Uh uh, says the baby as the plane heaves itself into the air, ungainly mechanical bird, rising on a cross wind. Uh uh.

The baby sits between its parents in the seat in front of me for the hour-long flight home to Wellington. The family are visitors to New Zealand, the mother clutching a pen and passports. They speak quietly in a foreign language. But uh uh is universal.

That uh uh was the most articulate sound I’d heard that day. I’d been cutting down on my antidepressants in a self-prescribed kind of way. As I like to tell my husband, I am a little bit of a doctor. But that morning I’d woken in Auckland feeling a terrible dread in my chest. I was ready to cry over anything. It was my own stupid fault that I had no medication to push back the creeping tide of sadness. I could feel anxiety, like a viral rash, creeping up from my stomach, clenching my shoulders and constricting my lungs. Soon my face would be covered in metaphorical egg.

Uh uh is not uh oh, which is the sound for when definitive wrong has occurred.

Uh uh is the sound of present uncertainty, it’s the sound my brain makes when trucks thunder past our house causing me to stand stock still and feel the earth under my feet to ascertain whether it’s a truck or an earthquake.

Uh uh is a sound that comes from the gut, the soul’s nesting place, which is why a baby who doesn’t speak a language I understand can be the most articulate person on the plane.

On a day when a heavenly comet burns a path towards the earth and the sea evaporates and God proves her existence by pointing the golden finger of benediction at me and mine, I won’t say hallelujah, I’ll say uh uh.

I’ve been scared of flying for a few years now. On long haul flights I take a self-directed cocktail of clorazepam, gin and MOR American comedies. I never sleep, but this mix gets me through without having me claw at the exits screaming to be let out. I thought I was getting better on domestic flights until the uh uh baby spoke.

For some reason I was not sat next to my husband so I thought I’d just sit next to him anyway. Then some off-duty pilots came up and I was sitting in one of their seats. The air steward tried to get me to move, but perhaps the pilot saw how I was about to cry, and he said, Don’t worry, I’ll sit here instead. He was kind. He sat down and said to me that when people don’t sit in their assigned seats it can interfere with the trim on the plane. Trim, I said? And he explained, It’s the balance of the plane – they balance the weight of people on a plane so it’s even.

I’ve always loved this stuff. I love proven safety systems, checks and balances. I love it when they wheel the rear stairs up to the back of the plane and the person outside thumps the rear door twice and the air steward in their high-vis vest thumps back twice and only then do they open the door. It’s very reassuring that sort of thing, and I love watching people do their jobs well and elegantly, and correctly.

I told the pilot how hospitals looked to aviation as the industry with the lowest fail rates, and they copied the methodical checklists for the hospital environment. I told him how I loved that we can learn things from each other’s industries, modify the way we operate to do our jobs better. He asked me if I worked in hospitals. I said no, I work in publishing, which is mostly based on feelings and opinions. He looked bemused and said, Well, it’s good to have interests outside your work, it’s healthy. Later I wished I’d told him I was a little bit of a doctor as well as a publicist and writer. But that would have made me sound as unhealthy as I felt.

As the plane came into Wellington to land from the south the buffeting began. Up and down, side to side. I clung onto my husband’s arm, dug my nails in. Tears ran down my cheeks, from fear, and from being so tired of feeling scared, so exhausted from my ongoing, unpredictable sadness. At that moment I felt that it wasn’t wind but my grief pushing the plane around, my grief that would bring certain death to us all on that plane. Grief is selfish like that. From the point of view of the griever, it infects everything. Even having a pilot sit next to me wasn’t enough of a safety measure.

The baby was saying uh uh, uh uh, uh uh, uh uh, which then turned into a nervous whine and then open crying. The baby’s father was saying shhh shhh, but not in a tone that I believed and neither did the baby. The pilot was looking out the window with a calm, almost-smile on his face. By this stage I was so terrified I didn’t care if he saw me crying. Poor blameless off-duty pilot. What did he know about the grief that was about to kill us all?

And then with a couple of bumps we landed. The plane did not fall apart. The monster that had been trying to kill us disappeared.

As soon as the plane slowed on the runway the baby started singing a happy baby tune. It had moved on. The way you do when you live in the present.