Traveling while pregnant

Erin, unlike me, is from Pittsburgh — a lovely place, but I tend to agree with Tennessee Williams when he said “America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.” (I’ve never been to Cleveland, for the record, so if you have a problem with that, take it up with Tennessee Williams.) Anyway, a couple of times a year, we try to go back to the glorious Allegheny Mountains to spend time with her family and friends. This time, of course, would be slightly different. This would be the first time Erin traveled while pregnant.

If you’re not sure why this is a big deal, I’m going to assume you’ve never traveled with (or as) a pregnant woman. It’s not that she had to go through any major or unusual preparations, it’s just that the physical state of being pregnant — I have been informed, frequently — is tremendously uncomfortable. Something else that is tremendously uncomfortable? Air travel. Combining the two of them… well, let’s just say it ain’t like getting peanut butter in my chocolate or chocolate in my peanut butter.

It’s also worth noting that Erin — the love of my life, the mother of my child, the Tito in my Jackson Five — has been getting a teeny bit paranoid as her pregnancy progresses.

“Can I go through the X-Ray machine?” She asked me the day before our flight.

“Baby, you told your doctor we were taking the trip. He knows we’re flying. If there was a problem, he would have said something. Also, there would be signs all over the X-Rays that said, ‘Hey pregnant ladies! Don’t do this!’”

Admittedly, I’m probably giving the TSA a little too much credit for having concern for its passengers, but I was trying to make Erin feel better.

But to my shock, the actual flight out was surprisingly uneventful. No delayed flights, no lost luggage, and we only encountered two rhyming demons during our layover in Atlanta. In fact, as we boarded the plane for the last leg of our journey, we sat down next to a young mother traveling with a little girl of maybe eight months old. When the girl reached out and yanked on Erin’s sweater her mother started to apologize, but Erin just said, “No problem, we have one coming in September.” All of a sudden, they were best friends, and the flight between Atlanta and Pittsburgh was split pretty much fifty-fifty between Mommy Talk and naps, which is something new mothers, impending mothers, and eight-month-old girls all have in common. Occasionally the little one reached out and smacked Erin’s belly while they slept, but we just chalked it up to her greeting our son in baby language, as demonstrated in the documentary motion picture Look Who’s Talking.

One thing we didn’t count on, however, was that air travel would somehow activate Erin’s “Pregnancy Brain.” This is a very real phenomenon, as proven by that esteemed scientist Professor Every Woman I Know Who Has Ever Had a Baby, in which pregnancy can cause sporadic and unpredictable lapses in memory, especially when it’s her turn to wash the dishes. We went on this trip when Erin was 18 weeks pregnant, and until then it hadn’t really been a big issue. Once the wheels left the ground, though, her memory went with them. She began forgetting everything: schedules, dates, which order Batman’s Robins went in, and other vitally important things. At one point we were going to visit her brother and she zipped right past the turn to go to his house. Another time she was reading a sign that completely consumed her attention until the third time I shouted “IT’S RED! THE LIGHT IS RED!” at which point it turned green and she cruised through the intersection and declared herself the victor.

I’ll probably be doing most of the driving until September.

One thing we did expect, however, were hand-me-downs. This is a time-honored tradition, something that has been happening since the dawn of mankind. In fact, Biblical Scholars now believe that Cain’s real motivation in that whole unpleasant business was that Adam gave Abel his favorite fig leaf. Sure enough, friends and family loaded us down with clothes, bottles, and other infant paraphernalia, with the promise of more to come. That promise is much appreciated, especially since we could barely fit all of the stuff they gave us into our suitcases. Her friend Karen, for example, handed over a sizeable bag of baby clothes, many of which were intended to indelibly brand my son as a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I was okay with this, of course, because I know that all of my New Orleans people will be loading our little Guacamole down with Saints gear soon enough and because it wasn’t the Falcons or the Patriots, as I would rather just drop a gold chain around his neck and hose him down with Axe body spray and call it a day.

Her brother and his wife also gave us a sort of infant sleeping pad, something they said helped keep their two littlest in place in their early months. This was a nice, comfy-looking little device that I’m sure will make our child wonderfully comfortable despite the fact that there’s simply no way to fit it into a standard-size suitcase. We had to dismantle it and then place one of the support bars in each of our suitcases.

As it turned out, this would not be the only thing to get us on a government watchlist at the airport. The other thing we came away from this trip with? Books. Lots of books. Erin and I are both bookworms, and while I suppose it’s theoretically possible that our child will not enjoy the love of reading, it’s going to be because he spends his life surrounded by so many examples of the written word that he’s going to want to live in a biosphere at the bottom of the ocean just to be in an environment moist enough that paper is impractical.

We stopped by a few stores, got a few gifts, and came away with a fairly sizable addition to our already-growing baby book library. And, if we’re going to be honest here, Daddy also spent a little time in the dollar-or-less bins at a well-known Pittsburgh comic book store, because there are still a few issues of Quasar he was missing. Like most people, I believe in packing the most important items in my carry-on when traveling, using the theory that if anybody is gonna lose my most prized possessions, it’s gonna be me. In this case, that meant my carry-on was loaded down with enough books to outweigh my actual checked bag and to get flagged by airport security at the X-Ray because of the dense matter showing up on their scanners. I was eventually allowed to pass, but not until after the friendly TSA agent opened up every board book we had purchased and examined them carefully, apparently because there was a chance that we had secreted an explosive device somewhere in The Monster at the End of This Book.

The way home was less pleasant than the way to Pittsburgh, not only because of the much heavier traveling bag, but because on the return flight we were seated in front of two total strangers who somehow spent the three hours they were united by Southwest Airlines learning one another’s life story, the history of Ireland, and the length and severity of the cancer treatments inflicted upon one of their family members or both of their kittens — I was trying my damndest not to pay attention, mostly failing.

“This is the last time I’m flying pregnant,” Erin said to me, unable to get comfortable in an airline-allotted space that clearly was not designed for two human beings occupying one body, right after St. Patrick drove the snakes away.

“I hope so,” I said.

Don’t forget to follow my Facebook page at Facebook.com/BlakeMPetit.

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