Lady on the Window Seat – An Unconventional Birth Story

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.

16010311_10154190338840823_439780143_oOur 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.

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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.

 

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Best of times/Worst of times

Dear mother expecting a Rainbow baby,

You will be okay. You will make it. But – yes, it’s hard.

It’s okay to feel confused when you know you are pregnant again. It’s okay to feel scared. It’s okay not to be excited until you feel that it’s right to feel excited. It’s okay to cry.

If you just live day to day, that’s fine. Don’t book shit in. Don’t mark each week in your calendar. Not until you are ready. Protect yourself. When people say “This time will be it!”, just smile and nod. But don’t feel – if you don’t want to. People just love you, and might not understand the leap of faith that actually believing those words requires you to take.

It’s okay if it’s one of those days where you find yourself sitting at the end of the bed crying, with no idea why. It might not even be that day you read a Guardian article about a woman who lost her baby at 15 weeks (don’t click on that shit!). Or not that time that your friend thought you strong enough to hear a story about her colleague who was bleeding, and lost. Not even that time you realise you haven’t deleted all the weeks marked on your computer calendar… and you get an alert saying “30 weeks today!” It might not even be one of those days.

You are just crying because it’s bloody scary! And that’s okay.

When you reach the week when you feel safe (if you ever do), it’s okay to still feel confused. Are you excited yet? Should you allow yourself to be? Do you feel happy? Is it wrong to feel happy? Don’t be hard on yourself. You might start to tell people. It’s okay to make a previous miscarriage part of your pregnancy announcement.

Say whatever you feel like saying – because if it makes others feel uncomfortable then that’s their diff. Miscarriage happens. So if you want to say “We are super excited to be pregnant, because we lost one last year,” then say it. If you want to say “I’m pregnant again” then say it. Your previous pregnancies happened. When people ask you how you are feeling, being pregnant, it’s okay to say “Actually I’ve been pregnant before” but if you don’t want to – don’t. Just smile and say “Great!”

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People will react in different ways. And some reactions will be stupid, or hurtful. But forgive these people, they just don’t get it. Someone who you adore will ask you, like a grown up to a child, “But Jac… how far along are you?” as if you would be telling him before you felt ready, or when it was very early, or when there was a good chance that you might lose your baby again… sigh. Another friend will say “But wasn’t it fun trying to get pregnant, hey? Hey?” Wink wink nudge nudge. As if the fun of sex would make trying again after a loss a fun filled journey.

Sigh. Just smile and nod.

Women will share their stories of loss – so many will whisper this quietly like a dirty secret. That’s their choice. And you might wish that they spoke it louder, so that miscarriage could be spoken of more. You might wish that they would grab your hand and say, yes, yes I know what you have been through! Loudly, proudly. So the young woman across the staff table will hear and in the future, when someone she knows goes through this ordeal, she will comfort them with the words “so many women feel what you are going through, let’s get through this together.”

You might wish this. So women will feel more supported. So women will feel less alone.

But that is their choice.

 

[This is where I wrote to, back last year when I was pregnant with my rainbow baby. I continued to ride the roller coaster of anxious moments up until the birth of my daughter. The last week was one of the worst, as I had one day where she moved a lot less, and then the day when the doctor suggested that she wasn’t growing. We got induced that night – without leaving the hospital from the 40 week appointment, and had our baby at 3pm the next day. She came on her due date and was a perfectly healthy 8 pounds.]

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Now that I have my rainbow baby, I don’t often think about my miscarriage – not like I used to. But when I do think about it… I know how lucky I am. I know that, had we not fallen pregnant again, I would be still struggling. And hoping.

I also have no doubt that should we become pregnant again – I will still be a walking anxiety zombie until that 12 week scan. A friend put it so well – that after you lose that first pregnancy, you will never truly have that glowing excitement that you had for that first time. You lose your innocence. Even with nothing to suggest that we will lose more pregnancies, knowing the reality of miscarriage and its 1 in 4 pregnancy occurrence, I sure as hell don’t want to waste any time trying to conceive. As soon as we are ready, I am sure we will try again.

Stay strong, mother expecting a rainbow baby. You are not alone in your strange excitement that is mixed with grief and worry – reach out for help whenever you need – and I wish you a life of sunshine, as well as rainbows.