I thought I was done having children in my twenties. By 30, I'd had my three children Michelle, Daniel, and Matthew. But in December 2017 when Matthew and his husband Elliot told me they were ready to start a family, and that Elliot’s sister Lea had offered to donate her eggs to make that happen, I realized the whole thing could be a family affair. I didn’t even think about it; I just blurted out, “If you’re looking for someone to carry the baby, I would do it in a heartbeat.”
There were a lot of reasons why my son laughed when I said that. Namely, I was 60 years old and had gone through menopause years earlier, at 52. He joked, “Thanks, but I think you’re missing some of the pieces we need.” And we kind of left it at that. It wasn’t until he and Elliot went to see their fertility doctor a few weeks later that we learned that I was a serious candidate.
At the appointment, the doctor asked if they had any options for gestational carriers and Matthew jokingly said, “Well, my mom keeps offering but I know that’s not an option” because I’d been through menopause already. The doctor didn’t find that funny at all. She asked some questions about my health and whether I’d had a hysterectomy (no). He told her that I was in really good shape; I’m an avid runner and have always been conscious about my eating habits. So she said, “Let’s bring her in and have a conversation.”
I jumped in with both feet after that. The one thing I felt bad about was that I had volunteered for the job without even asking my husband. When I realized my mistake, I apologized because it would be a major lifestyle change for him too. But he just looked at me and said, “I can tell from the way you spoke to them that you’re determined to do this and I know in my gut it’s the right thing to do.” So once I had his support, I went ahead and made the appointment.
At this point, I half expected the doctor to say, “It’s nice you’re doing this, but it’s not going to be able to happen physically.” But right off the bat she told me I looked like a viable candidate. She ordered some extra tests: a yearly physical, a pap smear, blood work, and a meeting with a cardiologist. I don’t like leaving things unfinished, plus I knew Matthew and Elliot wanted an answer as soon as possible, so I scheduled all the appointments right away. Every time I got a good report, my husband and I would laugh. We just couldn’t believe that every doctor was telling us there was no reason why I couldn’t carry a child to full-term and deliver it naturally at my age. I started to think, Oh my gosh, maybe I can do this. I just really trusted our doctors; they were very cautious, but they also seemed confident it could work.
By the end of January 2018, we got the go-ahead to move forward with me as the surrogate. When we were leaving that last appointment with my prescriptions for everything I’d need to get my body ready for the IVF transfer, I looked at my husband and said, “Oh my god, it’s really happening, isn’t it?” And he did, at that moment, ask if I wanted to back out. But I said, “No, I committed to the boys that I was going to do this.” Sometimes in life things are thrown at us and we have to go outside of our comfort zone.
We couldn’t start the IVF process right away. Lea, Elliot's sister, was due to give birth in February, so doctors had to wait until eight weeks after that to retrieve her eggs. And Matthew was treated like any sperm donor. Which means they had to test his samples for all kinds of infectious diseases and quarantine it for six months before they could create the embryos. The boys also opted to have genetic testing done to determine which of the embryos were viable before we did the transfer.
Despite my age, the only thing I had to do differently is take daily estrogen to restart my menstrual cycle since I’d already gone through menopause. I did ask the doctor about that early on; I worried the hormones would take me out of menopause and I’d have to go through that whole process again. That might have been a deal breaker. But she assured me that wouldn’t happen. Our goal was to do the transfer in July, so I started taking the estrogen in April.
I know some people experience side effects like cramping and bloating when taking estrogen, but I didn’t notice anything like that. The biggest downside was getting my period again. I thought it would be light since I hadn’t had one in seven years, but no. I was like Wow, I didn’t miss that. But luckily I only had to do that for three months; the IVF was successful on the first try.
