The Times

December 3 2000

Why babies are this year's wedding accessory

Lowri Turner
The Sunday Times

Turner: a post-baby bride

I'm getting married. Nothing particularly unusual in that, except instead of tying the knot and then having a child, the Other Half and I are doing it the other way round. Our son Griffin was born in May and he will be guest of honour at our wedding in February. My mother is a bit stunned by this state of affairs, but explains it away satisfactorily: "She's in television, you know."

Certainly the post-baby wedding is not that unusual in starry circles. The spectacle of Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, baby Dylan and a wedding cake so upwardly mobile that it must have been on Viagra is still fresh in the memory. Posh and Becks only got married once their baby Brooklyn could fit his purple pageboy suit, and now Madonna has announced that she is to marry the father of her second child, Guy Ritchie.

But it's not just celebrities. Among my contemporaries I can count half a dozen who have given birth before they have been given away. They were all women in steady relationships who found themselves pregnant but did not see this as a reason to rush straight to the register office.

Once upon a time there was huge stigma attached to giving birth out of wedlock. Get pregnant and you were up the aisle like a shot from the gun your father was holding to your boyfriend's head. But the norm of living together means that we no longer go from our father's to our husband's houses when we marry. Slipping a ring on our finger is therefore not the life-shattering event it once was. Instead, what alters your whole existence is having a child. For myself and many others, birth has become the big commitment with marriage as an optional extra.

Why am I doing it? Partly because having a child points up your unmarried state. In the hospital Griffin had to wear an ankle bracelet with my surname on it, not my boyfriend's. This upset the Other Half. Having his name as the father on Griffin's birth certificate was not automatic either, and I had to produce my boyfriend's passport as proof.

More importantly, though, is what a baby does to your relationship. It makes it serious. Even if you have been living together for years, there is always, in the back of your mind, the option of meeting someone else. Once you have a baby, you are tied to your partner for ever. Once you have accepted the change that birth brings, you are softened up for marriage.

For me, childbirth felt like diving into an unheated swimming pool. Having got used to the temperature of motherhood, getting married is tantamount to swimming to the other side - nothing like as shocking.

I was firmly against marriage in my twenties: I believed the only women who got hitched under 30 were those who had nothing more exciting to do. So, like many others, I opted for the "living together" state instead. By doing that I kidded myself I was being unconventional. In fact, it is the married who are unusual these days but "living in sin" still feels a bit wicked.

Once you have a child, a strange metamorphosis takes place. Rather than shocking your parents, you turn into them. You hear yourself saying things they did and start worrying about your pension. By now there seems little point in pretending any more. What the post-baby wedding does is to update the whole nature of marriage. It makes it modern, less embarrassingly frilly. It isn't just a celebration of your relationship with someone else. It becomes a celebration of the birth of your child as well.

We did think about getting hitched as soon as I found I was expecting. The Other Half would have been happy for me to waddle down the aisle at 8Å months pregnant. I wasn't keen. I didn't fancy looking like one of the Roly Polys in my wedding pictures.

I don't think I am alone in my vanity. The Douglas/Zeta-Jones wedding was pushed back from September to November be-cause, it was whispered, Catherine had not shifted enough pounds. Even so, as a pregnant girlfriend said to me about the new Mrs Douglas this week: "She'd lost the weight, but she hadn't, if you know what I mean." Oh, we do. White satin is not the most flattering of fabrics, but there must have been serious corsetry under there.

There is no risk of Madonna looking anything other than sylph-like at her wedding. Indeed, much of the talk at last week's London gig was not of her music, but of her stomach. At 42, Madonna hasn't got one. It's enough to make the rest of us new mothers weep. Was it really just coincidence that she chose to announce her impending marriage in the same week as she unveiled her taut midriff?

Behind the hearts and flowers and protestations of undying love, all weddings are an opportunity for a girl to show off in a nice dress. The post-baby wedding adds another layer to this exhibitionism. It's a way for a woman to say: "I'm back!" As long as she has been doing her sit-ups, she can advertise how much weight she has lost.

The post-baby wedding serves as a stage from which the elegant butterfly can emerge from the dumpy, pregnancy chrysalis. That's the plan, anyway. But I've ordered a corset just in case.

Lowri Turner

Copyright 2000, Times Newspapers Ltd.