Danielle & Jon

*Danielle, Social Worker & Jon, Financial Advisor*

Today’s wedding graduate post is the perfect compliment to this morning’s post on becoming a stepparent. When Danielle walked down the aisle, she also (surprise!) was walking into parenthood and building a bigger family than just the two of them. She discusses that, and learning to negotiate boundaries with family with astonishing grace. (And now that we’ve said the deep things, can we take a moment to talk about how breathtaking she looks in that dress? Because girlfriend…. yes.)

Let me just start this by saying: I have been having a difficult time reflecting on my actual wedding day and the ten month planning process leading up to it, since five weeks, almost exactly, after that day my husband and I found out that I am pregnant. This was a surprise and one that we are still (six months later) wrapping our minds around. I have always thought, rather abstractly, that I would like to have children some day, but that day always seemed distant and far removed from my everyday choices. I have accepted the fact that having created life has permanently altered my memories of our wedding day and what was/was not significant about that day for us. If anything, it has allowed me to focus more on the relationships that are significant to me and the promises that we made to each other.

We received our wedding photos and a small clip of a wedding video just days after finding out that we would be having a baby. I remember looking at those pictures and it all seemed so distant and removed from where our lives had catapulted to in the previous forty-eight hours. Most of the “pretty details” that I worked so on are now blurred into the background of my memories.

Six months after our wedding, our relationship and our lives are completely different from what we planned. (“But in a good way,” is what I keep adding as an addendum when I try to explain this to people.) The vows that we made to each other that day seem much less theoretical. This is not some “future family” we are creating. This. Is. Real.

There are a few things that stand out to me as worth mentioning when I think about our wedding:

  1. Going to premarital counseling. I grew up in the Catholic Church, and while we were not married in the church I still held the belief that premarital counseling was an important step in wedding planning. Since we were married on the beach in Santa Cruz by a good friend of ours who got ordained for the event, this was not a prerequisite. However, I am so happy that we made it a priority. We met with a therapist through the Relationship Counseling Center for three or four sessions in the two months before our wedding and this opportunity allowed us to further ground ourselves in our relationship. We had spent so much time/energy/emotions planning this wedding and it was equally important to me to spend time preparing for our marriage. This is what premarital counseling allowed us to do. (It was also the much-needed push for me to set some serious boundaries with my mother prior to our wedding day.)
  2. People generally act the way they always act, even on your wedding day. A very old friend of mine, who is often flakey, was nowhere to be found for most of the wedding day. My mother, who struggles with being there for me emotionally, was the same way on my wedding day. My extended family who all seem to have some conflict with each other did not call a truce, even for my wedding day. I knew that this was all possible, even likely, going into that day, but it still hurt. I was, however, able to set some boundaries and still enjoy the day (thank you premarital counselor).
  3. Being happy on my wedding day was a choice. A few days before the wedding, I was home packing our things to get ready to head to Santa Cruz. It was then that I noticed that my grandmother’s wedding veil, which was made by her mother and worn by eight other brides in my family was not in my closet, wrapped in tissue where it had been sitting on a shelf for the past two months. Following the frantic searching, panic attacks, and crying that lasted for hours, I found out that my husband had mistakenly thrown it away at least a week prior. Obviously, this was heartbreaking for me, my husband, my grandmother, and our entire family. I was still struggling with this on our drive to Santa Cruz two days before the wedding, when in the car my now-husband asked, “Did I ruin our wedding for you? Are you going to be able to happy this weekend?” I realized that I controlled whether or not I was going to be happy. I made, what seemed at the time to be, the difficult choice of being happy. This set the tone for all that followed. Each time that something went wrong, I made a choice that I was still going to have a wonderful day. And I did. I loved Jon so much that day. I loved all of my family and Jon’s family and our friends so much. Our ceremony was beautiful and our reception was the exact kind of party I would want to go to if I was a wedding guest.
  4. Spending ten minutes with my dad before the wedding ceremony. My parents are divorced and my father is a man of few words. As part of my setting boundaries with my mother, I knew I would need at least ten minutes away from her, before the ceremony began. This was time for me to decompress and “get in the moment.” I asked my father if he would come and “rescue” me ten minutes before the ceremony so that I could have that space. What I didn’t count on is how much those ten minutes with my father would stand out in my memory of that day. Since I hadn’t planned on what we would do during those ten minutes, I just sat on a balcony in his hotel room with him while he had a beer and we watched guests arrive at the ceremony site on the beach below. I also practiced my wedding vows for him and we both teared up. This was a very special moment for us.

