By Helen Ovbiagele
I was admiring this couple at their wedding reception, marvelling at how well-matched they were; not only in their good looks and easy smiles, but also in the way they reached for each other’s hand unprompted from time to time, as if ensuring that they were connected all the time. As the chairman of the occasion made his speech, they smiled at the same time, giggled at the same time, and as if on cue, they would turn to smile lovingly at each other. I was mesmerized by the sight.
In my mind, I projected the union into the future, and saw a home in which love, peace and unity were in abundance to make a very happy marital life. And yes! Children! As many as they want; to gladden their hearts as products of the love and joy they share, which was evident to all and sundry that day.
I was jolted out of my reverie by the hooting and laughter of the audience, at what the chairman must have said, or was saying. In contrast to the reaction of the audience, for the first time that day, the couple weren’t smiling. They just sat up rigidly, staring at nothing. I wondered what was responsible for the drastic change in their countenance. Accustomed to the usual jokes and advice by whoever chairs a wedding, I had tuned out when the chairman was called upon to make his speech, as I didn’t think it would be different from what I had heard at other wedding receptions. When the laughter wouldn’t die down, I asked a lady at my table what was going on.
‘The chairman is praying that the couple would have triplets in nine month’s time. One baby for each mother-in-law to look after on her own, and one for the couple themselves. He’s advising that they should all come to live together in the same house, and he would go visit them from time to time to assess their care of the babies, and award marks. Isn’t that funny? An impossibility, don’t you think, ma? Can you imagine two mothers-in-law each assigned a grand child to look after, and in the same house! Imagine the chaos, the meddling and the quarrels. It can’t happen. Never! ‘
‘Of course, it can’t. He was only joking, anyway. But why are the couple frowning? They don’t seem to see it as a joke. I’m sure they don’t really expect his wish to come true, and they would start with triplets.’
At the night party for the taking-away-of-the-bride, I asked her mum who’s an acquaintance of mine what she thought of the triplets joke.
‘The man, God bless him, meant well, but it was the wrong thing to say because my daughter and her husband, who are both still under 30, don’t want to start a family yet.’
It was on the tip of my tongue, as an African, to ask why they got married now when they’re not willing to start having children yet, but I held my tongue. Times have changed. The young of this generation have their own ideas about marital life. In our days, having babies right away, if you can, was part of the deal of getting married. If you didn’t get pregnant the first month, tongues would start wagging about the possible cause; to the embarrassment of the couple and their parents.
The newly-weds would begin to run from pillar to post in search of a solution. In most cases, there’s nothing wrong with them both. The anxiety for the woman to get pregnant takes the joy out of their relationship and intimacy, and if the situation persists even for a year, reactions from friends and relatives may put a strain on the marriage. A few more years of this, and the union could be headed for the rocks. Couples who stick together, and disregard unsavoury comments from other people, find that they become relaxed and they go on to have as many children as they want from God.
My friend must have known the question that I wanted to ask, because she went on to explain that her daughter and the husband are born-again Christians who want to avoid temptation of doing what they shouldn’t do while single. So, they decided to get married now and begin to live together.
“ They both work,” she added, “but they’re also pursuing post degree courses in their professions, and they agree that having children now wouldn’t be in their best interest. On both parts, we parents tried to talk them out of that decision, but in the long run, we had to respect their wish. It’s their life. They have many years ahead of them to have babies. I noticed that they were a bit upset that the chairman made that remark about triplets, but we couldn’t have told him not to mention babies, could we?”
“Of course not! It would have been as if there’s something wrong with them. Maybe if he had merely prayed that the union would be blessed with children, the couple wouldn’t have minded. But to go on and on about triplets in nine months’ time, must have been seen by them as pressure for them to start breeding right away. They would feel that people would look out for pregnancy, and begin to pity them if it didn’t happen. This generation hates pressure of any sort.”
“Auntie, you’re very right,” said the bride, who had walked up to us and had been listening to our conversation unnoticed. “That was why we wanted a very quiet wedding in our own church, but our parents would hear of it. Our pastor agreed with us that it’s best to start a family when it’s convenient for us, and he praised us for wanting to wed now in order to avoid temptation. Can’t people pray for couples without expressing an immediate supply of babies?”
“Jums!” exclaimed the mother. “What are you doing here? You weren’t meant to hear that. Anyway, maybe it’s good that you heard. We respect your decision, as you heard me say to your Auntie here.”
“I knew she would support our decision. Thank you, auntie. Maybe you can write on the need for our people to stop putting baby-pressure on newly-weds. It’s so unsettling when a couple have other things to do first. Some people would even start telling one about the number of children that a couple who had wed at the same time as you, already have. That makes one feel a failure, doesn’t it? It isn’t fair.”
This young lady is very right. Most young people who get married, do so because they want children in the union; just like it’s always been since the world began. But these days, they may have other priorities first, which the rest of us should respect. We shouldn’t put pressure on their union by giving them a time at which they should present the world with babies, even though this is said jokingly most of the time.
We don’t know those who may experience some delay in starting a family. So, since babies and the time they come are in the hands of God, I think it’s best to pray that a couple would have a harmonious union blessed with all the good things of life, including babies, and not mention any specific time, or the sex or number of the children they will have.