Wedding Vows

by Alan Badmington (Wales), Mike Hughes (Canada)

The following short papers tell the stories of how some people who stutter handled one of the most important speaking moments in their lives -- exchanging wedding vows. They are willing to answer specific or general questions about their experiences. You can post Questions/comments about the following papers to the authors before October 22, 2002.

You can post Questions/comments about the papers below to the authors before October 22, 2002.

For Better - For Worse - by Alan Badmington

When Babs and I first met, she accepted me for who I was - my stutter was never an issue. Her support was unfailing. She never undermined my position, nor belittled me in any way. She just lent a hand in her own quiet unassuming manner.

It is difficult for a spouse/partner to stand by when their loved one is experiencing difficulty. Despite my disfluency, I regularly placed myself in challenging speaking situations. Our wedding day was one such occasion.

Marriage is supposed to be a happy event (or so I had always been led to believe). Yet, as my wedding day approached, my feelings were tinged with apprehension and doubt. Not, I should quickly add, at the prospect of spending the rest of my life with my fiancée, Babs, but the daunting anticipation of saying my wedding vows in front of a large audience. Aunts, uncles, cousins, future in-laws, friends, many of whom I had not seen for several years.

Having stuttered since childhood, it was inevitable that speaking in front of groups figured prominently among my list of fears. A catalogue of painful experiences had fuelled my belief that I could never successfully undertake that role.

However, I knew that when someone else spoke, or read, at the same time as myself, I would encounter little, if any, difficulty with my speech. My prayers had been answered. In our pre-ceremony meetings with the vicar, we discussed the situation and came to an arrangement whereby he would recite a line and then repeat it quietly when I was saying it.

What I hadn't bargained for was my caring bride who, in order to ensure I didn't have any problems, also joined in saying my vows. So you can just imagine it - the vicar would say a line and then ALL THREE OF US would repeat it. (I Alan Badmington take you...). Of course, mine was the loudest and most prominent voice, the other two merely whispered. But I was aware of the support. No one else realised what we were doing and everything went perfectly.

Now, let us examine that episode. This phenomenon of people who stutter being able to speak fluently in unison has long been recognised. I believed that I could speak when someone else spoke simultaneously as (in my eyes) I was not the centre of attention. Like many persons who stutter, I felt uncomfortable hearing the sound of my own voice, associating it with all the shame and embarrassment I had encountered over the years.

With my future wife and the vicar joining me, I was detached from my own speech - the lifelong negative emotions were not present. I perceived the vicar and my bride as friendly and supportive persons and, because I was relaxed about the situation, I did not experience the usual feelings of fear and panic.

Despite the successful outcome, there are still a few things that give me cause for concern. I frequently lie awake at night, wrestling with the following questions:

Am I married to my wife?
Am I married to the vicar?
Is my wife married to the vicar?
Are we all three joined in holy matrimony?

Contrast this with what happened a few hours later at the wedding reception. I rose to speak in front of the guests and had terrible problems. I said a few sentences, blocked and blocked again. It was so bad that one of my aunts intervened and started singing 'For He's a Jolly Good Fellow'. Everyone joined in, and I sat down a very disappointed and humiliated bridegroom.

I should quickly explain that I was not disappointed with my new bride, but with my inability to complete the speech that I had rehearsed for weeks. I believed I would flounder and I certainly did. I wasn't so much worried about any feared words because I had written the speech myself and carefully omitted any of the letters with which I would normally experience difficulty. But I was caught up in the speak/don't speak conflict that Joseph Sheehan talked about many years ago. I wanted to continue speaking - it was the happiest day of my life. But I was fearful of stuttering, laying myself bare and revealing my speech difficulty to all present. This power struggle caused me to hold back and the inevitable speech blocks occurred.

Our marriage vows included the expression "For better, for worse." Babs certainly witnessed me giving one of my better speaking performances when reciting the vows, but things took a marked turn for the worse as I attempted to deliver the speech at the reception.

Babs has been true to her word and today, thanks to her love and support, I am a far better communicator. My worst speaking moments are a thing of the past. I was tempted to say that that my vows went without a hitch, but that's not strictly correct. We were definitely 'hitched' and I have the grey hair to prove it! No, seriously, we have now been happily married for 36 years and I owe her a great debt.

Throughout our married life, Babs and I have always made a special point of celebrating our wedding anniversary. However, on that very day in September 2000, I happened to be in San Francisco alone. As I lay in bed at 1.30 am, I reflected upon the fact that it was the first time we had been apart, (on our wedding anniversary) in more than three decades. My thoughts were rudely interrupted when the furniture appeared to move. At first, I thought I was dreaming but soon realised that it was not a figment of my imagination - an earthquake was occurring.

As soon as the vibrations (5.4 on the Richter Scale) had subsided I telephoned Babs, in the UK, to tell her of the incident. After wishing her a Happy Anniversary, I said (with tongue firmly implanted in my cheek), "Do you remember all those years ago, you told me that the Earth moved for you? Well, it's just moved for me too". I reassured her of my safety and we reminisced.

