew and Cecile’s names appear in the respective categories, with no space for Elliot. For him to have legal rights to his daughter, he must go through the adoption process.
Surrounded by Love
From the very moment that the idea of Uma came into existence, the little one was surrounded by people wanting to assist. Elliot’s sister had donated her eggs and Matthew’s mother had offered her womb, but the generosity of spirit did not stop there…
Once the baby had been born, a friend of Matthew’s who had recently given birth froze some of her breast milk for the infant to drink. “We love women — we think women should rule the world,” the appreciative father gushed. “Uma gets to be surrounded by all these smart, beautiful, compassionate women.”
The Apple of Their Eye
One woman who will always hold a special place in Uma’s life is the one who brought her into the world. “It's hard to believe I was able to do that,” Cecile exclaimed. “Uma's such a joy to watch, she's an independent, strong little girl, which I love. I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
The act of love is one that has inspired her son. “The most amazing thing was just seeing the strength and power that she has,” said Matthew of his super mom. “It really inspired me that you can continue to re-create yourself. She did the ultimate act of selflessness.”
Inspiring a Generation
The story of Uma Doherty-Eledge began in a city in Nebraska, but it has travelled around the world thanks to the remarkable characters involved. “We had not anticipated that the story would capture so many people's imaginations,” noted Matthew. But that’s exactly what it did.
Filled with pain, discrimination, hope, and triumph, it could be considered a classic. “Sharing our story has felt important as a form of activism,” Elliot declared. “When our life is unconventional, when we're living differently from the norm, sharing that allows other people to relate and change the dialogue.”