I know exactly how Rebekka Garvison feels. Twenty-six years ago, I was the benefactor of a similar act of kindness from a complete stranger and I have never forgotten it.
Garvison’s story began last Thursday when she boarded a Spirit Airlines flight from Chicago O’Hare International Airport to Atlanta with her 4-month-old baby, Rylee Garvison. Garvison, who lives in Kalamazoo and works as a pharmacy tech at Meijer, was surprising her military husband Nick Garvison with a visit at the Army base at Fort Rucker, Alabama.
Rylee slept the entire drive to the airport. It was only after the flight began boarding at 5:30 a.m. that Rylee made it known she was not happy. Passengers’ faces filled with dread as Garvison and her screaming infant got on the plane.
Garvison sat next to Nyfesha Miller, who had just taken out her neck pillow and was about to drift off to sleep. “I had no idea a wailing baby was going to wind up next to me,” Miller told a Huffington Post reporter. “My initial reaction in my head was, ‘Oh my gosh, how did this happen to me? I didn’t even look over right away.”
But Miller’s heart went out to the mother. “I thought, ‘Baby feels what mom is feeling and baby is not going to stop crying,’” Miller said. “If I don’t help her that baby is going to be crying the entire flight.” So Miller, a stage actress and mother of four children ages 8-18, leaned over to Garvison and said: “Do you mind if I try?” Miller scooped Rylee up. Almost immediately the crying stopped. Soon, the baby was fast asleep and she slept in Miller’s arms the entire flight.
That night Rebekkah posted her thanks on Facebook. “Nyfesha Miller, you will never understand how happy this act of kindness has made my family. ... I just couldn’t believe how that ended up working out and how caring you were to us. Thank you SO much!!”
Like Garvison, I was a first-time mom traveling alone to visit my folks in Florida with my 5-week-old baby daughter back in 1990. I just remember being so overwhelmed with the responsibility of caring for this tiny human being.
While I knew that breastfeeding in flight would help relieve cabin pressure on her, I also knew that stress and lactation are at odds with each other. The more I fretted the less I was going to be able to nurse and of course, the less I was able to nurse the more I fretted.
Landing late in Atlanta, I had to run — with my crying baby, mind you — to make my connecting flight. By the time I boarded last leg of the trip, I was twitching and wimpering, with yellow spit up on my shoulder.
I was so shaken I was considering deboarding the flight when a terribly apologetic flight attendant moved us a couple rows back to where, lo and behold, my angel was sitting in a window seat.
She was a mother of two boys and was going on vacation with her family. Seeing my distress, she changed seats with her husband to be on the aisle and began talking me off the ledge. Then she coaxed me into handing Caelan over so I could regain my composure. And just like Nyfesha Miller with baby Rylee, this stranger got my baby to sleep in her arms the entire flight.
I asked for her address and sent her a thank you card from Florida. I like to think I even sent her a Christmas card later that year but that might just be wishful thinking on my part.
Twenty-six years later, I’m one of those mad-about-babies types that coo longingly at any and all infants in public places, so I’d like to think that presented with the same situation on a flight I’d be only too happy to pay it forward and be a brand-new mother’s saving grace.
But that does not compare to being on the receiving end of the transcendent labor of love that is motherhood. That I have never forgotten that woman who saved me and my baby on that Orlando flight almost a quarter-century ago speaks volumes to the wonderful adage: Once a mother, always a mother.