IT is the modern-day Hollywood love story. Boy meets a girl, they fall in love and three months later the girl finds herself pregnant. Undeterred, they decide to tie the knot, and they live happily ever after.

Alas, in the real world, shotgun weddings – where a couple gets married because the girl got knocked up – do not always have such happy endings. There is after all, a reason why they call it a “shotgun” wedding – the father of the bride might need some extra force to make sure his future son-in-law goes through with it.
But getting through the wedding is just the start of a long, long journey, one which shotgun couples need to prepare themselves for.

Advertising executive Rita (not her real name) found out she was pregnant when she was 27. She had plans to take up an improved job offer in Singapore, and was looking forward to advancing her career. All that changed when she and her then-boyfriend decided to get married.

“(The wedding) was more for our parents. That’s the first thing Malaysian parents would want when they find out you’re pregnant with your boyfriend’s child,” said Rita, now 30.

The couple quickly put together a simple wedding dinner and got married without any drama. Their first year together, however, was a real struggle.

“At first, it was like I had to give up on everything. But if that’s the decision you’ve made, you just have to improvise. You really have to think ahead on how to manage your family life. If not, you will be upset and depressed your whole life,” added Rita.

Eventually, Rita managed to find a balance by sacrificing her social life, and certain career aspirations.

“There’s no such thing as yumcha in the middle of the night any more. You have to make quality time for your work, and quality time for your family. It takes a lot of focus.”
Baby boom
If the latest statistics are anything to go by, shotgun weddings could very well become more common in Malaysia.

A survey conducted by Universiti Teknologi Malaysia indicated that over 10% of secondary school students were sexually active, with many of them having had multiple sex partners.

The stigma against single parenthood, demonstrated by the large number of baby dumping cases reported in recent years, could force many into shotgun weddings, regardless of their readiness to enter into the life-long commitment of marriage.

Another telling statistic – 257,000 babies were born out of wedlock in Malaysia from 2002 to 2012.

“In Asia, everyone pretends people don’t have sex until they are married, which we all know is not true,” said Charis Wong of the Kin and Kids Marriage, Family and Child Therapy Centre.

Wong added that there are three simple options for unmarried couples with unplanned pregnancies – get an abortion, have the baby as unmarried parents, or have a shotgun wedding.

For Rita, getting an abortion was out of the question since it is only legal in Malaysia if a doctor deems the pregnancy to pose a risk to the physical and mental health of the pregnant woman.

As for having the baby without being legally married, Rita said: “There are a lot of complications if you want to do that in Malaysia.”

Indeed, babies who are registered by non-married parents in Malaysia will only bear the mother’s name, implying that the child is illegitimate.

Thankfully for Rita, the decision was made easier by her boyfriend.
“He is someone I really trust. For me, the wedding itself wasn’t important. What’s important is knowing that you are marrying a man you can rely on.”

After much work and sacrifice, Rita and her husband are now happily settled down, and they recently had a second baby.

Celebrity influence
While many couples in Malaysia seem to have little choice but to have a shotgun wedding once an unplanned pregnancy comes along, pop culture seems to scream otherwise.

Celebrity gossip sites, entertainment news, movies, etc. all seem to tell us that being a “baby mama” without being married is perfectly fine.

Dr. Laura Berman, a celebrity relationship therapist on the Oprah Winfrey Network, wrote recently on Chicago Sun-Times about the spate of Hollywood stars choosing to have babies without rushing into marriage, like Kanye West and Kim Kardashian.

“Shotgun weddings used to be the inevitable outcome for women who got pregnant outside of marriage,” she wrote. “They often were forced or coerced into walking down the aisle with a partner who didn’t necessarily want to tie the knot either.

“The result often was an unhappy marriage and an unhappy child as well. The positive benefit of delaying marriage is that it allows both couples to be sure of what they want and to take things at their own pace.”

HELP University Clinical Psychology lecturer Alex Lui, however, disagrees, especially due to the different social and religious norms in Malaysia.

“There are repercussions to being a single parent here. If you are shunned by your family members, it could affect your child. For some parents, having a child out of wedlock is so embarrassing, the children can be ostracised by their families,” he said.

“Shows like Glee make unplanned pregnancies seem okay, but it’s generally not a good thing.”


Under pressure
The social stigma on unmarried parents can be quite a burden on a young family – and their respective families.

Tang (not her real name) was so overcome with grief when her son told her his girlfriend was pregnant, she “felt like jumping out the balcony” of her condo.
Amidst the emotional chaos, her son, 30 at the time, converted to his bride-to-be’s religion and married her.

“I was devastated and I didn’t dare to tell any of my relatives my son was getting married. I forced myself to attend their wedding.” said Tang.

The baby girl was born last December, and now Tang is slowly beginning to accept things. But none of her relatives, including her own sister, know that her son is now a married man.

Rita also admitted that she decided to have a shotgun wedding partly to appease her parents and relatives.

“Chinese weddings are always big family affairs, so we had to make sure we had at least a small ceremony,” she said. However, Lui advised that if you’re thinking about getting a shotgun wedding simply because you’re afraid of embarrassment, don’t do it.
Make it happen
But in the event you are forced to have a shotgun wedding, Wong believes it’s incredibly important that you work things out with your spouse for the sake of the child. Having been rushed into the marriage leaves you with little time to figure out your relationship, and your child could suffer for it.

Lui added that some children of shotgun weddings might even start to blame themselves when their parents don’t get along.

“Parents have to convey the message to the children that if a marriage does not work, it was not the child’s fault. Kids are egocentric, and they won’t think of themselves in the shoes of adults,” said Lui.

One good example of how to do that is Peter and Emily, a couple who had a shotgun wedding not long after they got their SPM results. By the time Peter told his parents, Emily was already three months pregnant.

“My parents called Emily’s parents out for lunch and told them what happened. We had a discussion, and we decided that marriage was the best solution,” said Peter, who lives in Penang.

Dr Johnben Loy, founder and clinical director of Rekindle International Marriage and Family Therapy Centre, believes Peter and Emily’s family handled the situation brilliantly.

Loy said that the first thing a couple should do when they have an unwanted pregnancy is have a roundtable discussion with everyone involved. “Everyone, including the in-laws should be involved. Parents play such an important role in cases like these.”

After the wedding, Peter continued to do his Sixth Form studies, and entered a public university to pursue a degree in engineering. Emily enrolled in a teacher’s training college and is now a primary school teacher. His parents helped to take care of their daughter when they were busy with their studies.

He said: “Without my parents, her parents and the help of my teacher, I would not have made it through. I am very thankful for them.”

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