Many grandmothers are in the room or just down the hall when their grandchild enters the world, waiting anxiously to meet the baby who will make their baby a parent.
But 61-year-old Cecile Eledge wasn't just in the delivery room when her granddaughter Uma was born earlier this week. As first reported by BuzzFeed News, she was the one giving birth to her.
"It started off as really a joke. My mom, she loved being pregnant and she also really wants grandchildren—and has gone to great lengths to make that happen," Cecile's son, Uma's father Matthew Eledge explained in an interview with Motherly.
Cecile was the gestational surrogate for Matthew and his husband, Elliot Dougherty. As a gestational surrogate, Cecile did not provide an egg (that came from Elliot's sister, Lea) but did carry her granddaughter in her womb.
As Matthew tells Motherly, Uma's birth was a community effort and her upbringing will be too.
"My mom, I believe she's the hero of the story because she had to endure so much, but at the same time, my partner's sister, she was generous enough to donate her eggs and she didn't have to do that. That required a huge invasion of her life," he says, noting that while Uma has two men for parents, her little family is surrounded by and supported by women.
Matthew continues: "There's something about women that is irreplaceable and healing and powerful and amazing, so thank God we have these women around us, not just for us, but also for our daughter to grow up and witness and be inspired by."
The journey to Uma
Like many LGBTQ couples, Matthew and Elliot put a lot of thought into how they were going to become parents, like two years worth of thought. They knew that if they used Matthew's sperm and Elliot's sister's egg they would both be genetically related to their child, but they would still need a gestational surrogate, and Cecile surprised her son by volunteering.
Matthew says he kind of scoffed at the idea at first, as his mother was ten years beyond menopause when she made the offer. Still, he mentioned it to the couple's IVF specialist and to his surprise, the doctor didn't think it was so crazy.
Cecile's son describes her as someone who has been "ridiculously healthy all her life" and when Dr. Maud Doherty at Methodist Women's Hospital started testing Cecile's fitness for gestation, it became clear that despite her age, she could be a good candidate for gestational surrogacy.
Bringing Uma into the world was an act of love that brought her two dads (Matthew's on the right), her aunt and her grandmother together, as is clearly seen in the maternity photos taken by photographer Ariel Panowicz, who also captured Uma's birth.
"I have this daughter who was born into a world where her Aunt Lea gave a piece of herself for her to grow, and her grandmother provided a warm, loving environment for [the pregnancy] to come to fruition, and then we have my great childhood friend Laurie, who has been pumping and freezing her breastmilk so she can nourish this girl," Matthew explains.
Each one of these women offered Matthew and Elliot an incredible gift during this process. Matthew says there's something about new parenthood that makes people speak in cliches, but that "it truly does take a village".
We all need a village
Matthew and Elliot, along with Lea, Cecile and Laurie acted as a team to bring Uma into the world, and while it made Matthew feel vulnerable to rely on others, he wishes more parents, gay or straight, could embrace vulnerability and have the kind of support system that he and Elliot have behind them.
"We've gotten into this mindset where, moms especially, have more pressures then I think they've ever had before. They have to do it all but also they don't get to ask for help. And I think that's just such a shame. It's a shame for women, it's a shame for fathers and it's a shame for kids," he explains.
For Matthew, having people behind him as he parents his daughter is as important as having help in conceiving her. Leaning on the strong women around him has given him confidence he wasn't always sure he would find as a father.
"I went into this process of building a family with a lot of fears, like would I be able to tap into what I believe is 'maternal magic'? In this process I've learned that I can, especially with the help of others."
A mother's amazing gift
He's been a father for a few days now, and Matthew still can't really believe the gift his mother gave him.
"This is a big undertaking, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually, and for her to say that it was no problem, I think that speaks volumes to her character, to make such a sacrifice, such a selfless act for the sake of her own child, even when they're grown...I just think it's so powerful," he explains.
It is powerful and rare. Only a handful of women over sixty have carried their grandchildren as gestational surrogates, and even with Cecile being in such great health, having an embryo take on the first try is pretty kind of amazing.
Medical technology and the couple's village made this process as easy as possible, but state laws in Nebraska have not. As Matthew explains, on Uma's birth certificate he and his mom are unfortunately listed as Uma's parents (even though Cecile is not Uma's biological mother) and Elliot is not recognized at all.
In some states, a baby's intended parents are recognized on the birth certificate and the surrogate is not, but that's not how it is in Nebraska, so Elliot will have to adopt Uma in order to be recognized as her legal father.
Despite the legal red tape Elliot is just as much Uma's parent as Matthew is. As Elliot explained in a recent Instagram post, the new dads are living life "in two hour intervals now" (something we can totally relate to).
"I know we've got this," Elliot writes. "Matthew is an incredible dad. I didn't know I could love him any deeper than I already did, but watching him with her is so beautiful."
And so is the story of her birth, and the amazing gift that Matthew's mother and Elliot's sister gave these loving dads.
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