How It Feels to Be an Unwed Mother

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wedding ringsMy wedding day: Daddy, mommy, daughterAccording to the National Marriage Project, 58 percent of first births in lower-middle-class households and 40 percent of all U.S. births are to unwed mothers. A recent article in the Atlantic looks beyond those statistics; the author makes the case that no one is asking women how they feel about being unwed mothers -- a good question, and one that I can answer on my own behalf.

For the first three years of my daughter’s life, I was an unwed mother, and I didn’t like it, AT ALL. Ten years later, it turns out I was merely ahead of the celebrity trend (first baby, then engagement!), but at the time, not having that “piece of paper” made me feel vulnerable and not quite rooted.

The funny thing is, I’m not religious, and I have no moral judgement over other people who have babies without being married. And in NO WAY do I feel that not having married parents somehow makes a child “illegitimate,” a truly foul concept that has no place in modern, civilized society. But for me, in my situation, not being married made me uncomfortable -- something that surprised me about myself. When did I get so square? But square I apparently was, so much so that I would avoid having to refer to my baby’s father in a way that made it clear we weren’t married; I reconstructed entire sentences instantly in my head so as not to have to say “my boyfriend,” rather than “my husband.”

Why weren’t we married? Without going into too much detail, my husband and I met one November, fell madly in love, and by the next Father’s Day, our baby was on the way. I was 25, and yes, it was a surprise. We traded our romantic plans to travel to India together for nights at home reading What To Expect When You’re Expecting (that is, once I stopped barfing 24-7) and trying to figure out how we’d fit this baby, who was rapidly accumulated an alarming amount of stuff before even making an appearance, into our tiny apartment. A wedding became the one straw that seemingly would break the camel’s back of our suddenly very new, unchartered life together.Though I wasn’t happy about it, I let it go, hoping that when the time was right, we’d make our partnership legally official.

Looking back, I don’t regret the way things worked out. When my husband did propose to me, it was lovely and romantic, and I was truly, genuinely surprised. I knew that he wasn’t doing it because he felt pressured, and I also know that at our wedding, no one could wonder if we were just there for “the baby’s sake” -- the baby now being 3 and a half!

Unlike another couple we knew who got pregnant around the same time we did, then got quickly engaged, married, and divorced, our story, tumultuous an non-traditional as it has been, so far has a happy ending. We just celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary, 11 years after we met, 10 years after we had our daughter.

And for that daughter? I do have a different dream for her, of a different path than my own. My hope would be that she one day (FAR FROM NOW!) finds her own life partner, someone she wants to spend her life with and who feels the same about her, and they get married, and then, after spending a few years together, they start a family. I think that’s still the “ideal” way to do things -- not the “right” way, certainly not the only way -- but the way that seems optimal and least stressful for all involved.

I understand that many “unwed” mothers today are in completely different situations than mine. Some never had the option to marry the father of their baby, some have babies without a partner on purpose, many are divorced, and still others are gay and can’t legally get married (a terrible injustice that hopefully will soon be a thing of the past). Some moms are fine with their “single” status; other, like me, might wish things were different -- but that’s something that’s a personal issue, not a societal one. No matter what, the important thing, as a society, is to understand and appreciate that there are many ways to define a family, and all of them should be celebrated.

Is there something nontraditional about your family?

 

Image via April Daniels Hussar

in the news, commitment, living together, love, marriage, single moms

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2cent... 2centsCDN

I've never had an issue about not being married.  Together 20 years, oldest child is 15.  I would never refer to myself as single or unwed.  

sassy... sassykat122

Now? Husband, wife, son, and daughter. We met and were living together for a year when we got pregnant. Our son was almost three before we got married and we were 4 months pregnant with daughter. For me i didnt want to be calling him my boyfriend or life partner when we were old and gray. It was important to us to be married but more important that we be a family together. I am happy to call him my husband now but everybody has their life to live

Nurse... Nursekelly1980

We both have two children from previous marriages and now we are unwed with a 1 year old boy and yes it does bother me. I don't want to set a bad example for our kids, but what can you do? Lol we don't have the money to get married right now and my boyfriend won't pop the question without a nice ring.

Sirena Robinson

My daughter was eleven months old when her daddy and I got married. We'd only been dating five months when I got pregnant, and even though he asked me four or five times to marry him while I was pregnant, I wouln't say yes until after she was born because I needed to make sure he wasn't just trying to do the right thing. Now, we're happy, and getting ready to buy our first home and talking about a second child.

retlaw retlaw

We were together 5 years and owned a home together when we decided to have a baby. My pregnancy was planned, but since we are unwed everyone assumed it was not. Society has a very bad opinion of unwed mothers, even though it's the new "norm"  My son is almost 2, and we're still not married, and I get asked ALL the time why we aren't. 

chech... chechimansmama

My boyfriend says he's still making sure I'm worthy. Lol. We make that a joke especially after two kids and 5+ years. I would love to get married, I'm my moms only child and she is super catholic. She was a bit disappointed when I told her I was pregnant because she would have loved to see me in a white dress. But she loves her grandkids and her new son. just like my BF's nana said, after his side of the family found out we were pregnant and asked when we would marry, we don't need a piece of paper to tell let us know that we love each other.

hello... hellokd87

I'm sorry, call me traditional, but I find the "we don't need a piece of paper to feel married" concept bs. But then again that's my opinion. If you believe in that, I respect your opinion. My husband has two kids from a relationship prior to when we met & he said he knew he didn't want to marry her. Of course they had two beautiful boys together and their families pressured them into "doing the right thing" but my husband (ironically) is somewhat traditional & said "the right thing" would have been to have gotten married then have children. Regardless of the circumstances, I have always been the type of person who is strictly Catholic. But nowadays I know people throw religion out the window. Like the article says, we have different ways to define family. And mine is a blended one.

jmama... jmama0307

My DF and I have been together for 7 yrs just got engaged 12-25-12. We do plan a 2017 wedding which we will prob be 11 yrs together. We also have a 6 yr old son together. In the beginning it didn't bother me as our son was a surprise. We were getting use to the idea of being new parents marriage was far from our minds. Plus you don't know a person that well in the first yr. Now living together and being together for this long made me see our ups and downs and inbetweens. In the beginning I wasn't use to living with a man since I always lived with my mom and sister. It was hard to adjust to habits I never seen before. After all these yrs and a lot to make our relationship work. Now we are talking about marriage and make it official. I don't believe you have to get married just for a child. That makes it more harder on the relationship and if the pregnancy was a surprise even more harder on the couple. It gives an edge just to make it work. I don't regret how my life is leading. I never thought I would be a traditional person anyway. Not my style. 

nonmember avatar dana

It's fine for others, but not for me. I don't ever want kids by two different men and I will never have kids out of wedlock. I mist think it looks irrisponsible. As if somewhere along the line I planned something poorly and wound up in a situation less than ideal. Unless someone tells me they planned their baby out if wedlock or some other similar way, I assume they found themself in a situation they didn't plan and are irrisponsible in some way. Sorry. It's simply because 90% of the people in that situation that I know were accidental.

nonmember avatar night magic

My friend is an unwed mother and one of the best i know she adores her kids and sees both of their possitive traits and never favours one after the other .she told the father so didnt trap him because she desperately wanted a baby .Apart from my Mum there has never been a more doting Mum .the kids want for nothing and she loves them both so much .

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