When Elliot and Matthew planned on starting a family, they never expected just how hard it would be. But when the solution to their problem became something they had never considered, nothing would ever be the same...
Meet Matthew & Elliot
Introducing Matthew Eledge and Elliot Dougherty, a lovely couple who at the time of this article's writing resided in Omaha, Nebraska. Like many lovebugs, these two wanted to start a family after being together for quite some time.
But their journey to parenthood was far from ordinary. Let's rewind a bit to see how Matthew and Elliot ended up going viral for their unique birthing experience. Before deciding to take a huge life step together, the couple first made their love official and got married in a romantic ceremony.
Getting Married... and Fired
But sadly, the happy moment came with a tragic turn of events. At the time, Elliot worked as a hairdresser and Matthew was an English teacher, and speech coach at a private Catholic high school in the area. And his bosses did not like the wedding news.
When Matthew informed the school that he would be marrying his long-time partner, they fired him. The institution didn't look favorably on an LGBT wedding. So as the couples celebrated tying the knot, they also mourned the loss of Matthew's former community.
The Trip That Changed Everything
Some community members were outraged by Matthew's firing and created a petition that got over 100,000 signatures. But the damage was done and the English teacher moved on to a new school where his marriage was accepted. And in the meantime, the newlyweds took a trip abroad.
And that's when Matthew and Elliot started thinking about having children. The pair backpacked through Europe and spent endless hours chatting, exercising their creativity with journaling and drawing, and dreaming about their future. It was a "kind of sanctuary," said Matthew.
They Wanted Children
As the two recovered from the discrimination they recently experienced back home, they dreamt of creating a welcoming and accepting home together. And in that dreamhouse they imagined at least one little child running around. "We realized we could do this with each other," said Matthew.
What exactly was this? Loving each other and nurturing a happy and healthy marriage, and bringing more beings into their lives to share the love with. Matthew and Elliot realized they were ready to take this next step together. So when they got back from Europe, there was something important to do.
Telling Their Families
Matthew and Elliot weren't sure yet exactly how they would go about starting a family together. While the newlyweds considered adoption, they knew that would likely mean facing more discrimination, as Nebraska didn't allow same-sex couples to even foster children at the time.
So naturally, another idea on the table was in vitro fertilization. Elliot and Matthew were excited about their plans for the future. And so, when they got back to Nebraska after their European travels, the couple told loved ones the happy news. And that's when something unexpected happened...
A Surprising Offer
All of the couple's loved ones were enchanted to hear the news. But someone, in particular, got excited: Matthew's mother, Cecile. When she heard the news, Cecile couldn't help but think of her path to parenthood and how much she enjoyed being pregnant back in the day.
All three of Cecile's children were now grown. She would even soon become a grandma thanks to her daughter! Reflecting on the good times and listening to Matthew and Elliot's plans to start a family, Cecile had an idea. "If you want me to be the gestational carrier, I'd do it in a heartbeat," the loving mom said.
They Said No
Elliot and Matthew were taken aback by Cecile's offer. That was certainly not what they envisioned would happen when the couple told one of their mothers the news. And the truth was that, in that moment, the future parents didn't even take Cecile's idea seriously.
The two men thought Matthew's mother must be joking and laughed at the idea of her carrying their future child. After all, Cecile was now in her 60s and post-menopausal. It was practically impossible for the grandma-to-be to carry and birth a child, right? Well, that's what they thought...
Matthew and Elliot practically dismissed Cecile's idea. It seemed ridiculous and practically impossible, so they hardly gave it a second thought. But before proceeding with other surrogates and IVF, the couple made sure that adoption wasn't the right path for now.
They had a difficult time choosing IVF over adoption. "You have to navigate this guilt," explained Matthew. "Like, why do we want to have a genetic connection? Are we just obsessed with ourselves?" But ultimately, the way the lovebugs saw it, turning to IVF was about control over their destiny. And so they made an appointment.
The Doctor Thought It Could Work
After the couple resolved that IVF and surrogacy was the best option to bring their firstborn into the world, it didn't take long for them to make a doctor's appointment. The aspiring dads met with a reproductive endocrinologist in Omaha, Nebraska, to understand all of their IVF possibilities.
Matthew jokingly mentioned his mom's offer to carry the child while chatting with Dr. Carolyn Maud Doherty. But the reproductive specialist didn't think it was funny at all. In fact, Dr. Doherty thought Mrs. Eledge could actually be a candidate for surrogacy. The couple was shocked.
A Very Low Chance
Dr. Carolyn Maud Doherty knew from experience that Cecile could potentially carry her son's child and have a healthy birth. The chances of it weren't astronomically high, but the reproductive doctor thought it worthwhile to look into and consider as an option for Matthew and Elliot.
The odds were low - but they existed. "It's important for people to note that not every 60-year-old is in good enough health to be a surrogate," Dr. Doherty detailed. "There are probably only a handful of people across the country who can do this - only a handful of people who have done it."
