Why Having a Kid Didn’t Send Us Rushing to the Altar

We didn’t need a shotgun wedding

Wedding portrait of bride, groom, and son

When I was twenty-three, not even a year into dating my now husband, I became pregnant unexpectedly. I was a senior in college, completely broke, and dealing with depression and ADHD. I had known my husband for about two years before we started dating, and we were very good friends. In fact, he was one of my best friends.

Unplanned Parenthood

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, because 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 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 to me any more.

I told my sister about my pregnancy 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 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 families’ 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.

Love Comes First (And Last)

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 had some 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.

. . . But A Perfectly Planned Wedding

Finally, we were ready, and I am so glad we waited. 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 fiancé.” 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 unmarried parents 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.

This post was originally posted in 2011.

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  • Kari

    I really agree with the message of this piece, but was troubled by the following: ‘I no longer had time to be depressed or unfocused. I couldn’t afford to be childish and selfish.’

    Depression and serious mental illness might be overcome by some when thrown into certain situations, but it certainly doesn’t work that way for everyone. Sometimes people with mental illness struggle through circumstances and just get worse in every way. It’s not a question of ‘having time’ to be sick, they just ARE sick. And I resent the implication that people with mental illness or ADHD are childish or selfish…..although to be fair the writer might not be saying that and it’s just an unfortunate juxtaposition within her writing.

    • idkmybffjill

      I find that people often use “depressed” when in fact what they mean is “unmotivated” or “lethargic”. This didn’t flag to me because I assumed she was using it that way – but I think it’s really smart to flag because for many depression is not a synonym to those things. It is an illness.

      • K. is skittish about disqus

        I had the same read and the same reaction. I think the point of these sentences would be just as clearly and more sensitively made without the words “depressed or.”

        Not an indictment of the author as a bad person or anything! It’s important to point out and learn though. And I think it’s an ongoing process for so many of us. I recently got my ass rightfully handed to me by a friend with cerebral palsy for using the word “lame.” We should all always strive to do better with our language.

        • idkmybffjill

          It’s one of those things where I actually sort of wish the diagnostic term was different. Because it’s so ingrained in our language! “I’m so depressed my favorite show was canceled.” Granted, definitely something we should work on – but it can be tough, because while that hyperbolic statement can certainly be adjusted to be more sensitive “I’m really depressed, I lost my job and my boyfriend in the same month” is a pretty accurate way to describe a feeling – but leads to that sense of “what does she have to be depressed about?” when someone is clinically depressed, but life is otherwise going just fine.

          • honeycomehome

            AGREED. There should be two words (or more than two!). Clinical depression is one thing. Struggling-through-a-difficult-time depression is another. Both deserve serious consideration and compassion, but aren’t the same experience.

          • Jess

            Major Depression (clinical depression) and Situational Depression (sometimes called adjustment disorder) is how I’ve heard them referenced.

            There’s also the super common, casual “depressed” people use when they’re mostly just… not feeling it that day. Which I’m not really annoyed by when I see used, but know that it really does contribute to misunderstanding of the difficulties of my depression.

          • Eh

            Because people use the word “depressed” to mean a “down day”, which really downplays the seriousness of depression (clinical/major or situational), I now always say that I have “Clinical Depression”. It annoys me when people try to empathize with me using their “down day” as their experience when I have a serious medical issue I am dealing with that has required medication and counselling.

            (Note: I am not saying that the OP was using “depressed” to mean she was having a down day. Since she referenced having depression I am pretty sure she was talking about being clinical depressed.)

          • Jess

            Oh, I totally get that. It definitely makes responses to my “I’m having trouble getting through this week because of my depression” a lot more casual/misunderstood.

          • K. is skittish about disqus

            Yes, definitely a lot more nuance than other ableist terms in our culture. Here, I agree with the Meg’s editorial choice to take it out, if only because there’s no real context to determine the author’s relationship with the concept and it was juxtaposed as equivalent to other terms that are harmful in understanding clinical depression.

            But more generally, I agree that it’s a word that can have many valid uses. (…Or maybe it isn’t? I could see how one could make the argument that it really doesn’t have room outside the clinical usage if your goal is to use inclusive/non-ableist language. Tough stuff.)

          • The diagnostic term is Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). For those with pathologic anxiety, the diagnostic term is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

          • idkmybffjill

            Thank you, yes – you’re right. I suppose what I mean is…. the colloquial reference to the disorders. People say “I’m depressed” not “my MDD is really effecting me.”