These are the things that stand out to me now. I have read and re-read our vows to myself many times since our wedding day. The meaning and significance of those words seems to have expanded almost exponentially. When I promised to be Jon’s “partner in life, in love, in parenthood, in old age, and in everything that life has in store for us” I didn’t realize how quickly I would be living up it.

I really wasn’t prepared for such shifts in our relationship after the wedding. We had been living together prior, with joint finances, and I seriously believed that we had already become a family. I viewed our ceremony and reception as a way of celebrating the commitment that we were already making to each other in our daily lives. In part, our wedding was that. And maybe the reason I see it as much more of a “turning point” now is because of the significant ways our lives have changed in the months following.

I never imagined that I would be married and having a baby at 26 years old. I didn’t know if I was ever going to have children biologically and I had only recently come around to the idea of marriage. So this is all new territory for me. Our wedding was truly one of the most special days of my life (and it is okay if I don’t know at this point if it was truly that special because it marks, in my mind, the beginning of our lives as parents). Or maybe The Wedding Day Gods somehow knew that this was how it would all unfold and they gave us those lessons and that day because they knew it was just what we needed.

The Info—Photography: Mike Danen / Videographer: Couture MotionVenue: Cowell Beach & Dream Inn / Dress: J.Crew / Jewelry: Favor Jewelry

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  • PA

    Your grin! It is so contagious! (And yes, the dress. And the HAIRSTYLE. I love it!)

    I really liked your reflections on the changes after marriage – having been pre-engaged, I was shocked at the changes when we had had an opportunity to ask each other officially (i.e., in person, not miming over skype). My parents said, smiling, that I would be surprised at the changes after marriage, too, and it’s nice to hear the same thing from a (happy) peer!

    I get the sense that you are struggling to absorb all of these changes, but that you are definitely coming to this from a place of joy – and that is so wonderful! I wish you all the best! (And hope for another wedding graduate post down the line!)

  • My sister-in-law is in a similar situation– she and her husband found out they were pregnant 8 weeks after their wedding day! Thank you for this post– you write with such grace. I wish the two of you nothing but the best.

  • Jessica

    A great post! Like you were, we are unsure about having children, and I honestly don’t know how I’d feel if we got pregnant now. I think I would come around to the idea and I would obviously love my child, but it would be incredibly difficult. I love when you said that being happy on your wedding day (or ever really) is a choice. Happiness IS a choice. My life has been so much better since I realized that and remind myself of that.

    And yes, your dress, hair, and everything about your wedding was beautiful!

  • I know it’s been said here before, but I love the reminder about how being happy and letting things go can be a CHOICE.

    • Amanda M.

      That is so so true. My now-husband accidentally saw me in my dress just an hour before the ceremony. It was only a glance, but it was enough to send me into a crying fit. After a short conversation with my photographer, who assured me he had NOT seen me, I knew I could either believe this bald-faced lie, and enjoy the rest of my day, or let that one tiny misstep ruin an otherwise perfect day. I made the choice to move on and be happy and have not regretted it for a single second!

  • Irene

    Terrific post, and off-topic but your wedding was at the same spot as my first date with my husband, more than 10 years ago!

    • Danielle

      That is wonderful! Jon and I had one of our first dates on this beach too! We saw Eddie Money preform at one of the Friday night free concerts on the beach one summer.

  • Mary

    What a fantastic post about dealing with the unfortunate (family antics) and unexpected (babies!). I would love to hear more about managing boundaries and expectations around family members and learning how to choose happiness despite their behavior during such momentous life occasions. My mother is also emotionally unavailable/unsupportive (and at times destructive), but still operates very much in the non-divorced family unit, which complicates my relationship with other family members too. It also frankly terrifies me to get married to my partner because I am so worried about ending up with my parents marriage. It’s good to hear how you looked disappointment in the face, chose strength and happiness, and came out stronger on the other side.

