I’ve often heard that a single smell can bring back a flood of memories and that even if you don’t remember what something smells like, the second you smell it again, you’re able to remember the full details of what that smell is connected to.
Many moms experience this with babies. Babies have a smell that is indescribable. It’s the most beautiful, peaceful, calming smell. Each baby has her own smell but just smelling a newborn nursling, even if not your own, can make your uterus pulse and the days of having your own fresh new baby are suddenly as vivid as if they happened yesterday. Smells are wonderful in that way.
For me though, I realized there is one smell I cannot handle. It’s an odd smell. A smell I didn’t realize I even knew. It’s the smell of hospital soap. I pass the hospital fairly often while driving from one place to another. I can see the window from my hospital room from the highway. If I stopped long enough, I could count the windows and know exactly which one it was: 5th floor; Room 561. You don’t forget the place you sat for two months just waiting and praying that you’ll carry your babies long enough for them to be healthy in the outside world. You don’t forget the details of every set of contractions, panicked that the day they wouldn’t stop had finally come.
I’ve dabbled with the idea of suffering post-traumatic stress disorder over my ordeal with bed rest, an emergency C-section, babies born two months early, resuscitated in front of my glazed over and unaware eyes, spending a month traveling back and forth to the NICU numb to the fact that these 4 lb. bodies were the babies I carried and fell in love with. I talk about the events. I don’t get emotional about them anymore. I pass the hospital and manage to not think of every detail, every time. I go to doctor’s appointments and the memories stay deep down where I don’t have to deal with them. So maybe since I’ve got my feelings in check, it’s not really PTSD.
Then I washed my hands. All the times being at the hospital for appointments and visits, I never had a reason to wash my hands. Today, I used the restroom, scrubbed with soap, dried with paper towels and went about my morning, not even aware of the effect the moment would have. As I started pulling out of the parking lot, my nose began to itch. I scratched it without thinking, got a whiff of my hand and suddenly the gate was opened. Each and every day is in my mind. All because of the smell of the hospital soap. The smell I had in my nose and in my mind without even knowing after every bathroom trip while on bed rest and before and after every interaction with my girls for 30 full days. I am numb to what is going on around me because I can’t stop remembering.
I considered washing my hands at home to wash away the smell from the hospital. Can I do that? Do I want these memories? My girls are crawling and pulling up and babbling. They aren’t newborns anymore. I was upset and hormonal when they were newborns. Is this torture to myself or my chance to remember everything and embrace it for what it is this time knowing now how healthy and happy we all are? As my day goes on, I will have to wash my hands. The smell will disappear and with it the thoughts will likely be buried again. Yes, it is definitely PTSD but I can handle it. I can turn this smell into a memory of my beautiful girls in their fragile state. I do not have to be scared remembering how they were because I know the end of the story already. I do not have to be haunted because I know the tale has a happily ever after. So maybe hospital soap isn’t so bad after all.