When Matthew Eledge and his husband Elliot Dougherty began talking about starting a family three years ago, they looked to their tight-knit family for their thoughts.
What they got in return was so much more than just advice.
A casual joke about Cecile Eledge, Matthew’s mum, lending a hand in the process turned into a miraculous joint effort when she delivered the couple’s daughter, Uma, on March 25.
Lea Yribe, Elliot’s sister, supplied the egg, Matthew supplied the sperm, and Cecile served as the surrogate. In an effort to clarify the confusion (of which there was much) about exactly who was involved in the pregnancy and how, Matthew devised a lovingly hilarious way to explain his mum’s participation in the process.
“Sometimes even really intelligent people hear this story and think it’s incest,” Eledge told HuffPost. “We get really honest questions from really smart people like, ‘Are you scared of the genetic abnormalities?’ It’s a fine question, it’s a unique situation, but I think it’s easiest to spell it out in layman’s terms: My mother was simply the oven.”
Cecile’s pristine health made her a perfectly viable candidate to carry an embryo, despite the fact that, at 61, she had already gone through menopause. So she agreed to be the surrogate for Matthew and Elliot and underwent a series of intense cardiology, pulmonary and physical tests ― and then braced herself to receive bad news.
“There was a part of me thinking, it will be a miracle if we pass every test, there is going to be something,” she told HuffPost. “I knew if I wasn’t going to be a healthy candidate, I would never put the baby in jeopardy. Every time I would go talk to another doctor, whether my internist or cardiologist, they looked and said ‘There’s absolutely no reason you can’t do this.’”
The family worked with Dr. Carolyn Doherty, a reproductive endocrinologist at Methodist Reproductive Health Specialists in Omaha, Nebraska, United States. She told HuffPost that “pretty much no 61-year-old” would typically be a candidate for surrogacy, citing health risks like high blood pressure, hypertension and heart failure, to name only a few. But Cecile was cleared of any issues and approved to carry her own grandchild.
“I looked at my husband and said, ‘Well, I guess we’re gonna go on a little adventure.”
There was also the matter of money ― lots and lots of it. Eledge estimates that they spent around $40,000 (£30,600) for the entire process. Using Cecile as a carrier meant that at least they could eliminate the cost of paying a surrogate, which can run between $25,000 (£19,100) and $35,000 (£26,800) on top of any health-related expenses, according to Doherty.
“I think the one thing people don’t understand is how expensive it is to hire a surrogate,” Doherty said. “When you have to pay all the medical expenses for a surrogate ― no insurance covers that ― and then that person ends up in the hospital, that could bankrupt someone.”
Cecile was put on oestrogen to bring back her period, and then she did something she says she never in her wildest dreams ever dreamed she’d do 30 years after her last child was born: She got pregnant.
“I looked at my husband and said, ‘Well, I guess we’re gonna go on a little adventure,’” she said.
The family was especially fortunate in that the egg retrieval and the insemination process were both successful on the first try. Doherty explained that success is based on the age of the egg.
“The fact that we were using very young eggs from Elliot’s sister was really to Cecile’s benefit,” she said. “Plus, they had undergone pre-implantation genetic testing for aneuploidy [chromosomal abnormalities], so we knew to the best of our ability in this day and age that it was genetically normal, which helps out, too.”
Pregnancy was a bit different for Cecile this time around than it was 30 years ago. The guidelines of what you can and cannot do have changed, and she said she felt things like morning sickness a bit more intensely. Luckily, though, “We never had any big hiccups ― I can’t complain,” she said.
What they did have to deal with, however, were the seemingly unending questions people had about the unusual circumstances surrounding the pregnancy.
“There was always general confusion, which never really offended me because it’s such a unique situation,” Matthew said. “There was always serious curiosity and then when you explain it, it was like ‘Oh, this is amazing! Your mom is a rock star.’”
“Rock star” doesn’t even begin to cut it, especially considering doctors in the US often won’t allow someone over 50 to undergo in vitro fertilisation. Doherty said her practice begins carefully scrutinising potential surrogates beginning at age 45, but noted it’s not necessarily the case for all reproductive endocrinologists.
“The bottom line is my health was good,” Cecile said. “I kept thinking 60s are the new 40s, and people in their 40s are having babies. Sixty-one is just a number; it’s how you feel and your health that was really the motivation.”
Cecile was admitted to the hospital earlier than planned when her blood pressure rose into a range that concerned her doctors ― but Uma was strong and healthy, and Cecile delivered the baby vaginally. Cecile said she was calm and relaxed after the birth, knowing her work was done.
“A lot of people would say, ‘Are you going to be able to hand this baby over when you’ve been carrying her for nine months?’” Cecile said. “Every time we went to an ultrasound or an appointment, I looked at her as my granddaughter ― never something I owned or possessed. All I visualised was being able to deliver naturally and to hand her over to Matt and Elliot, who were so desperate and so deserving of making their dream a reality.”
Matthew revealed there were some visual boundaries in the delivery room ― “We didn’t need to see everything, right?” he said, laughing ― but described seeing his mother as a warrior through the experience. “She tapped into this primitive, visceral spirit and dug deep and just did it. To see her on such an intense level, bringing life to this beautiful, healthy, awesome baby was so cool for me to see.”
Considering how open Cecile has been about her incredibly intimate experience, it may come as a surprise to learn she views herself as a private person. But it was important to the entire family that their story be shared ― and each member had his or her own reason as to why. Cecile was floored by the fact that since the pregnancy involved two men trying to have a child, the process was considered uterus donation and was not covered by insurance.
“I’ve seen first-hand the discrimination gay couples here who want a child experience,” she said. “They can’t get coverage whatsoever, and I struggle with that. To see discrimination is heartbreaking, and I would like to see that change down the line with our health care and [I want to be an] advocate for that.”
Kirk Eledge, Matthew’s father and Cecile’s husband, hopes people can understand that all couples should have the same opportunities. “We have a granddaughter who has the blood and DNA from both Elliot and Matt running through her, and that’s what this whole journey was about,” he said. “They deserve to have families just like everyone else.”
Matthew told HuffPost he “crumbles” when he looks at Uma, and plans to tell her “every freaking thing” about her miraculous journey into the world, though he predicts she won’t be quite as taken with the story as the whole family is right now.
As for what life is now like for the two new happy dads, things have ― obviously ― changed a lot. Matthew is completely in new parent mode and finds there are often moments when he’s too happily distracted by taking care of Uma to attend to little daily matters. In fact, he recently found himself answering his front door with only one sandal on, and when he brought Uma home from the hospital, he realised he hadn’t brushed his teeth in days. “I was like, oh my god, this is disgusting,” he said, laughing.
But at least one thing has stayed nearly the same.
“It sounds so cliche and I hate it, but it’s true ― nothing could have prepared me for how I feel right now,” he said. “It gives me a deeper respect and love for my husband to see us be so anxious and nervous and passionate about something together, and it’s refreshing because we’re at a place [in our lives] where we come home, order Thai food and watch ‘Real Housewives of New York City.’ I mean, the first night we came home we watched ‘Housewives,’ but we did it with Uma and Thai food and just switched off shifts.”