She Wouldn't Be the First
While the idea of Matthew's 60-something-year-old mother carrying their child might've seemed wild to the couple, it was nothing that hadn't been done before. Long before reproductive technology became what it is today, someone named Pat Anthony gave birth to her grandchildren.
Pat was a 48-year-old woman in South Africa who carried and birthed her own biological grandchildren (triples) in 1987. Others have followed Anthony's path since then, including a 67-year-old grandmother in Greece who birthed her grandbaby in 2016.
Cecile Was a Health Zealot
So Cecile wouldn't be the first, or the oldest, post-menopausal woman to carry and birth her own grandchild. And the more Dr. Carolyn Maud Doherty heard about the 61-year-old mom, the more the specialist thought that she could work as a surrogate for Matthew and Elliot.
Why? Because Cecile was a total health zealot. Growing up, Matthew and his siblings teased her because she was so healthy and loved to exercise. But now, they suddenly had a newfound appreciation for those healthy habits. Cecile's self-care was about to pay off in a very big way.
Many Health Tests
But before they could be sure that Cecile was a realistic candidate, the 61-year-old mom had to undergo a lot of tests. Mrs. Eledge might've been a lifelong health fanatic, but that didn't mean her body could handle another nine-month pregnancy and birth.
So Matthew, Elliot, and Cecile made an appointment for the potential surrogate at Omaha's Methodist Women's Hospital. The 61-year-old underwent a Pap smear, a stress test, an ultrasound, a mammogram, and a blood test. All that was left to do was await the results.
So what did the Pap smear, blood tests, and all of the other exams reveal? Well, basically Cecile was as healthy as can be; maybe even healthier than some of the youngsters! "She's 61 years old and has lower blood pressure than the rest of us," Matthew laughingly remarked.
He added, "When they made her run on a treadmill, even when it was turned up to the highest level, she wasn't anywhere close to the danger zone." So what did that mean for the couple? Mrs. Eledge was a surrogate candidate. But not without a few risks...
Did the Offer Still Stand?
Being a 61-year-old surrogate would still have many risks even if Cecile was in great health. According to Dr. Doherty, some of the potential issues included pulmonary complications, blood clots, and higher odds of a C-section delivery. Plus, it could take multiple rounds of IVF to succeed.
That meant Matthew and Elliot would potentially spend a lot of money on the whole process. Did Cecile still want to do it, knowing all of this? "I thought if I could do it, I would do it," she explained. "It was kind of a no-brainer." So Mrs. Eledge would birth her own grandchild. But first, there were some roadblocks to overcome.
Matthew and Elliot were no strangers to the prejudice and discrimination faced by members of the LGBT community. Some time had passed, but the memories of the private high school that fired Matthew for marrying his partner were still fresh in their hearts.
And the possibility of discrimination was part of the reason why Matthew and Elliot didn't lean towards adoption, knowing there were systems in place that worked against them. But navigating surrogacy and IVF as a gay couple in Nebraska wasn't simple, either.
Lots of Money
On top of that, the whole process was expensive, and there was no way to know exactly how much it could cost. "Any moment could become a huge financial situation," Elliot explained. On top of expensive IVF treatments, the couple didn't have their health insurance's backing.
Because Cecile would birth her grandchild and not her own biological child, the insurance didn't cover it. "When we found out insurance wouldn't cover anything, we thought this could be something that affects us financially for a really long time," Matthew shared. And money wasn't the only problem on their minds.
They Didn't Want a "Designer Baby"
The money issue weighed heavily on their minds, but Matthew and Elliot also had some ethical dilemmas when it came to the whole surrogacy/IVF world. The couple knew that while Cecile could carry and birth the baby, someone else's eggs would be needed to create it.
Elliot and Matthew both felt strange about basically shopping for the perfect egg to create their child. It felt weird to judge a stranger's profile and choose a baby based on their features; it was almost like buying a "designer baby." And then another family member stepped up to the plate.
There Was a Solution
Elliot's sister Lea offered to donate her eggs to the couple. If she did, then Matthew could give his sperm, and the embryo could be carried by Cecile. Keeping things in the family "took away the choice," said Matthew, and released them of some moral dilemmas.
"I had already told them I would do whatever I could," Lea recalled. "When they did get serious about it, it wasn't a question - though, of course, I had to talk to my husband." Would Elliot's brother-in-law be on board for the family affair? Everyone crossed their fingers.
A Family Affair
Aside from Lea's husband, though, there were other factors at stake. After all, the age of donated eggs is perhaps the most important component when it comes to forming a successful embryo. Luckily, with Lea just 25 years old at the time, she was definitely fertile enough to put her plan into action.
And her husband felt the exact same. "He was very open to the idea," Lea proudly recalled. Everything seemed to be lining up perfectly: Lea would donate the eggs, and Matthew would give his sperm. And while this meant the future baby would share Lea's DNA, it also meant the couple would save tons of money.
