There are particular smells that remind us of things, experiences, places, and people. Scent triggers are highly emotional and can be found in the most unusual circumstances.
The sniff of a certain perfume, the scent of the freshly mown lawn, the strong chlorine smell of the local public pool… All of these can evoke very powerful, and at times overwhelming, memories.
Memories and smell
Sometimes, the trigger is more subtle yet still powerfully takes you back.
The whiff of aftershave as a man walks past you in the street, reminding you of your first love.
Or the scent of your grandmother’s perfume, smelt years after she has passed, on her silk scarf that you were bequeathed.
The subtle yet intoxicating smell of the perfume you wore as a teen, on your first hot date.
The scent of your mum’s perfume from when she said goodbye at the airport, before you embarked on your first solo travel journey overseas.
There are scents that bring back memories of glorious sun-drenched days, playing at the beach with carefree abandon. (Here’s looking at you coconut body lotion – we were never allowed to use you, but your smell is definitely etched in the memory!)
Or the simple smell of jasmine, which always reminds me of Spring.
Food and smell
Cooking smells especially can evoke family memories. The smell of a baking chocolate cake means comfort and love for my children. And we all know why the real estate agents suggest using the smells of baking bread or choc-chip cookies to entice buyers to your open home. Simply because these smells (usually) trigger fond or happy memories.
The smell of broad bean stew cooking (a favourite of my husband and his family), is strongly associated with the loss of our son for me. We made broad bean stew at least three or four times in the couple of weeks prior to his stillbirth.
There is a very particular smell I associate with hospital. And it’s not the standard hospital smell (industrial grade anti-septic mixed with overcooked vegetables). It’s something harder to categorise or define, yet it’s a trigger. It takes me back more than a decade, to when I arrived with my swollen, pregnant belly for a check-up. Only to be admitted with threatened early labour. Even now, I have almost a physical reaction to that smell.
Some smells elicit such powerful memories or associations, we later cannot abide them.
There’s a particular body wash which has incredibly strong associations for me. It’s linked for me with all three pregnancies and birth experiences. A beautiful, organic lavender body wash that smelt like you’d rolled in the lavender fields of Provence. It felt, looked and smelt luxurious, and had a price tag to match. But bathing with it was instantly calming, soothing and a treat for all the senses. A little gift of beauty to myself for use in the sterile hospital bathrooms.
I lavished it upon myself after my first birth, and packed it again in my hospital bag second time round.
Uphold tradition, and ensure I did as many things as possible the same for both births; this was one of the things I knew, even before my second child was born. That I would honour him and his role in our family by making sure I did as much as I could the same for his birth as I did for his older brother.
And so, when I was finally able to shower after delivering our stillborn son, I used the lavender body wash again; with tears pouring down my cheeks.
Using smells deliberately
The third-time round, and we were hoping and praying that this baby would be ours to keep. There I was, back in the hospital smelling those same triggering smells. But also, here to bring comfort was the exquisite lavender body wash, ready to support me on my motherhood journey with that powerful scent. Beautiful, calming, connecting me to my own ritual and tradition, but emotional too.
I no longer use that body wash, but the scent of freshly trimmed lavender reminds me and takes me back to those precious moments; memories of birth for all my sons.
That is the power of smell.
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