OMAHA, NE — It’s been said so often that it “takes a village to raise a child” that the phrase has become trite. But in the case of an Omaha, Nebraska, couple, it took a village just to bring their child into the world. Uma Louise Dougherty-Eledge’s birth was normal in all respects, even if the months leading up to it were anything but typical.
The birth mother is Uma’s grandmother, Cecile Reynek Eledge, 61. She carried the baby to term for her son, Matthew Eledge, and son-in-law, Elliot Doughtery. The baby was conceived via in vitro fertilization using sperm from Eledge and an egg from Doughterty’s sister, Lea Yribe.
The post-menopausal Cecile Eledge handled the March 25 birth with aplomb.
“The strength and poise that [she] demonstrated at 61 years old while giving birth was truly a sight to see,” photographer Ariel Panowicz, who provided a pictorial essay of the birth for the family, told Yahoo Lifestyle. “She was so calm, (literally didn’t make a peep during birth), and had the energy of a true warrior.”
And the look that Cecile Eledge gave her son and son-in-law when they saw their baby girl for the first time was “enough to drain every dang tear from your body,” Panowicz told Yahoo.
“Each person involved in the creation of this little girl is filled with pure love, selflessness and acceptance for one another,” Panowicz said. “This is what family is.”
Several of Matthew’s college friends had offered to be surrogates, “but when push comes to shove, that’s a huge commitment,” Eledge told CNN. They also didn’t like the “corporate” feel of conducting a financial transaction to have a baby. Lea’s donation of her eggs stripped away another concern about creating what could be called a designer baby. Uma Lu has genetic traits from both of her parents.
“When you are gay and married and want to have a kid, you go into it with knowledge that you are going to have to create a family in a special way,” Matthew told CNN. “There are creative, unique ways to build a family.”
Cecile loved being pregnant when she carried her own three children. “It was kind of a no-brainer” to help the couple after the team at Reproductive Health Specialists at Methodist Women’s Health in Omaha conducted a battery of tests and gave her the all-clear, Cecile told BuzzFeed News.
Matthew and Elliot thought it was a sweet gesture, but questioned whether she was up to it. It’s rare that a 61-year-old is fit enough to have a healthy pregnancy, though Cecile isn’t the oldest woman to act as a surrogate.
“There are probably only a handful of people across the country who can do this — only a handful of people who have done it,” Elliot told BuzzFeed.
Cecile was pregnant after the first transfer of a fertilized egg. By seven months, she had a baby bump.
“People were genuinely curious,” Matthew told BuzzFeed. “They even had questions about incest. But this is so new and so unique. People didn’t understand at first, but once they do, they’re ridiculously supportive — they think it’s radical and amazing. They’re really inspired by my mom.”
Kirk Eldege told BuzzFeed his wife was “a rock star” at pre-birth appointments at the fertility clinic.
“Now, my wife is 61, and she doesn’t look it. I’m 66 years old, and I look 66. When we were sitting in the clinic with the two boys, and they’d call out ‘Eledge’ and all four of us got up to go,” he told the news site.
Jaws often dropped and others in the waiting room “would just stare, trying to figure out the dynamic of this whole thing.”
The experience only strengthened the bond between Kirk and Cecile.
“This happened, and it became pretty special,” he told BuzzFeed. “I’ve just had a real love for her all my life, and now this is even more special.”
Cecile told the news site that, “overall it has really humbled me.”
“When I offered to do this, I didn’t do this to be the center of attention,” she said. “It was just my natural instinct to offer.”
On Facebook, the couple chronicled the impending arrival on “Earth side” of Uma Lu, as they call their baby girl.
“We are so incredibly grateful,” Elliot wrote on March 11 in a post with pictures of Cecile and Lea, the women who made it all possible. “What an honor it is to have these two women in our life. What a beautiful gift this has been.”
The world has fallen deeply and hopelessly in love with Uma Lu. And they have been remarkably accepting of “something that is so seemingly different than what society perpetuates as a ‘normal family,’ ” Panowicz told Yahoo of the photos she posted on social media of Uma Lu’s arrival.
“I think it’s a beautiful reminder to all of us just how powerful love can be,” wrote Panowicz, who also photographed the couple’s wedding. “Baby Uma will be surrounded and raised by an amazing family, starting with her two dads.”
Along the pure selflessness of some of the people they love the most, the outpouring of love and acceptance cleared up some of their concerns about raising their daughter in Omaha.
“Politically, things haven’t always been in our favor here,” Matthew, who was fired from a teaching job because he is gay, told BuzzFeed. “Elliot and I thought this wasn’t necessarily a place to raise a family as a gay couple, but we value family so much — here, we have a close-knit community. And that makes it a really good place to live.”
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