Her Scent

Today is Easter, a family holiday.  Out at brunch there were many families gathering.  Facebook is full of photos of small kids.  Eggs and bunnies are everywhere.  And with bunnies comes carrots.  My little carrot.  Today would have been our first real holiday with her.  I wonder what I would have dressed her in.  I wonder how we would have spent the holiday- in the hospital or at home with family.  Instead we are ending our “if our baby dies” vacation.  She is on my mind.

In the hospital, when your baby dies- either born still or dies after birth- they give you a bereavement box.  In it are things like resources about loss, a book with her info in it, her hospital ID bracelet.  Ours came with a few “surprise” photos- photos the nurse took after we gave her up.  On Labor and Birth, when we have a stillborn baby, the nurses do the same, so I don’t know why I was so pleasantly surprised to see some in our box.  Part of it was that I was in a different world, one of neonatal loss belonging to the NICU, so I didn’t know how things worked.  And another part was that we had taken so many of our own photos, maybe I was thinking they assumed we had enough.

They give you the box, even if you don’t think you want it and suggest tucking it away out of sight in case you want to look years later.  I wanted it.  I knew what was inside.  I opened that box within a few days of going home.  Seeing those surprise photos was a true gift.  It was something new.  I will never get anything new about my daughter-so this seemed like a miracle.  That moment of surprise when I saw photos of Mabel that I didn’t know existed will be my last, but it was a good one.

In our box came a few other things.  Her blanket.  The white knit one that we bought to hold her in in case she was dying.  And her outfit, the little pink dress.  I took out the box the other day.  I was sad and felt like diving in to her memories.  I pulled out the blanket and smelled it.  Nothing.  No scent of her.  I don’t even know what she really smelled like- holding her in NICU surrounded by hospital smells.  And after she was gone?  Do babies smell the same after they are no longer with us?  I don’t know.  I picked up her dress and smelled it.  It smelled of a clothing store.  And then I brought her hat to my nose.  It still had the marks of her birth on it.  It had a few strands of hair in it.  I inhaled and took in the scent that must be my daughter.  It wasn’t the gentles smell of baby shampoo or baby powder that most babies smell of.  It was unique, natural.  It was distinctly human.  It was Mabel.

I haven’t picked up that hat since.  It’s painful and comforting at the same time.  It’s the pain I’m afraid to feel.  But I worry. Over time, that scent will fade.  I feel like I should be holding her hat to my nose everyday, so I can remember how she smelled.



3 thoughts on “Her Scent

  1. For me, the wondering feels so different to that of many bereaved mothers. “Would he be walking now” becomes “would he be using a wheelchair now, or a special needs stroller”. “Would he have breastfed into toddlerhood” becomes “how long would I have managed to pump enough for his tube feelings”. “What would life have been like” and “could he have lived longer than he did”.

    The smells I remember are hospital and NICU smells, then what must be operating room smells after autopsy, or funeral home smells, I’m not sure.

    • I think you and I are in the same boat. I oscillate between imagining what it would be like to have a special needs child and a more typical one. It was easier in the beginning to imagine the special needs- I knew my baby would be in the NICU, would likely need dialysis and possibly a vent. But now as the months have gone by, I wonder, would she be off the vent? possible. dialysis done? unlikely. but sometimes I let myself imagine what it would be like to have had a relatively healthy child with Down Syndrome. I’m unsure if that’s fair of me to do, but I do.

      As for smells- yes! it’s so hard when your baby is mixed with institution :/

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