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Juggling life as a mum and a pilot: Chrissy Bateson’s story

For Mothers’ Day we’re shining a light on all the amazing pilots who juggle a flying career with family life and saying thank you to all the mums of pilots, and mums who look after the family while their pilot partner is flying. We thank you all.

Below we’re featuring the real story of one pilot who is also a mum.


Commercial Airline Pilot

Her story in her words:

As I write this, I don’t know if I will be at home on Mother’s Day. I work a random roster pattern and my partner and I receive our rosters the month before, sometimes very late in the evening. We both work in in aviation, so the next day I will have a call with my Mum, to let her know what days I will need her, and we make a plan from there. I chose this career for its challenges and variety so I accept the nature of the work. It’s a unique situation and works really well for us, so my little one will have a Grandmother, if not a Mother, on Mother’s Day this year.

I didn’t have a plan for motherhood but I hoped I would get to fulfil that role at some point, which was a bit like becoming a pilot for me as well. I started my pilot training later in life and in 2010, just after the banks crashed the world economy, I completed it successfully. Due to this downturn, my start date was delayed and the position I had with an airline was downgraded to a zero hours contract with no secure way of covering my loan repayments but I was in too deep financially to quit so there was no option except continue. My finances took a massive hit and I almost filed for bankruptcy at one point – but BALPA saved me from that – for which I am eternally thankful.

Like flying, motherhood has its ups and downs, (pun intended). Getting pregnant later in life you are termed a “geriatric mother” – flattering!  However, after a failed round of IVF, they can call me what they like, IVF is tough, both  physically and mentally so legend is more like it. Hats off to all the couples who do multiple rounds and with extra love to those who it doesn’t work out for.

I was lucky to be fit and healthy throughout the pregnancy, but the sleep deprivation afterwards was the real kicker for me. I didn’t know how I was going to cope with flying as well. Having a partner who understands the need to be rested before and after duty is so important.

Maternity pay is woeful in this industry, in some companies pilots are offered only statutory maternity- something highlighted in BALPA’s Baby on board Campaign which called for enhanced maternity for pilots. For me I had  four and a half months before I went on to statutory- something that comes with a huge drop in income for any rank. As a result, I completed my maternity leave after six months and returned as a nursing mother on my basic salary. During this period I worked from home on my BALPA rep duties. The company can offer other roles but there is no obligation to accept.

In the event of pregnancy, the CAA say class 1 medical certification may continue until the 26th week if regular obstetric evaluation indicates a normal pregnancy and the certificate holder’s Aeromedical Examiner (AME), considers that they are fit to do so.  At the time, my company didn’t allow me to fly but now it’s the individual’s choice. Top tip: don’t, like me, try and change your name in this period because you need a valid class 1 medical to do so. Another fun way the CAA likes to spice up your admin.

I thought getting my class 1 medical revalidated would be relatively easy after giving birth but no! It seems that carrying a baby squashes your insides a little bit and my ECG wasn’t perfect so instead of doing a few readings over a few months to see if improved, I had to have a full investigation into my heart, looking for hereditary conditions and pulmonary heart disease.  It seems the data is skewed looking for disease of a standard pilot population rather than the individual, which was annoying because this was all at my expense, and, as there wasn’t anything actually wrong with me, the NHS (rightly) won’t cover it.

During this whole time in the back of your mind there is the huge decision of which roster pattern will suit upon return.  The dilemma, of course, is wanting to be with my baby verses not wanting my career to suffer. For me, due to Covid, this was taken out my hands, as I had to take a part time contract to save my job, which in turn helped to save others’ jobs.

Ordinarily, I would have had to put in a Flexible Working Request to find a roster pattern that worked for both the company and my family. It is better to put the request in as early as possible, but this has its own difficulties- you don’t really know what your new life is going to be like yet.  Luckily the law will  change in April 24 , and requests can be made every six months. However, for me, being on this roster pattern did allow me to qualify for 30 hours funded childcare which really helps and the current situation is working well at the moment.

Returning to flying was another leap of faith; how would it feel?  how would I cope? how much have I forgotten? what are the effects of “baby brain”?

Yes, “baby brain” is a thing: much like in adolescence, a flood of hormones triggers widespread pruning of synapses, the connections between nerve cells in the brain. Intentionally, now the brain focuses on social cognition and understanding what your new offspring needs at the expense of other stuff.

At my age, I also had to consider the onset of menopause: more hormone changes affecting my brain, memory, anxiety levels and body temperature among other things. During this time, I discovered that I have condition called hypothyroidism which also affects the things listed above. Taking Levothyroxine seems to ease the symptoms so I don’t need the HRT just yet but I am prepared and ready to take it when needed.  Until then my focus is on eating healthily, exercise and a regular bedtime routine when I am not working. Trying to control these things while working is a constant challenge. My actual return to flying was pretty straight forward. I was lucky – Covid had a positive influence here, as everyone around me understood what it was like having a break from flying. My plan to do the work, complete the course and trust the training seemed to work well for me.

Wow… I haven’t even talked about the baby yet. I used to roll my eyes when people say “they grow up too fast”, “blink and you will miss it”, but it is so true. My little one is nearly four and I really don’t know where the time has gone. There are so many phases and each seem so massively important at the time but looking back it all worked itself out, so I remind myself to just enjoy every moment.

In summary, a bit like flying, you don’t know what motherhood is going to give you but you look around, see what you have got, make a plan and review it. Oh, and make sure you have lots of people to talk to about it with – a problem shared and all that.

You can read more inspiring stories about women in aviation via the links below:

Kate’s Story

Amy’s Story

Sophia’s Story

Michelle’s Story