I was holding a baby, in a room with three of my friends. They were leaving before me. I would meet them there, at Olive Garden, where we were going for the happy hour wine specials. I got in the car with the baby and started driving, but I realized I needed a carseat, so I stopped at a baby store on the way.
This was the dream I awoke from at my best friend's house the morning of her birthday. Weird, I thought, and got up to leave to go into work. There, I sat at my desk, checking my emails and drinking an iced coffee, when the thought hit me. Oh my god, am I pregnant? Panic surged through my body. I had to know. I took my lunch a little early, around 11 am, and went by the grocery store to buy some pregnancy tests. I went home to my apartment and took a few; they were positive.
When I got pregnant, it was a bit of a shock. But it really shouldn't have been. My husband (then-boyfriend obviously) and I had discussed it. You could just possibly, maybeeeee say we had been trying. I guess, as much as I wanted it to happen, I also didn't really believe it would due to a semi-diagnosis of PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) by my gynecologist several years ago. So when I saw those little lines, my life truly flashed before me.
I told my husband the next evening. I picked him up across the street from Union Station in DC and we were going to meet my friend for her birthday dinner at Zaytinya. As he got in the car, I broke down and told him. We had only been dating for three months at the time, and though we we were in love and had discussed having a child, things had become really rocky between us in the two weeks before this. We both got out of the car and he held me. The flags were flapping wildly in the wind and the sun was shining, and he got down on one knee and, he didn't propose, but told me that he would support me and he gave me the confidence to know that we could do this together. The rest of the evening felt like a celebration as I told my friends and as we enjoyed amazing Mediterranean food.
I grew up in a very conservative, Christian family. I grew up knowing the way that a "good girl" was supposed to act. I grew up feeling guilt and shame when I didn't fall in line. By the time I got pregnant, I had mostly freed myself from this shame and the anxiety it caused me, but those feelings came rushing back when I had to tell certain people, and even more when people pushed us to get married. As much as I felt like some people wanted me to be ashamed, I wanted to defy them equally as much. It wasn't time for he and I to get married yet and I was damned if I was going to do it just because others thought we should.
I got the prying questions with heavy religious undertones, the snide remarks. A lot of really hurtful words were said to me, often by people I loved. Some were simply condescending while others were outright cruel. These were some that stick out in my mind:
"Oh, well you're not married, so you're not really part of our family." Now, that's just shitty.
"You get married and you stay together for the children." Oh, the blissful beginnings of happy couples and families everywhere.
"You better not get an abortion." I wouldn't call you, five months pregnant, to tell you I am pregnant, if I was getting an abortion. But thanks for bringing that up.
"Well, it's not the ideal situation. I'm not jumping for joy about it." Funny how a baby only conceived in marriage warrants joy, but a baby conceived outside of marriage warrants this response.
"It would be better for the baby if you were married when she's born." Would it? I kinda thought she wouldn't have any idea one way or the other, but hey, maybe you're right.
I guess because of generational and religious gaps, it was hard for them to understand. Just as I've read several times recently about millenials and our views on traditional values, it truly wasn't a big deal (to us) to be pregnant before being married. Research shows that millennials are the first generation to regularly have children outside of marriage, and there are many reasons for this. Women don't feel the need to rely as heavily financially on men as they did in the past. Values, specifically religious ones, are changing. And, though my story rings familiar of ideals of yore, pregnancy out of wedlock is less stigmatized these days.
For us, our marriage, or lack thereof, had no impact on our feelings for each other, or what kind of parents we would be, or our ability to care for a child. We both had stable jobs, a safe home, a commitment to our relationship. Yet, it was somehow such a personal topic for people who weren't even involved. And I hated that some people could take something that I wanted to celebrate (a life, a beautiful baby) and make me feel like I wasn't allowed to be celebrating...simply because we weren't married.
We got married on April 17, 2015, two weeks before our daughter's due date. We said our vows next to a fireplace in an officiant's office in a circa-1750s building in Old Town Alexandria. I think the air conditioning wasn't on or I was really nervous, or both, because sweat was dripping down my legs and behind my knees. I remember thinking, Man, I can't believe people do this in front of huge crowds of people because this is the most nerve-wracking, crazy thing I have ever done.
Afterward, we had a picnic by the marsh. I remember it was the first really warm day of spring and the sun seemed especially hot. We ate Brie and tomato basil crackers and sausage and strawberries. We napped and woke up around 6 and went to dinner at Restaurant Eve in Old Town Alexandria, where we had an 8-course meal, one of the best meals of my life.
It's one of my favorite days. It was subtle and secretive, quiet and romantic. It was perfect for us. And I will always know that we did it for the right reasons, not because people expected it, but because we were in love. And that's all we will ever need. We never have to explain ourselves.