Sitting down in my middle aeroplane seat, I was incredibly edgy. Not like cool and trendy – I was on edge. Stressed, anxious, worried, jumpy. A woman sat to my left at the window, staring out onto the tarmac. Sometimes she would close her eyes, still with her face to the outside world.
My partner sat on the aisle, and on my lap was our month old daughter. She had the little baby seatbelt hooked around her, but she was out to it all. What were we doing, taking our one month old interstate? Most reactions had been “Are you crazy?” but I appreciated the odd “Well done!” or “Very courageous of you!” So far so good – we had carried her through the airport in her baby carrier, enjoying some kind words from airport staff and strangers too. Hubby had left Little K and me alone briefly in a café and a man opposite was interested in the bundle strapped to my chest around which I was somehow sipping a latte with my head off to one side. “How are you doing?” he asked. “Great! We are all well.” “No, no – ” he said “How are you doing? Motherhood is hard – you’ve been through a lot.” He was so sweet.
Our baby wasn’t really a crier, but I was so worried about her crying and upsetting people. I know parents reading this will say “Oh who cares what people think?” or “You’re doing your best – don’t worry if they cry!” But I was worried about being a burden on the quiet aeroplane. What if she had a poo explosion? What if she was inconsolable? How would we cope? Would anyone be offended by me breast feeding? I know, I know, we have the right to breast feed anywhere – but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy or comfortable. I watched as a family sat in the seats across the isle. They smiled at me and my comatose baby. I hoped they wouldn’t see my boobs later and get uncomfortable.
The woman next to me continued to ignore our presence. I knew this meant nothing, but in my mind I took her disinterest as a slight – which heightened my worry that we might upset her somehow during the two hour flight. Maybe she was exhausted. Or hated babies. Or was staving off a panic attack. Or all of the above. She was so still, it was weirding me out a little.
You know when you eventually have to acknowledge the other seated passengers because the flight attendants come to hand out the snacks? Well that happened, and the lady on the window seat was forced to communicate with me as I passed over her muesli bar and coffee. She glanced down at Little K who had stretched her arms out behind her head and fallen asleep in that position. “So cute.” She mumbled, then added something else but all I caught was “…was born last night.”
I thought she had said “MINE was born last night” but my brain couldn’t compute – did she say her niece or nephew was born last night? I was immediately socially useless and didn’t clarify quick enough – so as I always seem to do in these situations… I smiled and pretended I had heard what she’d said.
The lady on the window seat pulled out her phone and showed me a picture of a tiny baby. “Beautiful” I say. She then proceeded to tell her story, barely stopping to take breath. She was on her way to be reunited with her partner who had had an emergency C section the night before, at 35 weeks.
“Oh my god!” I say, “I didn’t hear you properly before – when you said it was your baby who had been born last night!” For a few minutes all I could say was “wow” and unhelpful Captain Obvious declarations like “You must be so eager to get there.”
I felt two pangs of guilt – one that it had taken my brain so long to figure out that this women’s son had been born while she wasn’t there, and the other that fate had landed myself and my newborn next to her for the most agonising journey of her life. She had come from her work in Tasmania, changed flights at Melbourne, and at Brisbane would have to journey down to the Gold Coast where her partner had been transferred from their home in Byron Bay. She hadn’t slept, having spent the previous night in Tassie pacing around, stressing out. She was a wreck.
My heart broke for her – she was clearly, and fair enough, extremely concerned. She was very lost – not having been there for her partner at the time when you need someone the most. She told me all the info she had so far: it wasn’t much, but she knew that her partner had been taken to the Gold Coast hospital and that her baby boy (still unnamed) had been born. Apart from this there was not much. She knew little more about their health other than that they were recovering with presumably no major issues.
For the next hour we talked of many things – family and friends, names, gifts, difficult relations, parenting techniques, Little K’s labour and birth, what we had wanted – compared to how things turned out. And as with almost every connection or random meeting I make – I was sure we had been sat next to this woman for a reason. “Of all the seats,” she said, “I can’t believe I got the one next to a newborn…” “I know. I’m really sorry,” even though it wasn’t something I should have been sorry for. We stared silently at my cherubic little sleeping baby. My new travel companion said that whilst she had thought it would make things worse, having Little K and me next to her was helping her to relax a little, and she also believed it was a somewhat serendipitous arrangement.
While we travelled she received word on her phone (Virgin Wi-fi – amazing!) that all was well and her partner was breastfeeding. I answered all of her questions about feeding, sleeping, recovering, and practical aspects of her life that she was in no way prepared for. I mean, until the day before she had thought she still had a month to get her family’s life sorted before the baby arrived. I tried to employ all the positive language and encouragement I could muster without sounding patronising, and without making it worse that she had not experienced the birth. I think talking helped the time pass quicker, for all of us. (Meanwhile, Little K was silent and very amiable throughout the flight – why was I worried?)
When we touched down, I wanted to yell for the whole plane to remain seated so that we could let this poor woman grab her hand luggage, sprint down the aisle and get herself to the Gold Coast asap. I wanted to dramatically scream “LET THIS WOMAN THROUGH!!! SHE NEEDS TO GET TO HER SON!!!” But I knew we would probably just see her at the baggage claim in 10 minutes anyway.
Having long believed myself to be an empath, it didn’t surprise me that I felt like I had run a marathon after the whole conversation, as I felt that I had absorbed a lot of stress and energy. The lady on the window seat however, was looking great – and very cheery as we farewelled her for the final leg of her journey. She thanked me for chatting to her, passing the time, and reassuring her that all would be well. I think about her sometimes when I consider how lucky I was to have a kickars birth partner with me for the birth of Little K – so many women don’t have a positive, supportive person, not every non-birthing partner can be there, and so many women in times gone by have laboured without their husbands being allowed in the room (my Oma reminded me of this). I hope the lady in the window seat safely got to her partner and son. Our country is so huge – sometimes the quickest you can get somewhere will never be quick enough, like when you are on your way to meet your baby and throw your arms around the person you love.