“What happens if the baby arrives early or even late? What complications can I expect and even how will my wife or partner cope if I am flying and not even in the country and the worst of all un-contactable”
What follows is an account sent to us by a Pilot who wanted to share his own experience of childbirth and the weeks that followed. He makes no claims about his experience other than hoping it may be of interest and possible help to other pilots. We are tremendously grateful to him.
My wife was having a natural birth, well that was the plan, as you never know what is going to happen. This is the point entirely, you don’t know how or when the birth is going to happen. As a pilot this throws up several complications and induces a level of stress and anxiety before the birth takes place. What happens if the baby arrives early or even late? What complications can I expect and even how will my wife or partner cope if I am flying and not even in the country and the worst of all un-contactable.
I was worried before the birth and the stress of not knowing whether I would be present at the birth was overwhelming. I found myself talking to base management to allow me the opportunity of flying only short routes, this afforded some comfort that I would possibly be closer to getting to the hospital should I have received notification of a missed call from my wife. This flagged up another issue as to whether I would be safe to fly home with the added urgency and potential anxiety of what I could potentially miss or have missed.
The big question is, will I cope with any problems or emergencies efficiently and professionally? Would the passengers be happy if they knew what was going through my mind? Should I call back or should I have asked my wife not to call so as not to put me in this predicament?
I was under no illusion that this was a highly stressful situation and I didn’t know how best to handle everything. I was lucky that I was on non-flying duties after the due date so I was definitely going to be present at the birth. I questioned myself as to whether I had taken enough parental leave as after the birth you understand the full extent of what has just happened. My wife was suffering with pre-eclampsia and our newborn child needed hospital treatment from day three. No adult in our house was getting any sleep, this affected the mood as we were becoming fractious. I wondered how I was going to cope with my return to work and how my wife would deal with me not being there as I was able to offer at least some respite.
We were one of the lucky families with help on hand within only a few minutes from a phone call for assistance. How do Pilots cope if they are commuting or out of base? I returned to work after a long sleep. My considerate wife said that I needed my sleep to operate the aircraft safely and she wouldn’t be happy if I was going to work tired. I started to feel guilty that I wasn’t bonding as much as I would have liked with my baby and my wife was dealing with all the issues that arose. I was tired after a series of early starts but I needed to ‘put in a shift’ on my days off so that I could ‘give back’ to my wife. Late nights followed and the subsequent return to work.
I felt alone whilst dealing with these issues. I questioned whether others were feeling the same and how they were coping. What strategies / coping mechanisms did they employ? Who was available to help? I found the GP and AME very helpful for my wife and I. Were we experiencing burnout? As a Commercial Pilot we work as two crew and it’s no different in our relationships. We need to recognise what is happening and find people who can help us. Time off work may be the answer or a delayed/ staged return to work for yourself or your partner may be appropriate.
If not recognised, how can this continued cycle affect a pilot long term? The symptoms of fatigue, anxiety and depression can be dealt with by professionals. If you notice it, deal with it. If I had the opportunity to speak with someone, even if it was for assurance that I wasn’t alone, I would have felt more at ease.
Pilot Story - New Baby