Fear of flying

Two incidents have influenced my opinion on flying while pregnant. Both made a significant impact on me and since then I have been thoroughly put off the idea! I can’t figure out whether there is real grounds for concern or if it is just my paranoia (probably the latter)…

Firstly, my Dutch friend Maryse came to visit a few years ago when she was about six months pregnant. On the second day, she commented that she hadn’t felt her baby move since landing in London the previous day, when normally she would feel regular kicks. In typical Netherlands fashion she appeared quite relaxed about the whole situation. Obviously none of us wanted to panic but inside I was hoping and praying as hard as I could that nothing was wrong. Her little girl eventually gave a wriggle later on that day when we were on a train – perhaps the movement jolted her into action. It was only afterwards that Maryse admitted how worried she’d been, and how relieved she felt. She theorised that perhaps it was the flight that somehow shocked the baby. And that was only a 50-minute hop from Amsterdam!

The second incident is not an incident as such, more something that a friend said. They told me about someone who had sadly suffered a miscarriage after a long-haul flight… twice. Could that really have been a coincidence? If there was anything that could further put me off flying, that was it. I was terrified!

Both of these happened well before I was pregnant but they vividly stayed in my mind. When we thought I might become pregnant sooner rather than later we purposely did not make any long term holiday plans. Mr Cath accepted my paranoia and fortunately did not seem to hanker after any far-flung places for the time being – his friend had recently had a fantastic holiday in Vietnam with his one-year-old so he had his sights set on us being a globe-trotting threesome instead! I had a baby passport myself in order to traverse the Atlantic so hopefully this bodes well for the travelling capabilities of our sprog.

In the end, I did end up flying to Denmark when I was about six or seven weeks pregnant. This weekend trip with my friend Harriet had been planned for ages – it wasn’t an option to cancel. Also, it felt so incredibly early that I wasn’t too worried about it. This may sound paradoxical as the earlier the pregnancy, the more likely a miscarriage, but in my head it still felt completely unreal. I had no symptoms to speak of and if it hadn’t been for the positive test I would have had no clue whatsoever! The fact that I started feeling sick on the plane home had nothing to do with the flying and everything to do with my hormones finally kicking in. Harriet felt ill too but that was no doubt due to an excess of Danish pastries…

If I actually think about this rationally, I know that flying would probably be completely safe, both short-haul and long-haul. Case in point: Maryse seems to have completely forgotten about what happened when she came to London (and I’m not about to remind her!) She has asked me to visit her in Amsterdam this spring and I have had to lamely say no because I’m just too nervous and I can’t face the ferry either! It turns out she has flown a dozen times during her second pregnancy. Wow – talk about not being held back by your fears. I admire her jetsetting ways… but am still not setting foot on a plane.

My sister in law had to fly long haul when she was very late on indeed – her doctor even had to “amend” the due date on her medical note in order to allow her to get on the plane. Everything turned out fine – she didn’t give birth in mid-air, and the baby wasn’t affected by the flight. In fact, come to think of it, EVERYONE seems to fly during their pregnancy! Am I missing out?

Now I’m not a fan of those sayings like “until recently, pregnant women smoked and drank and wahey! We all turned out fine!” Hello – have you managed to blank out how many babies (and mothers) used to die during pregnancy and childbirth? Don’t ignore the amazing medical advances we are fortunate enough to benefit from! However, flying is still such a recent phenomenon that for once I do find some truth in the idea that since the beginning of time, women have reproduced without putting themselves in a highly pressurised metal cabin at an altitude beyond our forebears’ imagination. Surely it cannot possibly be good for the mother or unborn baby. A baby is so tiny – I know it’s protected in the amniotic fluid and so on but is it really unaffected by what is happening?

In any case, there is no medical evidence that flying can actually do any harm or cause miscarriage. Searching on the internet brings up myriad points of view that are not really very helpful. The official NHS line is that pregnant women can fly right up to 36 weeks as long as they have a note from the doctor and are accepted by the airline!

The thing is, the idea of flying still makes me feel irrationally anxious. I suppose I can compare it to other women’s aversion to dyeing their hair during pregnancy – whereas I continue to do this regularly. Different fears for different folks! I guess I’m lucky that for me, flying is a choice. If I had to do it, for example to attend a family occasion, of course I wouldn’t hesitate (although inside, I would be saying a prayer to St Joseph of Cupertino).

My fear of flying isn’t holding us back from a babymoon though! We’re booked to go to Paris… travelling by good old Eurostar of course.

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