These days, the idea of waiting until marriage to have kids seems a little outdated. Now, a number of people have kids when they feel it's right for them—whether or not they have a ring on that finger.
Marriage rates have been on the decline in recent years, and the average age of educated American women that are marrying is at an all-time high of 27 years old. (This may not sound "old," per se; but it's jumped seven years since the 1960s and four years since the 1990s.)
One reason for the shift is the fact that we're now more self-sufficient and not relying on men to "complete" us in order for our adult lives to start. Today, we get married not necessarily because we need to, but because we want to.
At the same time, women today are more aware of their fertility than ever as many have seen friends and family struggle to get or sustain a pregnancy. (One study showed that egg freezing went up 400 percent in the last year alone.) Women may wait for marriage, but may not take the same time to delay having a child(ren).
These couples fell for each other and decided to say "I do" after becoming parents:
Alix and Matt
How they met: Alix and Matt met online. Matt messaged Alix and seemed more genuine than the other messages she was getting from single guys. He asked her questions, showing her that he had actually read her profile, and asked her out for a drink one night after work. The dinner led to ice cream, "then dating, then moving in together, then baby, then buying a new home, then wedding," according to Alix.
Getting pregnant: Alix got pregnant when she was 37. She says, "We weren't opposed to having children, but we were both older and were still undecided. Well, it was decided for us about three to four months after he moved in with me. One day I wasn't feeling well and did extremely poorly when we went snowboarding. The next day when we woke up, Matt asked me how I felt and I said 'pregnant.' I made us go to the store together to get a pregnancy kit and we both read the instructions together. Pee on stick. Wait two minutes. If you're pregnant, a pink line will show up. Got it. Into the bathroom I went. I was a little worried about his reaction since we JUST moved in together. I opened the bathroom door with the pee stick in hand and Matt asked, don't you have to wait two minutes? I said, 'not if you're pregnant!' and held up the stick to show him that pink line. Matt had the biggest smile on his face."
On the decision to get married: Alix and Matt were both married before and didn't want to get married again unless it felt "right" and not due to any sort of obligations...like getting pregnant.
"After we found out that we were having a baby, we both agreed that we were happy with the way things are and didn't want to change a thing," Alix says. "We loved being with each other and welcomed the life and family we are creating together, why mess with it? When our daughter was about eight months old, Matt surprised me with a marriage proposal. When he gave me the ring and said that he felt like it's the right time because he felt like we are so in love with our life and each other and he wanted to be able to call himself my husband. I couldn't agree with him more. Getting married was not important to us, but it just felt right and we wanted to celebrate our love and our little family with a wedding. It was really awesome to have our daughter as our flower girl."
__Dawn and Dean
How they met:__ Dawn and Dean met at a pub after being "dragged out" by friends for someone's birthday. Dawn remembers, "We barely talked at the pub, but I thought he was handsome and sweet so I got his number from a mutual friend. We met up the next night and it was an amazing date! We talked about marriage and children in the beginning of our relationship...."
Getting pregnant: Dawn said, "We both wanted kids soon and we both didn't care if we were married. We talked about when we wanted to start trying and got pregnant first try! We weren't engaged yet when we got pregnant, but we already knew we wanted to get married. We had a boy, Ryley, and he's 2 months now."
On the decision to get married: Six months after Dawn and Dean started dating, Dean moved into her apartment. "We started talking about marriage then. We got engaged on Christmas Eve when I was already pregnant. He wanted to ask before we got pregnant, but he wanted to have the ring first...," Dawn said.
On babies and marriage:__ Dawn admits that she and Dean feel that having a child together is more of a commitment than getting married, especially now these days when (so many) marriages come and go.
She concludes, "Our relationship evolved quickly, I think, because we wanted the same things — house, kids, marriage. I guess we were at the age when we met where we were completely ready to have kids and didn't want to waste time. I didn't want to wait to start trying. I have a girlfriend who couldn't have kids and you hear about people trying for years! The marriage part could wait....and now Ryley can be part of our wedding."
Of course, having a baby isn't easy. For those who are considering having baby with a partner before marriage, keep in mind that everything changes when your child arrives — literally everything.
According to Pam Jordan, PhD RN and the developer of the "Becoming Parents Program," "It seems as though the relationships that are doing the best and the relationships that are doing the worst decline the most once a baby enters the picture. With the ones that are the best, it's so hard to believe that everything was so good and then we had this baby..."
Because you're not legally bound with a marriage contract, Jordan is concerned that some may bail on their responsibilities. "Becoming a parent is the ultimate loss of control and it's a very different challenge," she says. "Couples should sit down and talk about realities of parenting. Someone needs to care for this baby 24/7. It's very easy to scapegoat your partner when all the changes happen."
Jordan suggests asking yourself why you want to have children. She says, "Children are not convenient. They're very expensive. These couples must objectively evaluate what becoming parents will do to them. They should figure out who's going to do what. There are a huge number of questions they should be discussing..."
Finally, Jordan recommends that if you're entering parenthood with a partner that you're not married to, you should take the time to ask yourselves big questions like:
How do you see your life unfolding in the next five years in terms of work and family? What role do you see yourself and myself playing in the child's life?
In many ways, having a child together is a bigger step than marriage. So, it's essential to communicate your needs, goals, and expectations before taking the step of co-parenting together, whether or not you're married.
As Alix says, "Having a baby is probably the biggest test to see if the relationship can survive. It was hella stressful and everyone was sleep deprived. We just kept communicating and kept helping each other out (teamwork, as we'd say). I believe that our relationship got stronger as we embraced parenthood and marriage."
This article originally appeared on Glamour.