The day I discovered I was pregnant, almost nine months ago, I vividly remember a few things. First, how wrong I was to think my friend – who had just had a baby – was overzealous to suggest I take a pregnancy test just a few days after missing my period. "Someone’s eager to have a mummy buddy!" I thought.
Second was the row of "ohmygoshes" I managed to utter one after the other in the bathroom, then forgetting my manners and waving a stick I’d just peed on in my boyfriend’s face to prove I wasn’t pulling his leg – this was VERY REAL. And lastly blurting out "I'M PREGNANT!" to my unsuspecting mum on the phone, quickly followed by "Are you angry?" Her response? A very Jamaican patois-tinged: "Congrats! How mi fi be angry? You’s a big (w)ooman."
At the ripe age of 29 and as my mum’s only child, perhaps I was a little melodramatic to think she would be outraged by the news; after all, she’d been banging on about her yet-to-be-conceived grandchild before I’d even coupled up. On the other hand, my dad – while happy – reminded me why my apprehension was valid. "Wow," he said, smiling. "So, what’s going to happen between now and September?" I knew exactly what he was referring to: a wedding.
A proud Nigerian, my dad’s question was to be expected. Weddings are a massive deal in Nigerian culture. Bigger than the marriage itself? Arguably. Nigerian weddings are typically a two-occasion affair: the first, called the 'traditional', is a mash-up of live drummers, brightly coloured outfits and 'spraying', where guests shower the bride and groom with US dollars on the dance floor; the white wedding comes second. As fun as it all sounds, at the moment it feels like an unnecessary expense – and with the average UK wedding now costing £30,335, the thought of having two? Laughable.
I’ve always loved the idea of a beautiful destination wedding, and at 30 I’m excited to start a family with the man I love. I’m just not ready for marriage. I only just managed to buy a flat last year, and I'm still getting used to the financial responsibility attached to it. The older I get, the more I realise that love is not the only ingredient for a lasting marriage. My parents divorced; many of my friends’ parents did too. I now have a more realistic expectation of marriage than I did in my teens and champion unglamorous factors like sound counselling and good financial planning as my #relationshipgoals. No amount of pressure will lead me to a shotgun wedding, pregnant or not.
It’s one thing knowing your stance on marriage, but it all gets rather interesting when others project their views. "Oh, I didn’t realise you were married!" exclaimed a colleague awkwardly in the bathroom when she glimpsed my bump. "I’m not," I smiled – to which she replied, "Oh. But you have somebody, right?" We’ve all been guilty of blurting out something before thinking, but in that moment I honestly wanted to do an Alex Mack-style disappearance. Somehow I hid it well – "Well I’d need to have had some help getting her in there!" – but later wondered how that encounter might have felt for a single mum-to-be, or even a surrogate mother.
On another occasion, I politely explained to a guy who had tried to make a move that I had a boyfriend, and pointed to my burgeoning bump. He was kind enough to say congrats but couldn’t resist asking, "When’s the wedding?" When I said we’re not quite ready for that yet, he smugly said, "So that means he hasn’t proposed then" – as if to correct me.
From being asked "When will you marry?" by religious family members not congratulating our good news to – my pet peeve – "Was it planned?", countless interactions have opened my eyes to how conservative we still are as a society, especially regarding unmarried women. My boyfriend is more likely to get a simple "Congrats!" than be asked incessant questions by his peers; they’re more interested in wetting the baby’s head once she’s here. We’re also fortunate to know a married couple who are due a month after us. When chatting about the strange things people say to pregnant women, we shared a lot of experiences. But they had never once been asked if their baby was planned. Because of their marital status, perhaps? More than likely, yes.
I may feel isolated in those very awkward moments but the facts show I’m not alone. According to the Office of National Statistics, 48% of babies were born to unwed mothers in 2016 in England and Wales – a trend that is steadily rising, up from 44% in 2007, and more than double what it was 30 years ago. What these figures don’t highlight is society's attitude to the increase. Are we still expected to do life in a particular order: university, marriage, home ownership then kids? It’s redundant to expect every woman to follow this path when time can be on our side for everything but starting a family.
Some great things have come out of these experiences, not just the excitement of my unknown venture into motherhood. It’s quite the opposite: knowing what my values are and being bold enough not to forfeit them to fit in with anyone’s expectations. Most of all, if I ever questioned my stance on feminism before now, I no longer need to: I’m a clear feminist who believes women should have the right to choose whether – and how – they parent.
Thirty years from now, I’d like to think that my daughter won’t feel the need to justify any personal choice she makes, even if it’s as traditional as waiting to marry before kids. A little farfetched, sure, but it could very well be counterculture by then. Who knows?