The old school yard taunt used to go “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes____with the baby carriage.” When we thought a girl liked a boy we would tease her with this rhyme. But the sequence was one we all accepted as the norm. People were in love; they got married; they had children. When the sequence was out of order, producing a baby before a marriage, two possibilities were available when I was growing up. Either the marriage was hurried and the child was born “prematurely,” or the girl was sent off to a home for unwed mothers. The child was then adopted by a couple who were married.
My maternal grandmother posed for her wedding portrait in 1917 before she married my grandfather. The ceremony was simple, followed a set prayer sequence from a prayer book, and the young couple went off on their honeymoon. When my grandmother was eighty she confided in me:”Your grandfather and I knew nothing about anything, but we figured it out all right.” Eventually they had my mother in 1922!
Things have changed enormously during my lifetime. Many couples I know of have lived together, bought a house, had a child or two and then married. In their case, the wedding seems to be a gigantic party costing an arm and a leg. The party seems to be the focus, rather than the marriage itself. My grandparents would have been astounded. In fact, when I was in my twenties I would have been astounded. It not only wasn’t done, we wouldn’t have been able to imagine it. Stigma still clung to “living together” into the 1970’s, and babies were still supposed to enter the scene after the parents were married.
In the next few days, I will be talking through the vows my husband and I made on our wedding day. The emphasis will be on the marriage we were embarking upon, not the wedding itself. Stay tuned.