Dear Air France – It’s not my fault.

Having spent a lot of my adult life traveling and working abroad, I’ve usually make an effort to try different airlines when I can. And because of that I’ve been on some interesting, stressful and adventurous flights… but the worse experience in recent memory has been the service I received on Air France.

You’d think that in normal circumstances, especially for transcontinental/international flights, airlines make an effort to provide a relaxing and enjoyable experience. I usually try to avoid low-cost airlines for this reason… I want to enjoy the experience. Having taken Air France a few times, the quality of service and food is decent, so I was quite shocked last month when I received one of the worst experiences ever.

Knowing that I had to mentally and physically prepare myself for a trip to Canada from France with my 2-year old daughter, I’d made every preparation I could think of to make sure the flight would go smoothly. Getting rest before the flight. Check. Headphones and toys for the flight. Check. Mid-plane seats for the both of us. Check.

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So as we got on the plane for a 13-hour flight which included a change-over in Amsterdam, I was ready. What I wasn’t ready for was the on-board service I received from a flight attendant before taking off on the first-leg of our flight from Marseille to Amsterdam. I made sure to buy a seat for both of us because having my daughter, who had just turned 2 a day before the flight, sitting on my lap for the trip wasn’t going to happen… and travelers are allowed to reserve seats for an infant.

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And as it goes with any child, no matter how much you prepare, things just don’t go according to plan. Théa normally travels well, but when we had to wake up at 5am to drive an hour to get to the airport to catch our flight, you’d expect any child to be grumpy. And so she was as we found our seats and were getting ready for the departure… that meant a lot of crying and frustration. Basically she didn’t want to sit in her seat and be buckled in.

I had already asked one of the head flight attendant to keep our stroller (Dear all airlines, the Babyzen Yoyo stroller isn’t the only stroller made for traveling – see the Mountain Buggy Nano!) so I could have it for the transfer in Amsterdam. She was more than accommodating so I thought “Great, I’ll be able to ask for help if/when I need it for this trip.” Oh, was I wrong…

The second we got to our seats, Théa wouldn’t sit still and she started to get frustrated and cry. Since I had to get her to use her seat belt before taking off, it made the situation even more tense. I was given a warning by the second flight attendant that she had to be strapped in. As the plane was leaving the gate to take off, this same flight attendant came back again and told me, in the most obnoxious and least courteous tone, that the flight would not take off without Théa being buckled in. So I asked to get the child seat belt so she could sit on my lap for take off. Here’s where it gets worse…

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No, you can’t have a child seat belt. It’s your fault.

She said, “No, you can’t have a child seat belt. It’s your fault.” implying that it was somehow my fault that I had bought a seat for Théa and that she had to use it even though she was crying and unwilling to sit in the seat. After that she walked away. As I struggled to calm Théa, both the guy sitting beside me and I looked at each other and wondered what just happened.

Within a minute the head flight attendant came to see what was going on. After a bit of discussion, she quickly made an assessment of the situation and came back with the child seat belt and a couple small muffins for Théa. This dramatically reduce not only my stress but also Théa’s stress as she calmed down, sat on my lap and allowed to be buckled in, and happily enjoyed her snacks… she fell asleep soon after and only woke up just before we landed in Amsterdam.

It’s better to be gentle and show some empathy rather than to be aggressive.

Inter-personal communication is so underrated yet so important especially in stressful moments like I experienced on this flight. As my neighbor, who looked like he was a father of two boys, told the head flight attendant, “It’s better to be gentle and show some empathy rather than to be aggressive.”

Whether it’s about parenting or the challenges in life, this reaction of putting blame or faulting others does not help and can create more animosity and negativity that we as individuals and as a society don’t need.

An interview with CBC Radio about Postpartum Depression

Like every postpartum depression story, Muriel’s one is unique and deeply personal. It isn’t black and white or clear-cut because many factors and triggers make it different for everyone going through it. I’m glad that CBC Radio invited me to share a part of her story and our experience… While what Muriel (and I) went through was very different from who she was and the outcome isn’t what anyone expected, I’m glad that part of her story can be told and I hope that it can make a difference for both moms and dads.

**A web article and the interview can also be found on CBC’s Website.**

The interview highlighted some of our struggles. Here are few other things that we went through as a family and that some of the callers also brought up:

  • It felt like riding an emotional roller-coaster which was both draining and tiring.
  • The feeling of helplessness for not knowing what else to do and the frustration for being unable to see the end of the illness was very real.
  • Muriel reached out to friends, family, psychologists, and the hospital for help. Despite trying to find other ways to address her depression, anxiety, and struggles, we were at the mercy of doctors and the healthcare system because we thought they had the answers.
  • As Muriel’s condition deteriorated she became more recluse, but we also felt more isolated because of the stigma around postpartum depression (PPD) and the lack of understanding to address it and how to reach out to Muriel.

The on-air portion on the interview was only five minutes, but Gloria Macarenko and I talked a bit about what more could be done.

  • For one thing, it’s important for both moms and dads, as well as people in the support network, to realize that “it’s ok to not be ok”. There’s too much pressure, from society and between moms and parents, to be “good parents” or to do everything “right” (ex. breastfeeding).
  • Society must realize that it’s not only the person directly suffering from postpartum depression, but also their partner and child(ren) and they also need the support.
  • A mother’s physical and mental well-being is as important (maybe even more?) as a baby’s well-being.
  • Treatment for postpartum depression should include a mix of medication and therapy, including being in a supportive and appropriate environment for PPD-sufferers and babies, and communication between the medical team and families to understand the history, character and coping mechanisms of moms (and dads) who are suffering. There is no one-size fits all solution.
  • It’s important that soon-to-be new parents are aware of the possibility of postpartum depression and the causes and reasons for it. This includes changes in hormones, social pressures and expectations, and the ability for parents to cope with anxiety issues, lack of sleep, and the stresses associated with parenting. If there are pre-natal classes, why aren’t there post-natal ones?

Are fathers really that incompetent?

It’s been an interesting six weeks following the birth of our daughter. Not only is it a life moment with this new little person in our lives, changing sleeping patterns, and that we seem to focus more on talking about poo and pee times, but that I’ve gotten the feeling that some people perceive caring for baby as something that comes more naturally to mothers than fathers.

Day 1 - That's my girl
Day 1 – That’s my girl

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to be a father taking care of my daughter and I, like many other men before me, am doing my best to learn about nurturing and caring for a baby through books, advice from others, and regular searches on Google. It comes down to learning by doing and listening to myself. The funny thing is that I get a sense that there’s still this engrained culture or perception that fathers do not having what it takes when it comes down to the daily chores and tasks of taking care of a baby. Warning: Gender Alert – why is it mothers are considered the caregivers while fathers are bread winners?

It’s an eye-opening feeling and experience when I talk to some people and they almost feel sorry when I have to take care of my daughter by myself. While breastfeeding is uniquely an activity that connects baby to mother and vice versa, all other essential care-giving activities can be done by both parents like bathing, diaper-changing, bottle-feeding, cleaning, and, more importantly, loving the baby. I get it… these things are nerve-racking to do by both parents, let alone a single parent. Yet, I’ve observed that people consider these activities to come more naturally to mothers (let me rephrase, women), while fathers (i.e. men) are perceived to not really have a clue about it all.

It’s too easy for guys to accept this stance that “it’s not my duty” or that “mother knows best”, which perpetuates this perception. At the same time, aside from breastfeeding (which actually isn’t as easy as one might think given all the support out there), taking care of a baby and making sure that he/she is healthy is something that can be learned and isn’t gender-specific.