I brought Henry on the plane and he was sleeping in his sling. People tsked with love for a sweet baby. I like to start him off this quiet to trick people, I laughed to the stewardess when we walked on. We all laughed. He’d had three plane rides before this one and all of them were relatively great. We got to our seats and I told the 6′5″ man in the aisle seat that our seats were beside his — me, my baby, and my 6′3″ husband were going to squish in beside him. This is gonna be hell, Steve said to the man. Then laughed and said, just kidding, he’s a good baby.
The first ten minutes Henry was calm. Then I gave him to Steve and he started kicking and making noise. It was okay, it was cute. He’d been so quiet the past few days, it was good to see him animated and comfortable. But then it looked like he was trying to squirm out of his clothes, so Steve politely asked the man beside him to stand up so that Steve could take Henry to the lavatory to change his diaper. This was okay. They came back and Henry was okay.
Then Henry very suddenly wasn’t okay. I tried to nurse him and he wouldn’t have it. I tried the other side and he wouldn’t have it. He was making noise of upset, but it was still manageable. But then he started pouting and his face started turning red. He only pouts when it’s going to get really bad, when he’s really upset.
Was it my let-d0wn? That happens sometimes when I’m in public and stressed. It could have been that, he was trying to drink and nothing was coming and maybe the air pressure was hurting his ears or stomach — the air pressure hurts my own stomach, so maybe so — and then he started really crying. Uncontrollable, inconsolable. The plane, they announced, was starting to descend, we needed to stay in our seats.
I tried nursing again and again. Maybe this, maybe that. Shake him, jig him, shush into his ear. This breast, the other breast. This breast, the other breast. Think calm thoughts to bring on the let-down. Breathe. Picture the flowers of the milk ducts. Picture the baby drinking. Give him to Steve. Hold him on the left side, hold him on the right side. Hold him upright, hold him lying down. Turn him to face his face, turn him to face the window. Raise him up in the air. Turn him to face me. Smile at him. Look concerned. Shush into his ear. Sing that song he liked once into his ear. Sing that song he liked once while the other of us is singing Old McDonald had a farm, e-i-e-i-o. And on that farm he had a rooster, e-i-e-i-o. With a moo here. Moo, moo, moo, moo. I think he likes the moos. Moo, moo, moooo, a shudder of moos. Steve gives him to me. I try to nurse him, right side, left side. Old McDonald had a farm. Boo. I try the pacifier and he turns away. I try again, he turns away. I blow into his hair to see if maybe he’s hot and needs to cool down. Blowing air, his hair moving, still crying. All this time still crying. Real tears. Face in a pout, face red, nasal definite moaning. Howling. Uncontrollable, inconsolable howling. The plane is still descending. I want it to crash. I want to see the ground. I want to muffle the crying. I smile, I look concerned, I look away. Boo. Boo. Mooooooo. Henry? Henry! Buddy, shush. What’s wrong? What can I do? Left breast, right breast. He turns his head away. He seems to like the plstic cup. He looks at it without crying. He tries to drink from it but it’s empty. He starts crying. Tap on the cup, he seems to like that maybe. Steve flicks his thumb against it. More nasal howling. Red-faced. I don’t dare look up at everyone. I try to nurse him, left breast right breast. He pushes away. I give him my water bottle. He tries to drink from the black plastic cap. He drinks, he’s quiet while he drinks. Water from the airport water fountain fills his mouth and dribbles out. He seems to want more. We do this again and again, and he gets increasingly irritated, making sour faces at the taste. Then he’s howling again, his mouth in a severe pout, his face red. The plane is on the ground, and we are sitting on the tarmac for one minute, two, three, four, five, ten minutes sitting on the tarmac with the air off while Henry screams. Everyone is very quiet. There’s only one other kid on this flight and he’s older and quiet. I try to nurse Henry, left side right side. I try to burp him. I try the water again. For a minute he is quiet when I stick a dirty finger in his mouth and it presses against his gums. Then the seatbelt sign comes off and people stand to go. Slowly I think I see people leave the plane — I’m not sure anymore if this is really happening. More tears. That look of agony on my baby’s face. I shush into his ear. I blow onto his hair to cool him down. It’s definitely hot in here. People are not moving fast enough. I jig him left to right, right to left. I bounce him up and down. I look away. I sing into his ear, three blind mice, three blind mice. He’s not looking at me. He’s hasn’t been able to look in my eyes for ten minutes, he’s so far inside his tears. It’s our turn to go. I stand up and suddenly Henry is quiet. I walk off the plane and he is quiet the whole way. I put him in his sling and nurse him as we walk and he instantly falls asleep.
How are you? a woman asked the man in front of us when we got off the plane.
Good now, he said.
For the rest of the night the world seemed dangerous. Everything Steve said sounded wrong, like it was going to hurt me. The sky looked ominous. I didn’t trust drivers. I screamed at a woman who didn’t put on her turning signal. At this moment, I never want to fly again.