Traveling with Babies and Toddlers: Coping With New Postpartum Anxieties aka My Newfound Fear of Flying

Friday April 17, 2015

Remember when we had this conversation a few months back about “old” you versus “new” mom you? And once baby is born, we’re all just waiting for things to get back to normal, shake these baby feelings off and find that you in there that used to love traveling and, I don’t know, rappelling down cliff faces?

It may be a while.

As I’ve been talking about this week, traveling with kids can be a circus act of naps and feedings and tantrums. The flip side, and I feel like no one talks about this in the way that a lot of mom emotional problems are still kind of hush-hush-don’t-talk-about-it-please-don’t-think-I’m-crazy, is that you may have changed.

I’ve heard this echoed from a lot of other mothers to the point that I feel mostly safe saying it out loud: my newfound parenthood came with a lot of anxiety. A fear of flying to be exact.

Everyone has heard of postpartum depression, and we all get the questionnaire to fill up at the 6 week check up to make sure we aren’t suffering. The cousin to that is postpartum anxiety. I’ve seen this play out in many different ways. Like moms who all of a sudden insisted on certain (non toxic) cleaners for their homes, and would furiously re-scrub anything down if someone accidentally used Windex or 409. It can seem over the top to those that haven’t experienced it, but this this level anxiety can be suffocating and the threat to the baby is VERY real to the mother experiencing it. (And, obviously, this can get to the point that seeking out medical help is the right call. Here is a checklist.)

For me, the fear of flying was so entirely unlike me that I don’t think most friends understood or believed what I was saying. I was an engineering major; I know the physics behind how airplanes work. I’ve even studied transportation engineering. I’ve worked in the transportation field since graduating college. I’ve worked closely with aviation safety regulators and pilots. I go to airplane museums for fun. I spend hours on flights staring out the window and taking photos. I even like airports. I used to get a thrill of excitement walking into airports, embarking on a new trip. And here I was, ashen faced with the dread of flying.

Nauseous with anxiety before one trip, and unloading on a friend, she had to step back and ask, “wait, hold on a second, are you worried that Bean is going to cry for the entire flight or are you worried that the airplane is going to fall out of the sky?” Both, both of those things, yes. I know, it doesn’t make any sense! Airplane travel is thousands of times safer than auto travel! (Odds of dying in auto travel: 1 in 98. Air travel: 1 in 7,718.)

Anxiety isn’t exactly rational.

On our very first flight with Bean, I went into full-blown panic and stopped breathing for such a long time during take-off, that I almost fainted on top of my nursing baby. Yes, me, the former transportation consultant.

I don’t really have any advice to give here. Just to tell you that this happened to me and that I only later found out a fear of flying is pretty common for a lot of new mothers. So, it could happen to you too, or maybe it’s already happening to you, and me saying it out loud might make you feel better or less alone.

It got better once I stopped nursing (I know, that’s the magic benchmark for a lot of things), and now it’s only a mild distaste. Clearly, I still went on trips, and stuffed the fear deep down by trying to overpower it with my education and transportation experience and assurances that “Just some turbulence! Ha, ha, just a little turbulence on our flight today!” — those are the exact words I’d repeat in my head, ha-ha’s included, whenever we experienced turbulence. It helped me put turbulence in perspective while my body shut down in panic-mode. It was important for me to keep going; I didn’t want to become a person with a fear of flying so severe that I no longer saw my family.

SO, that is my final point about traveling with children this week. It’s mostly about how tough it is to travel with your little dependents. It’s also about you, and new fears you may be feeling now that you’re a parent. In order to keep traveling once you have kids, you’ll have to accept and learn to cope with both of those factors.

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