    • Ash

      I know exactly how you feel, my parents (and other family members tied into their mess) are pretty destructive at times. I’m not exactly terrified of my marriage becoming like theirs, although turning out like my mom is my biggest fear in life, I know I’ve taken lots of steps to (hopefully) avoid that. But I am worried about them ruining my wedding day. So its good that this post talks about choosing happiness in light of all that family cr*p! :) Also, we’ll probably have a private ceremony a few months before our wedding day, hopefully in Ireland or the English countryside!

      • Josephine

        A post about how to not become your parents would also be a good idea!

      • Flamingo

        Boundary setting with parents who you’re not close to is such an important topic and one that I would also love to hear more about. I’m pretty terrified of planning a wedding for exactly this reason!

        • Danielle

          Wedding planning, as a whole, was a huge test in my ability to set boundaries when needed, especially with my mom. Granted this is something that I have worked on for years. Going to premarital counseling was the first time I really realized how the boundaries I set (or didn’t set, or didn’t set consistently) affected my partner. THAT was a huge turning point. Especially now with knowing that I am having a child, the importance of those boundaries is so clear to me.
          It is hard to know what boundaries are right for each person in their own relationships. During the wedding planning process, we made difficult decisions to not invite certain family members. With everyone else, I just “did what felt right” in terms of deciding who to include and to what extent. Then the day of, I had to just accept each person for who they are and choose my own happiness. I, personally, struggle with carrying around all these “shoulds” in regarding to how I think people *should* act… When in reality, I don’t have any control over others’ actions, only my own and my reactions. At least that was my mantra throughout the day.

    • Michelle

      *Seriously.* I have a boundary-free mother and my parents’ awful-yet-ongoing marriage lurking in the background the whole time I’m sitting around trying to be normal and optimistic about my own wedding in four months. I just got a copy of a potential ceremony from an officiant with our actual names in it, and whoa this is really happening, I am actually going to stand up and make the king of all optimistic statements about loving someone *forever* when I have Debbie Downer hanging around pointing out everything that can go horribly wrong?! Holy CRAP.

      I have been on the couch for years so I’d like to think I have the tools to deal with my mom, but I also know she still triggers the crap out of me despite everything. At this point, it’s about the only thing I’m genuinely worried about re: the wedding.

  • I love the reminder about how happiness really is a choice. Also, what a great argument for the importance of pre-marital counseling!

  • AMBI

    Your comments about your ten minutes with your dad prior to your wedding really hit home with me. That sounds like exactly what I need right before my own (eventual) wedding. For me, it is because I am extremely close with my mom, but my dad is also a man of few words, like yours. He always seems to be just in the background of my memories, instead of front and center like my mom. Having a few minutes with him right before the ceremony just to relax and drink a beer sounds perfect.

    You look absolutely beautiful, by the way. I kind of feel like the way you looked on your wedding day is how we all envision ourselves on our own wedding days – happy, comfortable, beautiful, calm, and smiling.

  • Rachael (with the extra "a"")

    A lot of your situation really resonated with me. Not identifying as Catholic, but having been raised that way, both my husband and I also found that boundary-setting is a huge (HUGE) part of the success of our marriage — before, during, and after the wedding! This rite of passage helped a bit with this (but only momentarily)… Somehow it is a never-ending succession when it comes to boundary-setting and the life process (boundaries for self-identity/spirituality, boundaries for the new “baby” family, boundaries about babies, boundaries for lifestyle, holidays, finances, parental/extended family involvement in general, you name it!)… WHEW! Makes me exhausted just thinking about it.

  • Rachel T.

    What a beautiful and well written post. I was wondering if you, or someone, could speak more on how to handle fighting adults on your wedding day. I’m about to bring this up in our pre-martial counseling as well, for our October wedding, because my fiancés parents are divorced and secretly dating again behind the family’s back because she had an affair with the father’s sister’s husband 10 years ago. It’s way more complicated (yes really) than that, but it’s a very toxic situation, things are starting to escalate again, and it seems she is about to use our wedding as a place to open this pandora’s box of their “new” (read also 2 year) relationship secret. So when people started fighting and boundaries were broached on your wedding day, how did you handle it? How do you stay happy when it starts? And how do you keep that day from being about them instead of your new family/promises?

