SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - When Cecile Eledge offered to carry a baby for her adult son and his husband, they thought she was kidding — and that her doctors in the family’s Nebraska hometown would balk at a 61-year-old woman serving as a surrogate for a gay couple.
But two weeks ago the entire family — along with proud doctors — beamed as Uma Louise Dougherty came into the world at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. Grandmother and baby are both healthy — and Uma was delivered the old-fashioned way.
The circumstances of Uma’s birth are a testament to changing social mores as well as the dramatic advances in senior health made by modern medicine and healthy lifestyles.
“I wanted to do it as a gift from a mother to her son,” Cecile Eledge said.
News of Uma’s conception, delivery and birth made headlines across the globe. On social media, the family was inundated with messages — most of them positive but some extremely angry and negative, Matthew Eledge said.
“People from all around the world have been reaching out,” Matthew Eledge said. “They want to help in any way that they can.” The family is trying to ignore the negative reactions — the people who wrongly think that Matthew had sex with his own mother to produce the baby, or who leave homophobic remarks.
When they set out to start their family, Matthew Eledge and Elliott Dougherty were already aware of the toll that prejudice could take. In 2015, Matthew Eledge had lost his job as a teacher at a Catholic school after the pair announced they would be married.
That led to concerns that they would be denied permission to adopt a baby in their conservative home state. So they decided to try in vitro fertilization with a donated egg and a surrogate to carry the fetus.
To their delight, Dougherty’s sister, Lea Yribe, offered to donate her eggs. The eggs were fertilized with sperm from Matthew Eledge, giving Uma genetic material from both sides of the family.
The men jokingly told their IVF doctor that Matthew Eledge’s mother had offered to be the surrogate — even though she was at that point 59 and had gone through menopause.
“Matt would comically say, ‘Well my mom keeps offering but we know that’s not an option,'” Cecile Eledge said.
But the doctors, Matthew Eledge said, just wanted to know if his mom was healthy — and if she still had her uterus. After testing to make sure that Cecile Eledge’s body could tolerate the pregnancy, the embryo that would become Uma was implanted.
Dr. Carl Smith, a specialist in maternal and fetal medicine at the medical center, said Cecile Eledge was healthy and fit, and looked years younger than her age. Among possible complications for older mothers are gestational diabetes and high blood pressure, and the team watched her health carefully, viewing the pregnancy as high-risk.
Cecile Eledge took estrogen supplements for the first part of the pregnancy, Smith said, until the placenta holding Uma was able to make hormones of its own.
The politics of helping a gay couple and the unusual choice of a grandmother for a surrogate did not deter the team, Smith said.
“We never gave that a second thought,” Smith said. “She was pregnant and the circumstances of how she got pregnant are between her and her family.”