About a week before the transfer, I started taking daily progesterone shots. The hardest part was that I had to take them at the same time every day, so I had to make sure someone could always be there to do it. If my husband wasn’t around, Matt or my sister, who is a nurse, would come over. When they had me come in for the final test to make sure I was ready for the transfer, the doctor called my uterus “beautiful.” I thought that was hilarious. I told them, “I always wanted to be called beautiful, I just didn’t know it would be in reference to my uterus.”
A lot of people doing IVF transfer more than one embryo at a time because it increases your chances of having a viable pregnancy. You can also end up with multiple pregnancies, which of course increases your risk of complications for both the mother and baby. Matt and Elliot only had three viable embryos from the first round of IVF. And given my age, our doctor was pretty adamant that we only transfer one at a time. The whole procedure lasted maybe 10 minutes. And then they sent me home with orders to put my feet up for the rest of the day. It was really sweet because the boys came over to make sure I had something to eat and even rented a movie to watch together (Baby Mama). I knew they were going to be involved from the very beginning, but they really went over and above doting on me.
The doctor told us to come back 10 days later for an in-office pregnancy test. But we just couldn’t wait. Matt had bought me all these pregnancy tests, the most expensive ones that can detect the earliest signs of pregnancy. I took the first one on the fifth morning and was so disappointed when it came back negative.
This whole time, I had never been afraid to do the hormones or give birth or any of that. My biggest fear was always that I would go through this whole process and the pregnancy wouldn’t take. The boys had put their trust in me, had invested so much time and money, and I didn’t want to let them down. As a mom, you want things to go smoothly for your children. So when Matt texted to ask about the results, I replied with a frowny face. But I was still trying to stay positive because I knew we had another week and I held on to the hope that the blood tests would show something different.
Another reason why I couldn’t dwell on it too much was that I felt like crap. I had taken a walk that morning after doing the test and the whole time I was just thinking, God, I do not feel good. The smells were getting to me. I was tired. I thought maybe I was coming down with the flu. When Matt showed up later that afternoon to check on me, I was laying down on a bench in our gazebo. I told him, “I may have gotten a negative but I’m telling you what, I feel like crap.”
We were talking about how disappointed we both were. And I told Matt, “If this one doesn’t stick, you don’t have to feel obligated. Just because I volunteered doesn’t mean I have to do this.” I knew they only had two embryos left, so the stakes were high. I didn’t want them to—for lack of a better word—waste the embryos on me if they’re not taking. At one point he asked if he could just see the test I’d taken that morning, so I showed it to him. He said, “Mom, I think I see a second line.”
My first thought was: Oh, he wants this so bad he’s imagining things. I felt bad for him. But he kept insisting and asked me to go take another test just in case. Of course, we hadn’t told my husband we’re doing any of this because the doctors told us to wait. So we’re walking in and out of the house whispering to each other. But when I took the second test, there was no mistaking it: The second line was there. We were so excited we couldn’t hold it in; I told my husband and Matt ran home to Elliot. The family joke then became, she may have the body and uterus of a 20-year-old, but she clearly has the eyes of a 60-year-old.
Up to that point, we’d kept what we were doing between the five of us who were directly involved in case it didn’t work. But once we knew I was pregnant, we decided to tell Matthew’s siblings. My husband and I had everyone over to dinner that night and told them what was happening. They were really shocked at first, which is a natural reaction. I kept reminding my husband that we’d had time to come to terms with everything, but they were hearing it for the first time when I was already pregnant and it was a lot. They did come around and were supportive once we told them about the procedure and they had a little time to let everything sink in. We love to joke around in our family. So after that whenever one of their friend’s would tell them someone they knew was pregnant the one-liner became, “Yeah, so is my mom.” We thought that was funny.
We didn’t tell anybody else until I was through the first trimester. Then we went to both sides of our family separately and told all the aunts and uncles. They were shocked, but at the same time really excited for us. Unbeknownst to me, one of my nieces had found out she was pregnant a week before me; I’m sure she didn’t expect her aunt to announce her pregnancy before she was able to, but we were able to laugh about it. And once our family knew, we had support from every angel.