    • Josephine

      It’s not fair of her to do that on your wedding day- it should be about you and your partner. Can you persuade them to either do it before so the fall out is done, or after so that it doesn’t ruin your day?

      • Rachel T.

        I’m trying to figure out how to balance having that conversation with maintaining boundaries about their relationship. I would rather my fiancé have it since it’s his mother, but he’s not too verbal either, so we’re trying to figure out how to handle it. I agree – it’s definitely not fair, not to mention SO unhealthy!! But that’s a whole other ordeal… for now, I just need some advice how what to do on the day of, in case she doesn’t listen or do as we ask. Thanks for the support! <3

        • Gloria

          oh boy, i don’t envy you needing to have that talk with your future in-laws. i would just stress to them that your wedding should be about them sending you and their son off into a happy marriage, and that starting family drama is unacceptable. but it should at least start with your fiance saying something, and then chiming in?

          if his mother decides to drop the bomb on your wedding day anyway, i would just take the high road and say that you wish them the best and oh sorry, but i have to go say hello to my cousin mimi, i haven’t seen her in ages!

        • Caroline

          It seems to me that having the conversations together would be helpful. To discuss with your fiance in advance what you are going to say, say it together, and present a united front. Helps with the whole “we are a family now” setting boundaries thing to approach family members united.

          • Rachel T.

            Thank you – that’s a great idea!! We will try that. Until now, I’ve left his family to him, but that doesn’t stop that from unloading on me about their relationship drama that they choose to keep from their son (SO UNHEALTHY). But I hadn’t thought about presenting a united front, showing ourselves as on the same page, instead of “his family not mine” sort of thing. It may even help keep them from telling me the things they don’t tell their son. I smell more boundaries being put in place! Thank you – that helps a lot.

        • Josephine

          Bless you, that’s a really tough and unfair problem to have. Good luck.

          For the day of, no matter what happens with them beforehand, is there anyone (or a few people) to act as emotional “bouncers”? People who keep the drama away from you and keep an eye on his mother to try to diffuse the tension? Is there a family friend or relative that could try to stick with her?

          Alternatively, I met a hypnotherapist that’s a specialist in weddings… We couldn’t figure out how to hypnotise someone without their knowledge though.

          And of course there always rohypnol ;-)

          (I kid of course! Don’t drug her!)

  • “Being happy on my wedding day was a choice.”

    One of the big take-homes I had following my wedding day was that happiness is not an absolute state of being, and it relies heavily on our interpretation of the facts as they are experienced. My wedding day was infused with the whole “people generally act the way they always act, even on your wedding day,” — including me! It was hot, I sometimes was cranky, I forgot to eat while we were getting ready, I wanted to throttle my mother. BUT! It was also beautiful and filled with kindness and summer and home brew. I recognized in retrospect I could either tell myself a story of imperfections and guilt, or I could tell myself a story that would make me happy. The stories we tell ourselves are an important tool in building our happiness. I wish I’d known that earlier, but I’m glad to know it now.

  • Such a beautiful post. I’ve been pondering it all day. Thank you for sharing.

  • S

    This was a wonderful post, and I very much appreciate the advice to spend time with my father before the ceremony. My mother also “struggles with being there for me emotionally” and I think having some time alone with my emotionally-present dad could be amazing.

    Incidentally, my wedding is in 13 days and is also in Santa Cruz, though not on Cowell beach. I do have many very fond memories of that beach, though. :-)

  • raakel

    Thanks for your post, Danielle. Congratulations on both your marriage and your new baby! I have a quick question for you – my fiance and I also live in Santa Cruz and we’re looking for a non-religiously focused pre-marital counselor. Can you give me further information about the Relationship Counseling Center you and your husband used? Thanks! Feel free to email me if that’s easier: rsuomessa@yahoo.com

    • Danielle

      Actually, the Relationship Counseling Center (http://www.relationshipcounselingcenter.org/) was in Berkeley, CA as we live in Oakland. But they also have therapists in San Francisco and other locations as well. I strongly recommend them to anyone considering secular premarital counseling.