To some, there are few things more rewarding in life than building a romantic bond with another person. And after a relationship progresses – perhaps even to the altar – a happy couple typically consider a further big life change: whether or not to have a child together. That said, starting a family is not always an easy process.
And after Matthew Eledge and Elliot Dougherty tied the knot, they too began to entertain the possibility of becoming parents. Along the way, though, there were some obstacles in the pair’s path, and these setbacks in turn led them to go down alternative routes in a bid to have a baby.
Initially, Eledge and Dougherty looked into the possibility of having a child through in vitro fertilization – better known as IVF. The pair did plenty of research on the procedure, too, but nonetheless there was a hitch; as Dougherty later wrote for Love What Matters, “the whole process felt cold and corporate.” Yet all was seemingly not lost when the couple were offered help from an unexpected source.
You see, none other than Dougherty’s sister, Lea Yribe, proposed that she be the egg donor – a suggestion that naturally delighted the aspiring parents. As a result, then, Eledge and Dougherty just needed to find a surrogate mother to carry the baby. And for that task, Eledge’s 61-year-old mom, Cecile Reynek Eledge, duly offered her services. Would the procedure actually work given Reynek Eledge’s advanced age, though? Moreover, would the couple even take her proposition seriously?
Residents of Nebraska, Dougherty plies his trade as a hairdresser while also studying at the University of Nebraska Omaha; Eledge, on the other hand, was working as a school teacher at the time that he and his partner had embarked on their romance. This wasn’t the first time that the pair had met, though; they had actually come into contact a few years before, having encountered each other on social media.
“I had been putting myself out there as a hairstylist and building my portfolio by working with local photographers and designers,” Dougherty wrote on the lifestyle website Love What Matters. “At the beginning of July, I received a Facebook message from a young man named Matthew Eledge. His profile description said [that] he was a Martian and an artistic warrior.”
Intrigued, Dougherty then studied the rest of the message – which also included a potential opportunity. “[Eledge] sent me the script to a short film [that] he was directing, hoping I might be interested,” he continued. “We met a few days later on a humid summer day at a quaint French café in the Old Market of downtown Omaha.”
And following that initial get-together, Dougherty decided to join Eledge for the shoot – at which point a romance started to blossom. “That summer, we shot the film amid blistering record temperatures in a small nearby village,” the hairdresser wrote. “I styled the wigs while he stole my heart. He had such passion that everyone around him immediately trusted and believed in his vision.”
Then, later that year, Dougherty and Eledge chose to take a big step in their relationship by deciding to live together. The couple didn’t just stay in Nebraska, though. Instead, they traveled overseas for a spell in Europe, during which they visited countries from the Netherlands to Turkey.
As their trip came to an end, however, Dougherty started to look to the future. “Four months later, we headed back home, missing the life we fled,” he recalled on Love What Matters. “That’s when I began to dream of homesteading and starting a family.”
Yet while Dougherty and Eledge’s relationship continued to thrive, the hairdresser received some devastating news: sadly, his mom was diagnosed with cancer. And in the light of that heartbreaking discovery, he and his partner began to entertain the idea of tying the knot.
“In the past, we didn’t express the need to get married, but a part of us wanted to,” Dougherty admitted. “I wanted my mom to be there to see it. Suddenly, internal desires became urgent intentions. Gay marriage had just been legalized. [So,] in a heartbeat, we were engaged – but not without consequence.”
Indeed, not everyone took the couple’s commitment to marry well. When Eledge’s employers discovered that he and Dougherty were pressing ahead with the wedding, for instance, they took drastic action. Specifically, the teacher was informed that his contract would not be renewed, meaning he’d be out of work at the end of that year. And while Eledge’s students tried their best to reverse the school’s ruling, it didn’t change anything.
Undeterred, Eledge and Dougherty refused to call off their wedding. “The school didn’t budge, but neither did we,” Dougherty later wrote. “We were married that fall in the woods where we shot the film and first fell in love. We aren’t religious by any means, but the act of marriage felt surprisingly spiritual.”
Sadly, though, the newlyweds’ happiness was later punctuated by heartbreak, as Dougherty’s mom sadly succumbed to her cancer in the winter. Yet during this time of tragedy, something special happened: the hairdresser’s family grew by one, and he became an uncle for the first time. And this welcome addition to the Dougherty clan may have given him a new goal.
Yes, Dougherty wanted to become a parent himself, although his hopes were tinged with doubt that it wouldn’t happen. “In denial, I pretended [that] fatherhood was something I didn’t want,” he wrote on Love What Matters. Yet Eledge attempted to assuage those fears. “Having shared with him my calling for fatherhood, Matthew wouldn’t have it,” Dougherty continued. “He was determined.”
Still, even though the couple shared the same desire to have a child, Dougherty couldn’t help but look at the obstacles ahead of them. “Given how Matthew was fired from his job, we suspected [that] the adoption process may not be sympathetic to our dreams of building a family,” he wrote for Love What Matters. “Not to mention [that] it was illegal for same-sex couples to even foster a child two years prior.”
So, Dougherty and Eledge decided to go down a different path. In particular, the pair started to read about the IVF process and consider a number of potential egg donors. During that period, though, they felt that aspects of the treatment didn’t line up with their parenthood plans – and this, too, threw a spanner in the works.
Everything changed when Dougherty met up with Yribe, however. As the siblings spoke about the IVF treatment, Yribe offered to become an egg donor for her brother and his husband. And after thinking things through, Dougherty gladly accepted her proposal – not least because certain benefits would come with the process.
“I absolutely cherished this idea,” Dougherty wrote. “Not only would the child be genetically related to me and Matthew, but, more importantly, my mother’s legacy could [also] live on in our child, as it forever will in our hearts. Now we just needed to find someone willing to be a surrogate.”