          • Eh

            Exactly! People aren’t going to say they have MDD because most doctors don’t even talk to their patients that way. I work in health research and people are frequently confused about the difference between being diagnosed with something or a doctor investigating something or having potential symptoms of something. My degrees are in health research and psychology. When I was diagnosed with MDD I wasn’t told that I had MDD, I was told that I had “depression”. Which (despite my education) was in denial about because I wasn’t sad (I just couldn’t eat or sleep).

          • idkmybffjill

            Oh man, for sure!

    • Kate

      Amen. This sentence really bothered me and seemed out of place in the piece. Mental illness doesn’t step to the side as soon as it is inconvenient for you.

      • idkmybffjill

        It’s also of particular sensitivity during/after pregnancy, I think – as antenatal and postpartum depression still have a fair bit of stigma attached to them.

    • Kay

      I had this exact thought and cringed at that line. Glad I wasn’t the only one because it’s such a pervasive social misconception about depression: you’re depressed? Get a hobby! Go exercise! Keep busy! Get your priorities in line! That’s not how brain chemistry works.

    • I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand that sentence jumped out at me too, on the other mental illness can sometimes work that way? I have a pretty intense anxiety disorder & external factors can definitely impact how/when it’s expressed – Honestly I’ve experienced high pressure situations temporarily alleviating mental illness symptoms.

      Of course for many – probably most – that isn’t the case, and the juxtaposition of depressed and childish/selfish is upsetting. But I’m also a little uncomfortable with the idea that people with mental illnesses can’t recount their experiences as they experienced them, even if that does occasionally reinforce our dominant cultural paradigm around mental health.

      That said, the way that experience was phrased really did bother me too.

      • idkmybffjill

        Hmm – good point! It hadn’t occurred to me that the author might have been using the word depressed to describe clinical depression based on the context.

    • Spot

      As someone with depression and ADHD who was raised by a mother who struggled/struggles with the same, that sentence rubbed me waaaay the wrong way.

      I think there are better ways to say like…parenthood made your health an imperative rather than a vague long term goal, or parenthood necessitated a lot of hard personal growth in a short period of time, or whatever. You can say those things without the nasty (intended or not!) implications about mothers with mental illness.

    • Hi Guys, sorry that slipped through our editing process. I have depression and a variety of mental health issues, so we are sensitive to it here on a personal level. Sorry we missed that, and sorry it upset you.

  • idkmybffjill

    Bonus: I think it’s a pretty darn special thing when your kiddos can witness your marriage. My dad and Stepmom’s wedding is one of my most cherished memories! Doing things in the order that we did them totally worked for us (engaged, married, baby), but it’s not the only way that works, and I think this is really important to remember.

    • zana

      Related side bonus – this means all your silly kiddos can be in your wedding photos, too!

      I photograph some weddings on a suuuuuuuuuper budget, and every single couple already had kids. It adds an extra challenge to photographing, but can sometimes (with a bit of luck/cooperation) come out extra awesome!

    • Eh

      “but it’s not the only way that works, and I think this is really important to remember” – my inlaws are super judgmental about this. According to them, we did things in the “right order” (engaged, married, baby), implying that my BIL/SIL did things in the wrong order (engaged, baby, married – it’s important for my inlaws to stress that they were engaged before she got pregnant). My inlaws like to live in their little bubble where things happen in that order and conveniently forget when things don’t or families aren’t perfect (divorce is a bad word to them, that said, there are a few people in the family who are divorced but they are considered “exceptions”). My husband’s maternal grandmother was pregnant (with my husband’s aunt) when she got married (married in February, baby in June). My MIL has a hard time reconciling things when the number of years her parents have been married is mentioned in relation to her or her sister’s age (she is 11 months younger than her sister). They have been married for 59 years so clearly is worked out for them but that’s not always the case.

      • idkmybffjill

        Oh goodness, that’s such a funny thing! Especially in that case. Heck – this baby was a surprise and we TOTALLY could’ve been surprised 3 months before the wedding instead of 3 months after. Lol

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  • Jess

    I’ve seen a number of friends recently have kids and then get married. I’m always so excited for them – being married comes as a real decision rather than “Whelp, I got pregnant, guess we should make some legally binding commitments to each other”.

    It’s totally possible to co-parent in a relationship without being married, and in lots of situations that’s the right call until both parents feel ready to be married.

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