Oh! One further point, I am pleased to report that the seismic activity did not result in any tremors in my speech.

Marriage Vows, an autobiography by Mike Hughes

Mike kept up a running dialogue with his friend, telling jokes in an effort to relax him and keep him loose. They had arrived early at the church and had spent the past half hour walking around the grounds, smoking cigarettes and checking their wristwatches. It was approaching time for the wedding ceremony to start and Jerry's nervousness had increased despite Mike's attempts to relieve the tension. As the Best Man, Jerry was worried that something might go wrong. Mike, on the other hand, seemed to be taking everything in stride--considering that he was the Groom.

The outward appearance, however, was deceiving. Mike had spent a restless night with little sleep. Getting married didn't frighten him, he was looking forward to the responsibilities of living with his bride and starting a family. They were young and in love, what else did they need? Tomorrow was the start of a new life. The future was theirs....

Except for the little matter of exchanging the marriage vows. Mike was a stutterer and could count on his speech to let him down at the most inopportune moments. Depending on the week, Mike could have trouble saying words that started with "S" and "F," or perhaps "D" and "P." That was one of the most frustrating characteristics of stuttering, the target kept moving. Sounds that were difficult one week were replaced the next week by sounds that had been relatively easy to say. The attacks on his fluency appeared to be random, coming and going as if they had a mind of their own.

Of course, there was the expected exception to the rule. Mike usually had trouble with words that began with "M," particularly when he was required to say his own name. True love never runs smooth, so it was inevitable that he would fall in love with a girl named "Maureen," just to make it difficult. In truth she was named "Joan Maureen," but actively disliked the name "Joan" and went by "Maureen."

Coming from a large family of nine children, Maureen seemed to delight in confusing her unsuspecting boyfriend. Each sibling had anywhere from 3 to 5 nicknames, almost as though it was a family law. Discussions involving family members were a maze of false trails, while introductions were meaningless. Names were used and discarded as easily as changing hats while the siblings played their inside joke on outsiders. Even Maureen was known as "Joan," "Maureen," "Nini," and "Mo." In self defense, and to avoid the dreaded "M" sound, Mike had also given her the nickname "Reen."

However, for the approaching wedding ceremony, "Reen" simply wouldn't do. Mike would have to call his bride by her rightful name. Since it was a legal ceremony, he would have to call her by her full name, "Joan Maureen" just to make the speech requirements more difficult. It was the fear of exchanging the vows which was causing Mike to feel apprehensive as the remaining minutes of his bachelorhood ticked away.

Finally, it was time for the wedding mass to begin. Invited guests and regular parishioners filed into the church pews, while Jerry and Mike took their places at the front of the alter. Maureen's entourage arranged themselves for the march down the aisle, only to be disrupted by the late arrival of the mother-of-the-groom (Being late, either fashionably or inadvertently, was a natural occurrence. True to her nature, and the prognostications of her family, she was even "late for her own funeral" as a mix-up at the hospital resulted in a delay in her attending ceremonies at her own funeral).

Once the last guest had been seated, Mike watched in awe as his bride began her slow approach. Maureen was a vision in white, dressed in a gown that had been fitted to her frame. Her right hand held a bouquet of flowers, while her left held her beaming father's arm for support that was more psychological than physical. When she was halfway down the aisle, Mike could see that Maureen was gently biting her lip in an effort to remain in control. Hoping to reassure her, he slowly and deliberately smiled at her, and winked.

The result was instantaneous and almost disastrous. Maureen's expression immediately changed from one of determined anticipation to nervous apprehension. She missed a step and quickly grasped her father's arm with both hands. Her father turned to her, reassuringly patted her clasped hands, and whispered a few soothing words of encouragement. As her bottom lip trembled and her hands shook, Maureen returned her gaze to Mike.

Knowing that he had jeopardized his bride's tenuous control, Mike lowered his eyes and turned to the alter as Maureen moved in beside him to face the priest. Gently he gathered her hand in his, accompanied by soft pressure. He dared not squeeze any harder for fear that his skittish bride would lose the last of her control and bolt from the church.

The kindly old parish priest began the wedding mass and quickly progressed to the vow exchange. As the priest read the vows for Mike to repeat, he mispronounced the bride's name, calling her "JoAnne Maureen" rather than "Joan Maureen." This momentary diversion, combined with Mike's love for Maureen and his fear for her diminishing control, left no room for negative thoughts about stuttering. With a fluency that would later amaze him, Mike strongly and emotionally pledged his troth. Maureen, seemingly enveloped in a sudden calm, softly and warmly returned his pledge.

The marriage vows, so feared as a source of supreme embarrassment, had proven to be no barrier. The new marriage would encounter the many normal hurdles to be expected; but would survive and flourish due to its solid foundation. Their love would see them through

You can post Questions/comments about the above papers to the authors before October 22, 2002.