Who thought flying would be a good idea? I suppose it’s experience. Seeing pregnant women, hearing screaming kids on the plane. I’m learning how to fake it. On the shuttle bus ride from the parking lot, the driver was very friendly. Under normal circumstances (can I even say that anymore? I’m in my new normal. Perhaps I should just simply say “before”), I would have been quite chatty back. I’m pretty good at small talk. It’s a skill I’ve learned while sitting with women in labor. There is lots of time to kill during early labor, between contractions and while pushing. I respect someone who can carry on conversation easily, filling would-be awkward silences with friendly banter. The most simplest small talk isn’t even that hard. When I was single, I went on a lot of first dates and if my date couldn’t hold his own in conversation, it wasn’t meant to be. If nothing else, all he had to do was “ask back.” I’d ask a question like how many siblings do you have and all he’d have to do to carry on the conversation was to ask that same question back. I’d even feed him questions I knew I could talk a lot about if he would just ask back. I really think small talk is that easy.
And here I am, barely able to respond to the most benign small talk. I can’t ask back. The shuttle bus driver asked where I was going. He noted I was traveling alone, so asked if I had a boyfriend (he had already mentioned his girlfriend, so I knew he was not flirting). When I told him I was meeting some girls for a girls’ weekend and then seeing family, made some comment along the lines of “Don’t have too much fun. Heehee.” I said I needed to get away, to which he responded, “Sounds like you have kids! Do you have kids?” A simple no sufficed, followed by polite laughter on my part in response to some story he went on to tell about his 6 year old. Another answer I might toy with is “None living.” I didn’t think of it until later when reading a book about loss. That wouldn’t be the right answer for the shuttle bus driver. I know there is a time and a place for it, but it might make me feel better than saying “no.”
On my first flight, the woman next to me was friendly enough. I must have given enough signs that I wasn’t interested in chatting the whole flight because she didn’t say much. Though she did leave her mark- literally. She spilled her tomato juice all over me. The crazy thing is, she never apologized for it. She explained that she was turning to ask me if I wanted anything to drink (I had already told the flight attendant that I didn’t). She helped mop up the juices, grabbing even more napkins than I needed. She tried to make the best of it- “at least it’s only a hour flight!” Maybe for her, but I had a two hour layover followed by a five hour flight afterwards. But not one apology. It’s a weird parallel to some of the responses I’ve gotten when people learn my baby died. They might try to explain it “Everything happens for a reason.” They might try to help with gestures- bringing more meals and sweets than my kitchen can accommodate. They may try to look on the bright side (?really is there a bright side?) “She’s touched so many people.”
On my layover I had a glass of wine in a wine bar. I could sit at one of the tables in the comfy chairs as long as I didn’t mind having someone else seated with me if it got busy. I had my book and phone, so I didn’t mind. A woman was soon brought to my table and the hostess introduced her and asked my name. I thought it an interesting concept to make introductions. It’s like sitting at the bar and the bartender asking you and your neighbor your names and then introducing you to each other. When the other woman sat down, she joked about us sharing a table “how Parisian of us!” I smiled but couldn’t respond. In my “before” time, I could have seen myself chit chatting to pass the time. Instead I buried myself in my book.
On my last leg I was fortunate to have an empty seat beside me. I really enjoyed the privacy that one empty middle seat gave me. I finished the book I was reading about a midwife who has a stillbirth. And I felt I could shed a tear or two unnoticed. I was worried about flying for many reasons. So much alone time. How would I keep my mind occupied? And lack of privacy. If I wallowed in my grief, I would have someone inches away witnessing it- but not witnessing it in the right way. When the traveler one seat over tried to commiserate with me about how the airline ran out of food, I did my best to smile and agree. But it’s all fake. I was so grateful for that separating seat. It gave me space.
I’ve been lamenting lately that people aren’t seeing the real me. This is not how I’m really like. I can usually make small talk. I’m like this in real life too. At bootcamp earlier in the day I saw my doctor, who is expecting and now quite visibly pregnant. I thought I might run into her and was excited to do so, but when I saw her belly I could barely make eye contact. It feels awful. I couldn’t be the me I wanted to be. I’m better than this. The bootcamp instructor has also been so very nice to me- she knows what happened and I’ve been going almost exclusively to her classes. I even went to one of her evening 80s dance classes, which turned out to be pretty fun despite my lack of rhythm. She has been very kind and friendly, asking about me and I can barely respond. I want to tell her- I’m better than this. But right now it doesn’t feel right to laugh and smile and be lighthearted. I can be that way with some people- the people who also have seen me cry. Because they know that I’m not all smiles. I need people to know that I’m still sad. So with these kind, friendly people, my voice is quieter and I am literally smaller. I can’t speak up, be confident or laugh easily- because my baby died.