It isn’t the fairytale we grew up hearing, or even what our parents described to us. No one told me I would fall in love one day, date that man for six years, and get pregnant unexpectedly. It was not a ring that sealed the deal, it was a positive pregnancy test. It was hearing the heartbeat inside my belly and knowing we made that heart that made us see forever. It’s not the norm — you’re supposed to get married then have babies — but it’s our normal.
There is a stigma that comes along with having a baby before marriage. When our baby was a few months old, I went to a restaurant in the town I grew up. We inevitably ran in to several mothers of girls I knew in high school but didn’t stay in touch with.
“Who does the baby belong to?” They asked.
When my mother responded that she was mine they said, “Oh I didn’t know she got married! When did she get married?”
“She didn’t,” my Mom replied, “They’ll be married in September.”
The woman was embarrassed, but so was I. Looking back on this now, I know there is no right way to bring a child in to this world as long as the child is born in to love. I do not feel shame for having a baby before being married. Though with our one year wedding anniversary next month and our baby’s first birthday recently behind us, I can see why the old nursery rhyme goes “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in the baby carriage.”
I didn’t grow up imagining a wedding, but when I met my husband I dreamed of a bohemian Joshua Tree, CA wedding with tea lights and dancing until dawn. Maybe he would propose on a trip to New York City at the jazz club during Woody Allen’s weekly winter jazz performance. I didn’t expect to be carefully changing diapers in my wedding dress, or planning nearly the entire wedding 5 months before getting engaged so the baby would be the right age where we could take a small honeymoon and she wouldn’t be bothered that we were gone.
We didn’t get to go to Italy like we’d always planned, instead we went to Vail, Colorado, a quick 2 hour flight from Austin. The most luxurious aspect of the honeymoon was sleeping uninterrupted until whatever hour we desired; of course we were so used to the baby’s schedule we were in bed by 11 most nights and up by 7 most mornings.
They say the first few years of marriage are the hardest but learning to be married and be parents is like marriage boot camp. People can say there is nothing different between marriage and dating, if you’ve been with someone six years and lived together for four of those years, what could be different about marriage? Marriage comes with the commitment and pressure of forever, the obstacles we never expected to face, the beauty and burden of sharing another person’s pain and challenges. You are no longer one, you are two — three in our case. You become the caretaker of two other hearts besides your own. For better or for worse takes on a new meaning.
A vision of the first year of marriage is often taking time as a couple, romance, traveling, exploring a new territory of sexuality with your spouse. A vision of the first year of parenthood is sleepless nights, changing diapers, and fumbling through unknown territory — sex is not included in the vision. Combining these two new beginnings of life in to one reality is challenging however, I also feel a sense of relief. We have been through better and worse this year. We have seen each other at our highest highs; holding a new baby seconds after she was born and feeling so much love and elation for her and each other and having that baby in a matching white dress and flower crown watching as we vowed forever.
We have seen each other at some low lows; for me this was experiencing Postpartum Depression and refusing to admit it while every day I wondered if I was good enough for them. We have fought “like a married couple,” refusing to admit either of us were wrong when we both were. Watched our daughters firsts while experiencing our own firsts. We have been learning to co-parent, to combine the fond memories of our own childhoods in to a new childhood for our daughter all while learning to be husband and wife, combining the good aspects of our family lives and learning the bad that we must leave behind.
Marriage is work and we need to work that much harder because we didn’t have those first few years to ourselves. Perhaps we have less experience being married and we had less time alone, but this encourages us to put in the time together, or at least to remind ourselves to. We push through exhaustion to go on dates. Set aside one night a week for an in-home date night and one day a week for a family day. We support each other in the careers we are still establishing — the ones we hoped to establish before kids. There’s a date set for our dream Italy honeymoon getaway because it’s something to look forward to.
We fight hard and love hard and work hard on this marriage. We’ve still got a ways to go but we’re all we’ve got and so is she. We’re all she’s got and so, we must be our best selves and our best others.