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How the Smell of a Particular Hand Soap Reminds Me of the Difficult NICU Days

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Smells are powerfully connected in our brains to emotions and memories. I was reminded of this last week when I took my daughter, Jenna, to the medical mall for blood work. On our way out, we stopped by the restroom to wash our hands. Immediately the smell of suds on my hands from the big green “Bacti-Stat” soap container took me back to the first days of both of my children’s lives.

That smell — those bittersweet memories. Sweet, because Ethan’s birth made me a mother. Bitter, because it was a very difficult birth for mama and baby: complicated emergency C-section after more than 24 hours of labor and baby born without being able to breathe. The spinal wore off just as they lifted out that beautiful 8-pound, 2-ounce boy. Days later, when the “forget” drugs began to wear off, I was wheeled into the NICU to meet my baby for the first time. I was spellbound because he was an angel. Why was he in the NICU? I was so careful when I was pregnant, how could he be that sick?

Fast forward five years almost to the day. I’m ready to deliver his sister. A baby girl was my dream: my nightmare was another long trial of labor and C-section. This time, the doctors lifted a blue baby — a quiet, blue baby girl. She was taken away quickly, being “bagged” to make her breathe. Later, I was told she almost didn’t make it.

Again, like in a nightmare, I was wheeled into the NICU to meet my baby for the first time. She was so very beautiful.  All I wanted was to hold her in my arms, put her to my breast and love her. It would be days before that would happen.

Again, like with her brother, Jim and I washed our hands with the green Bacti-Stat; we scrubbed all the way up to our elbows, cleaned under our nails, and donned the yellow gowns to visit our baby. Every three hours, we would go and sit by her side, just as we did with her brother. We prayed blessings and healing over her tiny body.

With each of my babies, day and night I would hobble the long walk across the hospital, hunched over from the staples in my abdomen, from my courtesy room to the NICU to love on them.

Looking back at these times, I’m still saddened by these experiences and I still feel cheated out of the birth experiences I wanted but did not have. Those days are far behind me now, and so many other painful medical experiences have taken their place in the daily lives of my children. I will always feel bitter sweet pangs of sadness and overwhelming joy when I smell the Bacti-Stat.

Originally published: April 16, 2018
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