Yet again, though, there were concerns that there could be setbacks. “Nebraska is a bit more conservative,” Eledge told NBC News in April 2019. “[We] were hesitant to go into [surrogacy] agencies and had a bit of fear that maybe [being a gay couple] would hold us back.”
And although those feelings of doubt continued to linger, Eledge and Dougherty were then blindsided by a surprising offer at a family gathering. When the subject of surrogacy was raised, you see, Eledge’s mom, Cecile Reynek Eledge, put herself forward as a potential candidate. She was 60 years old at that time, however, so the couple quickly dismissed the idea.
Nevertheless, Dougherty and Eledge’s decision changed following a meeting with their physician. “In a conversation with our IVF specialist, we mentioned the casual comment [that Reynek Eledge] had made,” the hairdresser wrote on Love What Matters. “Matthew laughed. Our doctor didn’t. Our doctor was a very direct, no-nonsense kind of gal.”
Yes, Reynek Eledge was actually a realistic candidate, according to the doctor. “Anyone can have a baby if they are healthy and have a uterus,” the medical professional was quoted as saying in Dougherty’s Love What Matters piece. “It’s all about egg quality, and considering that your sister is young and fertile, your chances are looking good. Bring your mother in, and we can see.”
Unsurprisingly, Dougherty and Eledge were still hesitant to proceed owing to Reynek Eledge’s age. However, despite these doubts, the sexagenarian proved herself through a number of different tests, with her cholesterol and blood pressure results both coming back fine. She was then given estrogen ahead of the next stage.
And after that, Reynek Eledge received the green light to become a viable surrogate, meaning the treatment could go ahead. “As the weather turned hot, my sister went through a series of intense shots and underwent surgery to retrieve 24 eggs,” Dougherty recalled. “Of those 24, 16 were considered mature, 13 were successfully fertilized with my husband’s sperm, and seven made it to day five.”
Dougherty added, “We sent those seven through pre-genetic screening, where they found [that] three of the embryos [were] viable for life. At our doctors’ advice, we decided to transfer only one embryo; carrying multiple babies is a major health risk for the carrier. The last thing we wanted to do was put the only mom we had left at risk.”
The transfer was then made, leading to an anxious wait for all involved. Yet while the family were left wondering if the IVF treatment had proved successful, Reynek Eledge had no regrets about anything that had happened up to that point. In her mind, it had been an easy decision to put herself forward.
“I just never hesitated,” Reynek Eledge told NBC News. “I was just so excited to be able to be part of this adventure with them. It was just unconditional love.” And, thankfully, the transfer was a success – as two pregnancy tests confirmed. Now, Dougherty and Eledge’s dream was on the verge of reality.
Over the next eight months, then, Reynek Eledge took all the precautions necessary to stay healthy while carrying the baby. Eledge and Dougherty began to prepare themselves for fatherhood, too, discussing baby names after finding out that they were having a little girl. And in the end, the happy couple opted for the name Uma Louise.
Then in March 2019 the big day finally arrived for the family – and in a rather dramatic manner, too. “Cele’s blood pressure began to rise alarmingly high,” Dougherty wrote on Love What Matters. “The doctor said she was at risk of gestational hypertension. At 38 weeks of pregnancy, he decided to have her induced.”
After everything that Dougherty and Eledge had gone through at that point, they were given access to the delivery room when the time came. And from there, the expectant parents caught a glimpse of an unforgettable moment. “The process of giving birth is truly indescribable,” Dougherty later said.
“I watched my charming, goofy mother-in-law shift into a silent, stoic warrior who dug deep within herself for this visceral, supernatural strength,” Dougherty continued. “Childbirth is not effortless magic, but it is an undeniable miracle. At 6:06 a.m., little Uma Louise joined us earth-side as Matthew and I uncontrollably wept.”
Then Uma Louise – who weighed in at just under six pounds – was given skin-to-skin contact with both her grandma and Dougherty. Reynek Eledge also responded well after the birth, defying her 61 years. And her efforts were certainly appreciated by her son, who would reflect on their memorable journey to CNN.
“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,” Eledge told the network in April 2019. “There are creative, unique ways to build a family. More than anything, we feel lucky to have women selfless enough to do this.”
Prior to Uma Louise’s birth, Eledge had also written a lengthy post on Facebook hailing both his mother and Yribe. He accompanied this heartfelt statement with a number of photos that saw the expectant dad appear alongside the two women and Dougherty. And the teacher’s words drew a big response on the social media site, earning over 2,000 likes and more than 430 shares.
When reflecting after the delivery, however, Eledge looked to the future and the conversation that he’ll have with his daughter regarding her birth. “I’ll tell her [that] Aunt Lea gave a piece of her,” he explained to NBC News. “She gave a seed to start the gift of life, and her grandmother provided the loving garden for her to bloom, and I think that’s gorgeous.”
As for Dougherty, he couldn’t help but notice a resemblance between Uma Louise and his own mother. In fact, while the hairdresser was caring for the baby, his mind flashed back to when he was looking after his ailing parent. And much as his husband had done, Dougherty praised the two women who had made the birth possible.
Mirroring Eledge’s sentiments, Dougherty reflected on the unlikely chain of events that had led to him becoming a parent. “Now, a week [after Uma Louise’s birth], I am holding my daughter in my arms [and] feeling a love I didn’t know existed,” he wrote on Love What Matters. “I still cannot believe how she came to be.”
Dougherty added, “[Uma Louise’s] beautiful aunt gave her the seed of life, her selfless grandma provided the loving garden for her to bloom, and my own mother’s example will help guide her as she grows. This is a story of two men in love surrounded on all sides by women. It’s an origin story of creativity – of true poetry.”