explainer

The new world order: Marriage can wait, motherhood can’t.

One of the major casualties of the global pandemic has been the wedding industry, as ever-changing restrictions and snap lockdowns wreak havoc on couples' special day.

If you consider that 113,815 couples got married in Australia in 2019, that's a lot of 2020 brides who either postponed, cancelled or had smaller than planned celebrations. 

For those still waiting to tie the knot, the pandemic has really solidified a growing trend: Marriage can wait, motherhood can't. 

As Tamara told Mamamia, "We had to cancel our wedding due to COVID, and I wouldn't mind if we ended up starting a family before we walk down the aisle. I always thought marriage was a crucial step before motherhood, and that might've been from having a fairly religious upbringing, but over time I've definitely evolved my thinking."

Many COVID-brides have learnt over the past 12 months, there's nothing like living through a global pandemic to rearrange your priorities.

Sidenote: Here's a few things pregnant people never say. Post continues after video.


Video via Mamamia.

Interestingly, it's not just timelines but perceptions that have changed thanks to the uncertainty of 2020, with research by Mamamia and Elevit finding that 73 per cent of women thinking about or currently trying for a baby value their family, friends and community more now than they did pre-COVID. Of that same group, 59 per cent said they were still trying to conceive despite the pandemic and financial downturn.

As Jess shared, "My friends (mid-to-late 20s) that are in long-term relationships are either trying to buy their first home, trying for a baby, or thinking about having a baby sooner than expected. It's crazy how much everyone's priorities have changed post COVID, especially with international travel off the cards."

A number of women in the Mamamia community are either pregnant or 'trying' right now, as they bunny hop over their postponed or cancelled weddings and divert from a traditional path they didn't plan on straying from.

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Some couples just had smaller than they'd hoped for ceremonies in 2020 and now 2021. Others decided to postpone. Image: Getty. 

"I never thought I would be considering kids before marriage but we cancelled our March 2020 wedding and used the money towards building a new house. Kids are in our two-year plan (the old biological clock is ticking), but I don’t think we will have saved up enough money to do the big wedding my fiancé wants until about five years down the track," said Tracy.

"We had a wedding planned for 2020, but had to postpone, so decided to try for a baby. I'm due in two weeks and our wedding is planned for later this year," said Ele.

"My partner and I got engaged end of January 2020 after nine years together - with guns blazing we were planning our wedding for April 2021 but then COVID hit and suddenly everything was uncertain and it didn't feel like the right time to put a deposit on a venue and caterer. I also have family overseas who we were really hoping would be here for it. We have put the wedding plans on hold and have decided to focus on having a baby. It's still important to us to get married and the wedding will happen when it's the right time but I figure, when my family are finally able to visit Australia safely, it will mean more to me for them to meet my children than to be here just to celebrate my wedding," Thea told Mamamia.

Growing up, women especially are sold a very traditional timeline. As the saying goes, 'First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage.'

As society evolves, however, the shattering of those traditions is becoming more commonplace. Living with your partner and sharing a home or bank accounts, leaves many couples feeling like they're 'married' already, without needing a piece of paper to make it official.

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With rising house prices and the costs associated with raising small humans, many can't justify forking out for the wedding they want, while also making sure they reproduce on the immovable timeline that is the female biological clock. 

Research from the Australian Institute of Family Studies, shows that from 1970 to 2000, the proportion of Australians marrying fell steadily. It then stabilised for a decade, before falling again.

Source: Australian Institute of Family Studies. 

For some it's been a dawning realisation as they've gotten older that it's just not as big a priority as the fairytales from their childhood made it seem.

"I grew up at a religious school and always thought marriage was important. But as I grew older I just couldn't make sense as to why? Why was marriage important? Did God really care about paper work? When I met my partner we wanted to buy a house. Then we were busy working to renovate. When we felt ready for kids we had a baby. Now we are having number two. Weddings are just so expensive, and everything in our life feels connected. Bank accounts, house, kids. I'm busy enough. To put time aside to shop, organise, make decisions, pay lots of money - I just can't. We will get married one day as it's something my partner wants, but I'm not sure we will have a 'wedding' as such," said Samantha.

"I used to feel that marriage was an important step before making the commitment to have children. But now I think committing to marriage before children is a bigger deal. These days I don’t think about looking for a husband, I think more about ‘what kind of father would you be?' Because now I know I can find another man if I have to. For me, if I ever have children they need a good father figure first and foremost over my own happiness in a relationship," Millie told Mamamia.

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There's an almost nonchalantness about the idea of there being pressure of doing one before the other when you ask many Gen Y and Gen Z women about their own futures. They have grown up in a world where women can do and be whatever they want, where systemic ideas of gender and patriarchy are being dismantled and where bucking tradition is normal.

"I would happily grow a family out of wedlock. I was literally just having this conversation with my friend. I just don't feel like marriage is a priority of mine," said Sarah. 

"Literally the only reason I would like to get married before babies is because I want to be able to drink at my wedding," said Emma.

"Four of my mates are pregnant at the moment, and none are married," said Belinda.

There's still societal pressure of course, as demonstrated by Madeleine who shared; "My grandmother lied and told all her gossipy friends that my partner and I got secretly married before we had our daughter because she cared so much about what other people thought...and then we actually got married four years later...that was a tough one for her to explain."

Marriage was already on the decline. But COVID has accelerated the new world order: babies first. Image: Getty. 

"My Nana once whispered to me that if my sister was to have a baby out of wedlock that everyone would call her baby a bastard behind her back," added Renny.

One Mamamia community member recalled being told in hushed tones by an older relative, "did you hear that xyz and abc are doing it backwards, they're having the baby first?!"

Cultural pressures often have a lot to answer for in these scenarios, with Nicolle explaining that she knew a woman who told her very religious mother she was happily pregnant to her long-term boyfriend only to have her start crying in front of them.

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For women like Kim, however, her desire to marry before babies isn't about tradition, or cultural and family pressures. It's simply about love.

"My partner and I have been together for almost eight years and we are still choosing to get married before having children. Many of our friends and family haven’t, there’s definitely a trend of not bothering any more but our relationship is so precious to us that we wanted to celebrate it through marriage. I think the ritual of marriage is like many things in life, if it’s important to you - you prioritise it. I also knew that if we had kids first, we would always be prioritising their needs and never get around to actually having our wedding," she told Mamamia.

Of course, the difference is that as of 2020, many brides and grooms-to-be don't get the choice. They're being ushered down one path over the other whether it was their preferred route or not.

But as Elevit and Mamamia's research found, family is the re-affirmed priority for the majority in the face of our current uncertain future. Which makes postponing a wedding just that little bit easier...

Feature image: Getty.

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