Is there anything more natural than the scent of your own child? That basic instinctual recognition. An olfactory mirror. A mother animal sniffing her young and thinking: this one is mine.
A confession. I don’t know the scent of my own child. I mean: I would recognise her if she were here. But I fail to evoke her scent in my brain. Consciously or subconsciously or anything in between, I seek it everywhere I go. I try to find her. In vain.
Jolien was born on a Thursday and transferred directly to the university hospital. When I came out of anaesthesia I could see her, but only for a moment. She was already installed in the transport incubator. A few hours later I followed in an ambulance taxi, my love driving behind us. When we saw her at the NICU, she was wrapped in what I would later call her little eskimo suit. This would keep her body temperature at 33.5 °C (92.3 °F) for three days in order to prevent any further brain damage. She got her MRI scan on Monday afternoon. Tuesday morning we got the results and our life splintered into a trillion particles.
That same day we got to hold her for the first time.
On Thursday, we carried our tiny titan from the neonatal intensive ward to the room at the end of the corridor. A nice room, a friendly room. Four hours she lay on my love’s bare chest, my arms wrapped around them both. Slowly, we felt the life seep out of her brave little body.
After she’d died, we gave our daughter a bath for the first and last time, gently rubbed baby lotion on her perfect little arms, hands, legs, feet,.., gave her a fresh diaper, dressed her in the clothes in which we had planned to take her home.
We wanted to bring at least Jolien’s scent home with us. We have the baby lotion. I put it on my hands, my face and on the tattoo I got in her memory. Sometimes I use it to massage my c-section scar. I often smell her clothes, her bedsheets and baby blankets. Captivated by this nesting urge, I had washed all of her textiles at least twice with a special baby detergent I bought. I sniff everything. I try telling myself that it’s her scent. It isn’t though.
I’m looking for her but I can’t find her.
Jolien, where are you?