We all know the song: First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage. And even though you probably haven’t sang that particular tune since you were in grade school, that predetermined succession of life choices has likely stuck with you. Not only do we have a distinct set of milestones we’re expected to achieve, but there’s a precise pattern we’re supposed to follow when achieving them. So when I let friends and family know that I rearranged some lyrics and the baby would be coming before the marriage — if there was to be a marriage at all — eyebrows raised and lips pursed.
I was asked if the father of my child was going to “make an honest woman out of me,” a question I still don’t completely understand. (He could put a ring on it, but I’m still going to lie when he asks me who ate the last bit of chocolate ice cream.) I was encouraged to “protect myself,” as people assumed it’d be easier for my partner to leave myself and our child because he wasn’t legally attached to me or to the person we had created. I was called “brave” and “strong,” as people presumed I’d be taking care of our child, for the most part, on my own. While continued concern swirled and judgments hushed around me, I smiled, because the truth is: a husband does not a good father, or partner, make.
Instead of being alone and abandoned, my partner was there for every doctor’s appointment and every ultrasound scheduling. Our relationship was healthy, and pregnancy only added to it. From the mundane check-ups to the monumental fetal monitoring, he held my hand and swept my hair behind my ear, kissing me softly, reassuring me that my mind and my body could handle the changes I was experiencing. On the flip side, I know other friends with partners who've felt check-ups were “boring” and said their attendance wasn’t necessary.
My partner was standing bedside, holding my leg and coaching me through pushes for over three hours. It wasn’t my labor, it was our labor, and he made me feel like I wasn’t going through the most painful, exciting, scary and overwhelming moment of my life, alone. He told me what my body was doing was nothing short of miraculous. He told me I was incredible for bringing our son into the world. To that end, I know husbands who’ve stood in corners, believing labor and delivery to be “disgusting,” standing aside because birthing a baby is a “woman’s job”.
My partner woke up for midnight feedings, even though I was the only one who could facilitate them. He would rub my back as I breastfed, my eyes closed as to keep my pillow from taunting me. His workday didn’t keep him from sharing the burden of inconceivable exhaustion, and in those moments I realized I would never be alone in parenthood. So yeah, we weren’t married, but I know plenty of husbands who said they were “too tired” to wake up with the baby at night, sighting work as a reasonable excuse.
My partner sits and plays or reads or simply spends time with our son. He’s never too busy to teach him what a “dog” or a “cat” or a “boat” are, his legs crossed as he sits on our living room floor with our wild-haired toddler on his lap. He asks for father-son days so I can relax or write or spend a significant amount of time in complete silence, looking forward to the moments when it’s just him and his son. And again, I know husbands who don’t take the time to truly connect with their children. They’re too busy or prideful or occupied to engage with their family.
My partner treats housework like a two-person, tag-team job. Laundry is our problem, not mine. Dishes are our problem, not mine. Dinner is a team effort, each of us alternating turns to cook or, instead, cooking together. He believes a clean house and healthy meals are part of parenting, and parenting should never be a one-person job. We may not have a marriage certificate, but I know men who won’t touch a load of laundry or clean a single glass, because they don’t think that is their responsibility.
So, yes, my partner and I rearranged the lyrics and bought the baby carriage before the wedding dress, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t committed parents or partners. It just means we decided to write our own song.