A few months ago, this email on being an unwed mother popped into my email. Marion found herself unexpectedly pregnant in college, and only recently married her partner (and her son’s father). I thought her musings about ‘why marriage,’ and maybe more importantly ‘why NOT marriage,’ were a great way to start the year here at APW. Because weddings are beautiful and joyous, but they are at their best when the couple has really thought through why they are choosing the institution of marriage (legal or not). So with that, I give you Marion (and heck yes, her wedding graduate post is coming next week!):
I was reading through some of the older entries under Reclaiming Wife and I came across this post about Marriage Ambivalence. Part of it really struck a chord with me, the part where Meg talks about how many of her friends have children and have never married their partners.
I wanted to talk about this, because it reminded me a bit of my situation.
When I was 23, not even a year into dating my now husband, I became pregnant unexpectedly. I was a senior in college, completely broke, and dealing with a lot of my own personal things like depression and ADHD. I had known my husband for about two years before we started dating, and we were very very good friends. In fact, he was one of my best friends. The pregnancy came as a surprise, and we spent days talking and deliberating and reviewing options and reviewing ourselves in an effort to make the absolute best decision for us. We did not seek advice from friends or family, we did not want their input or advice. We didn’t want to feel shamed or pressured into making one decision or another, and so we came to the decision on our own. We decided to keep our child. It was one of the best decisions we have ever made. Even though we didn’t even know for sure if we would stay together for the duration, though we were fairly certain at the time. Even though we were both young and broke and totally uncertain of our future. I spent my senior year of college carrying a life and preparing to bring a child into the world. In an instant my priorities and outlook had shifted. I no longer had time to be depressed or unfocused. I couldn’t afford to be childish and selfish. I couldn’t go to parties with my friends, but suddenly it didn’t matter any more.
I told my sister first, over lunch, and she was so amazing and supportive and helped me gather the courage to tell my parents. My mother’s immediate reaction was a slightly irritated “Why am I not surprised?” However, she warmed up to it and was also became very supportive. My best friend was amazing, she already had a daughter of two. Wade’s parents were so thrilled I could hear them gleefully shouting through the phone. It surprised me how different our family’s reactions were, but maybe it shouldn’t have. We come from very different cultural backgrounds and had very different experiences growing up.
I finished college and got my degree. When I was eight months pregnant we moved to a different city and started a new life. Connor was born on September 15, 2005 and he was the most amazing thing.
When he was only a few months old I was visiting my family and talk of weddings and marriage came up. Wade and I were not yet engaged, though we had talked about it. We were sure it was going to happen, we just didn’t know when. We weren’t quite ready to make that commitment to each other, even though we knew we wanted to. There was pressure from my mom to get married sooner. She said “Wouldn’t it be better for Connor?” I said, “I refuse to get married just because I have a child. Yes, I’m quite sure Wade and I are going to get married, but not now. Not yet. I don’t believe in staying together just because there’s a child. We’re not ready yet, and I’m not going to rush it.” With reluctance my mother backed off, but it would still come up occasionally.
Three years into our relationship we finally got engaged. It was thrilling. It was wonderful. It was magic. I said yes without hesitation, but I still had lingering doubts about our relationship. We had just gone through an extremely rough period during which we spent six months apart. And so, we waited. Time went on and we had several false starts to planning. We’d set a date, start talking about it, getting ideas together, and then we would decide that no, we’re not quite ready yet. Finally, we were, and I am so glad we did. The wedding was wonderful and perfect and it epitomized what love and commitment is, what family and friends are for. It reinforced many of the values that are so important to us.
I am not the same person I was when I was pregnant. I am not the same person I was three years ago when we first got engaged. I am not even the same person I was when we started the official planning process. Throughout our entire relationship we have been scrutinized for our choices. For having a child and not being married. It was frustrating to correct people, always saying “No, he’s my fiance.” I could have let it go and simply said yes to him being my husband, but to me it was important to distinguish the difference. It was important to me to point out that just because I have a child I was neither a single parent, nor was I married.
My advice to all the other brides out there is to be unafraid to wait. Don’t be afraid to have as long or short an engagement as is right for you. Be unafraid of convention and don’t be afraid to defy it.
Photo by: Eric Smyklo in PA, who Marion recommends to EVERYONE