I'm trying to book a flight in January, back to Chicago for my baby shower.  As I was shopping for a decent fare, which is hard to find at my small local airport, I realized I had better check on the airlines' policy on pregnant women flying.

I can understand that the airline doesn't want some woman going into labor and the pilots having to divert.  But … how often does that really happen?  A quick Google search yielded breathless news coverage of a premature baby born on a Korean Air flight in June and not much else.

The thing that gets me all amped up is that the act of giving birth seems to be frozen in time.  Obviously there are many innovations in the way that doctors intervene in birth, probably new epidurals and shinier stirrups and God knows what else.  But the conversations I find myself having about birth, most people's attitudes towards it, their understanding of it, make me feel like I've stumbled into Old-Fashioned Land, where doctors know everything, women are helpless, and having a baby is a serious medical emergency that springs up, full-blown, without warning.

This is hard to get used to, partly because it sucks, and partly because the medical world of getting me pregnant was so different, and seemed to be much more up-to-date. 

Anyway.  Should I decide to travel less than a month before my due date, United Airlines requires that I present a letter from an obstetrician saying what my due date is (perhaps this is too hard for me to remember?) and that I am "fit to travel."  At first glance this cracked me up – fit to travel?  Do have to be fit to slump in my seat and say no thanks to the peanuts?  but that's because I'm not familiar with some of the complications many women live with due to diabetes, preeclampsia etc.  I'm ignorant because I don't have any drama and I thank God for that.  So I suppose some women with complicated pregnancies are deciding to fly and the airlines want to prevent that. 

Part of my dangerously cavalier attitude about flying is that it's a 90 minute flight.  Were I going to New Zealand or something, I'd probably be a little more concerned about the blood clots and all that.  But this is one of those where you ascend, they turn off the seat belt sign, they give you a drink, you get 10 pages into Skymall and it's time to descend.  Now, if they make the plane sit on the runway for 4 hours so they can call it an on-time flight, making announcements every half hour that we'll be "wheels up in just a few minutes," not letting me use my DVD player because it's a "prohibited electronic device," why then I will make every effort to have the baby RIGHT THERE because that sitting-on-the-runway thing is just too, too much.

As you can imagine, the thing that has me all riled up is the "obstetrician" part.  What would happen if United Airlines required any passenger over 40 with cholesterol over 220 to present a note from a cardiologist, because those passengers might have a heart attack?  Setting aside the uproar that would result from inconveniencing, uh, MEN in this way – but why couldn't these ticking time bombs bring a note from any old doctor?

I fired off an email to United, asking if I could use a note from a board-certified midwife, and received this response:

I regret to learn your disappointment with our policy to present an obstetrician's certificate while traveling. I understand that you would like to present board-certified midwife's medical letter to travel. But, please understand that as per our United policy we only require the certificate which states that the obstetrician has examined the passenger and found her to be physically fit for travel by air from place/to on date, and state the estimated due date of the baby.

Sigh.  Setting aside the odd wording which makes me wonder if my initial inquiry was even understood, and the usual customer-service technique of reiterating the policy without really answering the question, this just infuriates me.  I don't have an obstetrician, I don't plan to get one, and the idea that a midwife isn't qualified to ascertain my "fitness for flying," let alone catch my baby, is insulting.

Midwives, you have my respect and my sympathy.  To be in such a worthy profession that is so disregarded and disrespected by most of this country is to live your work life in Old Fashioned Land and that must be really hard.

If I can get past the OB requirement, and I can't, I'm also infuriated by the old-fashioned idea that a pregnant women is a ticking time bomb.  I bet countless women have gotten a few hours of early labor out of the way on a plane and didn't think it necessary to "warn the cabin crew" before heading off to their destination.  In Old Fashioned Land, apparently they think babies will just plop themselves out without warning, yet it's still a dangerous medical emergency.  I understand that second and third babies do this, but I think second and third-time mamas have a much better sense of what rumblings to look for.  I certainly hope for a shorter labor but I don't expect one.

There was an essay in the New York Times a few weeks ago. A man wrote about how his wife's baby came so fast that he was still on the phone with 911 when she caught her own baby and called out to him from the bathroom: "it's a girl."  Instead of celebrating his daughter's birth and his wife's incredibly short and easy labor, the father was traumatized, and haunted by what he calls his own "irrelevance." 

Is this why we as a culture cling to the idea that childbirth should be harrowing, and traumatic, and dangerous?  So that our men can feel important, and have something to do?  I think that's sad.

It would be oh so much more sensible if United, and Northwest which has the same policy, would only apply it to flights over a certain number of hours, and obviously they should accept a midwife's note.

I'm actually just one day clear of their stupid requirement.  I will be traveling on January 12th, and my guess date is February 13th, so I'm not quite traveling a month before. 

By the way, did you know that less than 5% of babies are born on their due dates?  I hate due dates and I'm trying to forget mine so that my baby isn't labeled as "late" or "early."

It seems like it would be so easy to just lie about my due date – what are they going to do, check my cervix?  But luckily I don't have to.