It is your wedding day. You have been planning this day since you got engaged nine months ago. You are happy, excited, and a little nervous. When you get to the church, you are told that it is necessary to switch your wedding to the courthouse instead—it is disappointing, but the minister’s assistant reminds you that the courthouse is probably a safer location for your wedding because there are more people on staff there to handle any problems that might arise. When you arrive, you are told that your minister isn’t going to be there for the ceremony after all, but there is a perfectly good justice of the peace available instead.
You ask when the ceremony can begin and the clerk tells you not until your fiancé’s heart rate has been monitored for twenty minutes—“We need a baseline strip on him, hon. After all, you do want a healthy husband out of all this, don’t you?!” she says.
You are asked to change out of your wedding gown and into a blue robe. When you express your dismay, you are reminded that your dress could get messy during the wedding and also, “Why does it really matter what you’re wearing? In the end you’ll have your husband and you’ll be married and that’s really what counts.”
Next, the clerk starts an IV in your hand because, as she explains, you might get dehydrated while you wait for your fiancé.
“I have my favorite juice here, I’ll drink that instead,” you reply.
“No, no dear. No juice. You could aspirate it and die if you end up needing surgery.”
“SURGERY!” you exclaim, “Why would I need surgery? I’m just getting married!”
The clerk gives you a knowing glance, “Honey, about forty percent of women who get married here need surgery before their marriages are finalized. This is an excellent courthouse! We do everything possible to make sure you have a healthy husband when you leave here. Isn’t that what you want?”
“Yes,” you reply weakly.
Finally, the other clerk signals that your fiancé is ready. You turn to look at him and see that he has a monitor strapped to his chest to monitor his heart rate and that he has an electrode on his scalp. You smile at him and prepare to say your vows—you’ve waited for this moment for so long! But, as you begin to speak, the clerk tells you to stop making so much noise. You start to cry in confusion and embarrassment and she tells you that you really need to get control over yourself.
She calls over several other clerks who stand near you and they all begin chanting loudly, “Say I DO! Say I DO!”
“Wait,” you protest, “What about our vows?”
“No time for that—you’ve got to get married as quickly as possible. Husbands can only bear to stand at the altar for a short time before they start showing signs of distress—you wouldn’t want anything to happen to your husband would you? Now, say ‘I DO,’ say ‘I DO’!!”
So, you say the words, feeling a sense of dismay at it not being like you had planned, but excited to finally be married to your beloved. You turn to your new husband and reach out for him eager for your first married kiss, but the clerk grabs his arm and tugs him away after her.
“Wait!” you call, “I want to see my husband!”
“Sorry,” is the reply, “He needs to be taken to the new husbands’ lounge for observation.”
“Observation of what?”
“Weddings are stressful for husbands; we need to make sure he is all right. Now wait here, while the other clerk brings you a wheelchair to take you to your waiting room.”
Instead of leaving for your honeymoon, you end up staying at the courthouse for three days. You keep asking to see your husband, but the clerk tells you he needs to gain some weight before he can leave and that he also needs some more blood drawn. She also lets you know that he has finally stopped complaining about his spinal tap.
Spinal tap?! Your dismay shows on your face and she tells you, “Come on! You’ll be married for the rest of your life! A few hours of separation isn’t going to hurt either one of you. You’ll have plenty of time with him after you get home and will probably just get fed up with him then! What really matters now is that your husband is healthy.”
“Yes, of course…”
Finally, you get to go home, but you feel distant and sad. Your wedding was nothing like you’d dreamed of and you feel disappointed and betrayed. You enjoy being married and snuggling with your new husband, but you keep thinking about your wedding day and all of your ruined plans to make it special. When you try to tell your mother how you feel, she tells you that you should be grateful, at least your husband is nice and healthy.
When you tell your best friend about your disappointment, she tells you it is time to get over it—“Your wedding is just one day of your entire life. It is the marriage that really matters in the end. You only get married once, but in the end, you’re married and you’ve got a healthy husband and that’s really what counts, not how you get there!”
You tell another friend about your ruined plans and she reminds you that you are lucky your husband is healthy and that it is selfish of you to keep thinking about your wedding. It is over and you’ve got your nice healthy husband to keep you busy now.
“Yes, but I feel like I missed out,” you venture.
“On what? Weddings are SO overrated. It isn’t like you get a medal for having a beautiful wedding or anything. People have weddings every day.”
You stop sharing your feelings, but you can’t shake the memories. What you expected to be a beautiful day filled with love and celebration was not and you feel a real sense of grief at the loss of your dreams. You know you shouldn’t feel this way. You know that what really matters is your healthy, happy husband, but you keep wondering if your wedding really had to be that way. Yes, you love your husband and you are so happy that he is healthy, but you also wonder if that really is all that matters. Don’t you matter too? Doesn’t your relationship matter? What about respect, dignity, love, and self worth? Don’t those matter too? Wasn’t this a special life transition for your family? Wasn’t it the beginning of a special relationship together and couldn’t that relationship have been celebrated, honored, and treated as worthy of care and respect?
Notes: I originally wrote this essay in 2007. It was retained for publication by Mothering magazine, but did not end up making it in before the print publication ceased. It was then retained for publication by Midwifery Today, but has not yet appeared. I decided it is FINALLY time for it to see the light of day!
I was inspired to write this essay after reflecting upon the similarities between weddings and births—both mark the beginning of a new form of relationship and a change to the family structure and to individual roles in society. Yet, in our culture, one of these transitions is celebrated as a milestone of adult life and the value of honoring the first steps in life as new partners in a relationship is a given. The other is institutionalized and mechanized and the partners’ individuality is minimized or ignored. Much preparation, energy, time, and finances are invested in planning a lavish wedding and you are expected to expect things to go beautifully, perfectly, and as planned. If they didn’t and your wedding was ruined, most people would say, “It is awful that your wedding was ruined! Wow!” and not call into question your love of your husband or your commitment to your new role as his wife. The wedding ceremony is respected as having value in its own right. This is not true of birth, which is widely viewed as unimportant in terms of how it happens, as long as the result is a “healthy baby.”
Molly Remer, MSW, ICCE is a certified birth educator, writer, and activist. She is a breastfeeding counselor, editor of the Friends of Missouri Midwives newsletter, and a professor of Human Services. Molly has two wonderful sons and one delightful daughter and lives in central Missouri. She blogs about birth, motherhood, and women’s issues at http://talkbirth.me and is the author of the miscarriage memoir Footprints on My Heart.