The pregnancy progressed relatively smoothly. I did get gestational diabetes around six months, but that’s relatively common. And I was able to manage it on my own through diet and exercise without having to see a specialized doctor or take insulin. Matt and Elliot were really helpful with that. Elliot is a vegetarian and he and Matt both eat really healthy. So once they found out I was pregnant, they came over and cleared out my refrigerator and freezer of all the foods that weren’t as healthy. Then replaced it with lots of spinach and chia seeds for protein drinks. They’d even prepare meals for me. I told Matthew if diabetes was the biggest bump in the road we had, we were doing okay.
Because I was eating so healthy and stayed active throughout my pregnancy, I never got real big. Most people couldn’t even tell I was pregnant until I hit the seven-month mark. But at that point people definitely started to stare or ask questions whenever they would see us. Most people were supportive, at least to our face. Still, I knew there were naysayers and I’d try to avoid bringing up the pregnancy around them. It wasn’t that I was trying to hide anything. I just didn’t want the negativity because I knew I was doing the right thing. We didn’t do this to offend anybody or make anyone feel uncomfortable. We did this because it was the best thing for our family at the time.
My husband, on the other hand, loved the shock factor. He’d see people staring and he’d go right up to them and say “Oh, did I tell you my wife is pregnant?” He was just so proud of what we were doing and that was his way of making light of the situation. We used to laugh when we’d go to the fertility doctor; they’d call my name and all four of us would stand up and walk back there together. I wouldn’t want to look at anyone because I knew they were looking at us old people going, “Are they really at a fertility clinic?” But my husband got the biggest kick out of watching everyone try to figure out why the four of us were there. We really had a lot of humor throughout the whole pregnancy—you had to because it’s not the norm. Our situation is so unique and creative and special. I would never have traded any of this for anything.
My due date was April 4, 2019, but my blood pressure got high toward the end and the doctors decided to induce me a few days early. I went in on a Sunday, March 24, and after several hours of labor my granddaughter was born the following day on March 25, at 6:06 a.m. I was the first one to hold her and have that skin-on-skin contact while the doctors did all the post-delivery care. About 10 minutes later when it was time to move me, I handed the baby off to Matthew and Elliot so they could do skin-to-skin.
A few people asked, “Isn’t it going to be hard for you to give this baby up in the end?” But the whole pregnancy and birth was so different than it was with my three kids because this one was never mine. From the moment we went in for that first ultrasound, she was always our granddaughter and Matthew and Elliot’s daughter. I remember watching them go over to weigh and measure her after the delivery—it was almost like an out-of-body experience. I felt this relief wash over me and I thought, My chapter of this story is done, now it’s Matthew and Elliot’s turn to finish the book. I just knew she was where she was supposed to be and I was where I was supposed to be. They get to start their journey as a family and I get to be just grandma. And she’ll always have a piece of me; they named her Uma Louise because Louise is my middle name.
As for me, I bounced back better than I ever expected. My blood pressure returned to normal a week after the delivery. I was back on the elliptical and running within three weeks. It feels good to have my energy and balance back. And no more periods!
You know the saying, “It takes a village to raise a family?” Well, it did take a village in this case. We might not have done things the “normal” way, but I’ve always said normal is boring. When Uma is old enough, Matt says they’re going to explain it to her like this: Aunt Lea gave her a little spark of life, and I provided the space for her to thrive and grow. I think it’s wonderful that she’ll know she was so wanted and loved, the whole family came together to bring her into this world. This is our story and we’re proud of it.
The family affair continues: You can follow Uma’s journey on Elliot’s Instagram, @ephemeral.elliot.
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Ashley is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and former longtime editor at Glamour and, before that, Page Six Magazine (#RIP). In addition to those publications, her work has appeared in/on Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, Goodhousekeeping.com, Self, Refinery29, The Well, Boston.com, The New York Post, The New York Times, Mademan.com, and various other outlets.
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