I know you feel conspicuous. I know you’ve said “I’m sorry” about 14,000 times in the last two hours and you’re about to say it 14,000 more. I know you feel like everyone is staring at you and I know you were mortified when your baby screamed at the top of his lungs during take-off.
I know that the last few hours have seemed like days and the next few will be even worse. I know that if I’m finding this flight long, you’re finding it interminable.
I know it was a long day even before you stepped through the aircraft door—timing feeds and missing his nap and enduring the line for liquid testing at security, after you’d single-handedly folded and unfolded your stroller with a baby on your hip, a heavy bag on your shoulder and no help from hurried “fellow” passengers who breezed past, tutting at you for holding up the line.
I know this isn’t your idea of a good time.
I know you’re avoiding eye contact with other passengers. I know you heard the silent or barely concealed “oh no’s” when you stepped on the plane and the sighs of relief when you passed the rows before yours without stopping.
I know you would have preferred not to have to nurse your baby in a tiny seat with a stranger sitting three inches from your elbow. I know you would have preferred not to have to bounce him up and down the aisle for an hour to try and get that burp out.
I know that you would have preferred not to be here at all—that if there was any other means for you to get to where you’re going you would have opted for it in a heartbeat.
I know that you know you have baby spit-up on your sweater but you can’t find a way to put the baby down long enough to change it—and anyway, you only brought spare clothes for him, not yourself (and I know you won’t make that mistake again!).
I know you won’t be eating anything (that tray table and a baby definitely don’t go together). I know that you’re dying to go to the bathroom and have spent the last hour trying to work out the logistics of that tiny cubicle with a baby in hand.
I know you’re wondering if you’d be overstepping if you asked the flight attendant to hold him for you for a moment while you go.
I know you have a book stashed away in your bag in the overhead locker which you packed optimistically and which you’ll never get the chance to open. I know that flying coach without an infant on your lap would—at this point—feel like a luxury vacation.
I know when you saw mothers traveling with babies before you had yours you had no idea how hard it would be.
I know. Because I’ve been there.
I’m looking your way not out of judgement, but out of solidarity. I’m looking your way because I sympathize.
I’m looking your way because if I could, I would tell you, “I’ve been there too.” I’m looking your way because I want to say: “Do not apologize.”
Because I also know that your baby has as much right to be on this plane as any other passenger. I know that his crying is an age-appropriate response to the unfamiliar things he’s experiencing: a confined space, pressure on his tiny eardrums, the unrelenting noise, his sense of your own stress levels. His response does not mean he shouldn’t be here.
Do not apologize.
I know if you could have avoided this flight you would have, but I also know you shouldn’t have to.
I’m looking at you not in judgement but because I know you’re a hero.
I know you’ve achieved the impossible already and you’re going to keep doing it because it’s the only option. I know that when this plane touches down you will be more relieved than anyone, and that you’ll spend the next several weeks dreading the day you have to step through that aircraft door again.
I know all these things. You’re not alone. Please, do not apologize.