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By Lindsay Pinchuk, Founder BCB
Nearly 18 months ago I shared this post on the Bump Club Blog. MANY of you responded, commented, shared and sympathized. (Thank you for reading!) If you didn’t read it and don’t want to go down an Internet rabbit hole, the post is about how hard parenting actually is and how many of us don’t share our struggles as parents. At the time this first story was written, I was over a year into dealing with my daughter’s very real and very big fear of airplanes and flying. At that time, we were four months into intense cognitive behavior therapy to help her overcome this fear and the anxiety which comes with it.
My daughter’s fear of flying did not impact her life on a daily basis. However with no family living in Chicago the fact that she could not fly had some serious implications for our family. When I wrote that last post there was no end in sight. But truth be told, at the time I didn’t think that it would be over a year before we came out the other side. While in the end we figured out my daughter’s fear stemmed from the fear of vomiting and being nauseous, I myself spent the whole of 2018 sick to my own stomach as we tried to navigate its cause.
After consulting our pediatrician and other professionals, my husband and I decided early on to work with a practice who specialized in Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Cognitive Behavior Therapy is defined as time-sensitive, structured, present-oriented psychotherapy directed toward solving current problems and teaching clients skills to modify dysfunctional thinking and behavior. Basically CBT is exposure therapy, or therapy where you face your actual fear.
In this situation, facing the fear was a challenge. It wasn’t a dog or an escalator or something which was easily accessible. We needed an airplane to solve this situation—which was a struggle in and of itself. The fear was so big we couldn’t get her to board a commercial plane. Not with me, not with my husband, not with her therapist. And we tried it all. Many times. We visited the airport twice through their Travelers Aid Program. We watched planes take off and land. There were many trips booked using my many miles which resulted in us never actually leaving Chicago O’Hare.
I am a very open person, but it is not always easy to be vulnerable when things aren’t going as planned. I quickly began to realize though, how helpful it was to share this situation with others. Not only was it somewhat therapeutic, but each time I shared, I received more support. Every time I shared, more people came forward with resources and possible solutions.
After working with my daughter’s therapist (and her practice–as I know all of the partners weighed in on our efforts) for over a year, it is safe to say that her therapist came to know not only my daughter, but me as well. This was a unique situation as there was a lot of time spent in the office, but also outside the office in cars, in airports, and eventually on planes. While my daughter was the patient, the therapist not only understood how to manage and help her anxiety, but she also understood and managed me as a parent. (I know that this was not always easy.)
I wanted to give up. MANY TIMES. But I didn’t really. The therapist knew this about me and I knew that she didn’t want to give up either. So while it was my daughter she was treating, her ability to work with me was a big part of what helped me to help my daughter. I also have a feeling she never actually would have let me quit—no matter how many times I said I was going to.
I spent over eighteen months fixated on this situation and wanting nothing more than to put it behind us. I literally obsessed over it. It consumed my every thought. Every spare second I had I did research, made calls, tried to figure out solutions and resources which I brought with me to my daughter’s weekly appointments. For a long time, nothing I could do seemed to be bringing us any closer to a resolve. This was something that was going to take time. As an impatient person who prides herself on “making shit happen,” I had to come to terms with this being something I was not going to be able to “just fix.”
But my daughter didn’t want to give up either. We asked her often and she wanted to solve this too. She missed her cousins who lived out of town and wanted to be able to go on trips over vacations from school. Just as I thought there were no other options, one of our many resources suggested we go to flight school. Not to learn to fly, but to have access to an airplane. We were introduced to a female pilot who worked with us on a 4-person Cessna airplane. Eventually, after a lot of taxing down the runway at high speeds, the therapist told the pilot to take off.
And we did.
Within seconds, our eighteen months of hard work was behind us, the band-aid was ripped off, and we were airborne.
I can’t even put into words what I felt when we first took off. I obviously cried. Not in that moment but later that day, and many times since. This is what I had been waiting for and obsessing about for what felt like forever.
We figured out that source of the fear was that of throwing up and being nauseous. So our pediatrician prescribed an anti-nausea medicine as needed. We tried the Cessna again. My daughter went willingly, which only proved to me just how much she wanted to succeed at this task. This time we flew above Chicago for over an hour and she actually liked it. I, on the other hand, was turning green in the back of the tiny airplane.
After two more times on the Cessna, we scheduled our first commercial flight. She walked right on and hasn’t looked back. Since then (in January) she has been on 11 flights: Detroit (2x), New York, Miami, Montreal (with an unexpected diversion to Baltimore.) She’s asking to go to Asia and Paris—and I can’t wait to be able to take her one day.
CBT worked. Our big issue was not being able to expose her frequently because we didn’t have prolonged access to an airplane. Once we found a work around here, I watched with my very eyes the CBT working to help her make progress. With intense exposure to the airplane and its motions in a condensed period of time, it became easier with every flight on the Cessna. Every time we took off, we stayed up longer. By the time we got to Chicago Midway—she was ready and she walked right on. When we landed in Detroit after that first flight, PRIDE was radiating from my child. She walked with a pep in her step. She couldn’t stop singing. Within an hour of landing she looked and me and said, “Mom, where is our next adventure?”
I always said that one day I would look back on this scenario and laugh (not sure how soon that will be.) I also always said that one day it would be a blip on the radar AND that this was not the first or last time I would have to overcome a hurdle with either of my kids. All of these things are for certain.
Since I started Bump Club and Beyond nearly a decade ago, I have been always been honest about parenthood. I regularly show you on the ‘gram my child at midnight when she wakes up (though thankfully not as much anymore as we got help for that.) I stand in front of rooms filled with hundreds of expectant parents and tell you things no one else ever will (ie. that mesh underwear are the best invention.) I have ALWAYS said exactly what is on my mind. I’m thankful for the trust I have built with so many of you and that we are on this crazy ride we call parenthood together.
From where you sit on the other side of your screen, I am sure that these pictures look like ordinary family pictures. But oh my gosh, what it took to actually get here. To me, these pictures are the product of so much more: hard work and the willingness to never give up. They’re also the product and proof that parenting can be so f-ing hard. It can also be so f-ing rewarding all at the same time.
These pictures are simply the start of a new chapter for my entire family.
On a personal note, I want to thank everyone who supported us during the eighteen months we worked on this. Our friends and family, the numerous resources we were given access to, the many pilots and American Airlines employees who were so patient with us. My daughter’s pediatricians, therapist and Madeline—we never could have taken off without you.
Lindsay Spolan Pinchuk is the Founder of Bump Club and Beyond. She started Bump Club and Beyond nearly eight years ago when she was pregnant with her first daughter. BCB’s mission is to connect moms and moms-to-be with the best information, resources, products, experts and each other, both online and through dozens of premier events. Lindsay lives in Chicago with her amazing husband and two incredible daughters. You can find more from Lindsay on the BCBlog or you can follow Lindsay on Instagram and Twitter.