Lea was 25 years old at the time and had recently birthed her first child, so the odds of retrieving viable eggs were high. But Elliot's sister still had to take shots to stimulate her ovaries for egg donation. "It was harder than I thought it was going to be," she admitted.
"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," Leah continued. Unfortunately, it took a toll on Elliot's sister. "But in the end, it wasn't too bad."
Once Lea completed all of the shots meant to stimulate her ovaries, it was time for the actual egg retrieval process. The reproductive specialist was able to retrieve around twenty-four eggs - 11 of which were mixed with Matthew's sperm and the rest saved.
It took five days for the embryos to form. After nearly a week, seven embryos were fertilized. But it was unclear how likely those embryos were to develop into a healthy baby, so Elliot and Matthew paid for tests to choose the best ones. How many would that leave?
They Wanted a Girl
As the story goes, the hopeful couple was left with only three usable embryos. But where would that leave them when it came to the genetic tests? After all, "You can find out the sex in that process," Matthew recalled of their hesitance to undergo such testing.
While Matthew had always dreamed of being a girl-dad, he simply didn't want to "play God" by requesting embryos with XX chromosomes over those with XY. So, what'd he do? He instructed doctors to select the healthiest-looking embryos from the bunch. Ironically enough, all three embryos turned out to be female.
"I Was a Wreck"
As for what came next? Cecile was placed on estrogen to prepare her for surrogacy... and then they waited. "After the transfer, "I was a wreck," Matthew recalled. He and Elliot were instructed to wait two whole weeks before doctors to determine if the cycle was a success or not. But they had other plans.
"Of course I wasn't gonna do that," Matt confessed. After purchasing one of the fanciest over-the-counter pregnancy tests he could find, he raced to Cecile's home. But was he ready for what awaited him? After all, his mother had only three usable embryos. What if things wouldn't go as planned?
"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." Sure enough, at 4 a.m., five days after the transfer, they were about to find out the truth for themselves.
As Cecile came out of the bathroom, pregnancy test in hand, tears filled her eyes: The test was negative. Or so she thought. As her son began to take a closer look at the pregnancy test himself, suddenly everything changed... He saw the faintest little pink line. She was pregnant with his baby.
As the expecting mother began to adjust to her new reality, she had no idea just how challenging it would truly be. Given her age and health, Cecile's pregnancy symptoms were that much more intense. "I had the same morning sickness, but it lasted longer. I had shortness of breath," she recalled.
But at the end of the day, she was determined to make it work. "I worked out, I walked, I was physically active - as of last Monday, I was still working out on the elliptical," Cecile proudly revealed. As the weeks continued to fly by, she was seemingly coasting through her pregnancy. "We're very, very lucky," Matthew gushed.
The Big Day
On a fateful day in March 2019, Elliot and Matthew rushed to the hospital as Cecile's water broke. After a sudden spike in her blood pressure, doctors had decided to induce her. Everything had happened so fast. Finally, after endless years of planning and prepping, their dreams of parenthood were about to be a reality.
Sure enough, 12 hours later, the couple had finally welcomed their very own child, Uma Louise Dougherty-Eledge. After a seemingly smooth labor, Cecile had given birth to her very first granddaughter. "Life is a dream," Matthew and Elliot gushed of the remarkable milestone.
An Awkward Birth Certificate
Unfortunately, there was still one thing they couldn't get past: "It's kind of embarrassing," Matthew confessed. What happened? Nebraska's state laws require sperm donors to be listed as the father, and the person who delivers a baby to be the 'mother' on a birth certificate. "This looks really creepy for us."
"I thought Elliot could at least put his name on the birth certificate," Matthew admitted. Unfortunately, in order to get legal rights, Elliot would have to go through an adoption process. And while he planned on doing that, Matthew was still alarmed: "God forbid, if I were to die: Elliot would have absolutely no legal custody."
But that wasn't where their concerns ended: How would they feed their child? Sure enough, one of Matthew's friends who'd recently given birth was kind enough to freeze her breast milk for baby Uma. "Talk about a support system! This is a friend we trust and love," Matthew gushed.
"We love women - we think women should rule the world," he proudly continued. From Elliot's sister providing her eggs to Matthew's mom carrying the embryo to their friend providing the breastmilk, Uma's support system went unmatched. "Uma gets to be surrounded by all these smart, beautiful, compassionate women."
More on the Way?
Well, where do they go from here? After what felt like endless time and tears shed, Matthew and Elliot finally made their dreams come true - all thanks to their daughter's grandmother. But will they continue to grow their family? It appears the proud parents won't be closing any doors just yet.
"It's this weird thing... they're just this bundle of cells, right?" Matthew explained of his and Elliot's other two embryos - which are currently on ice. "I'm like, 'How can you discard those?'" While only time will tell how their latest chapter plays out, we'd say their story is just getting started...