Scents and smells

There is a saying in Czech fairy tales, usually uttered by a “baddie” (the devil, a monster or a dragon) when in presence of a hidden human fairy tale hero who will outwit him in the end: I smell, I smell a human (Čuchám, čuchám člověčinu!). And that’s what I think of, when I ponder the scents and smells one encounters daily as a parent.

To dispel some worries, put right some common misconceptions and confirm some suspicions, here are my less than scientific but nonetheless valid observations:

It all starts before you even get to hold the baby in your arms.  For me, pregnancy hormones sharpened my sense of smell to an extent that:

– I was not able to walk on the street less than 100m after someone who smoked without getting nauseous;

– I discovered to my dismay, that the perfume of the washing liquid used by our house cleaner is “vomit and strawberries” – I have not be able to get rid of that feeling since;

– I banished my cheese eating husband on the balcony to indulge in his passion and forced him to brush his teeth twice before coming to bed;

– I would get up at two in the morning, sniffing around the house (with closed windows), trying to find out who has been smoking cigarettes in the apartment to find that the smell comes from the neighbour having his last cigarette three floors down.

With baby arriving there were other smelly concerns: Although most moms refer to the “wonderful baby smell”, I was not as optimistic.

  1. I don’t like the smell of milk and I particularly loathe the smell of milk gone bad. Actually, I was wondering how I will cope during a period when milk is everywhere (some of it actually leaking from your own person). Bad luck for me, my daughter had reflux, so in addition to milk going in, some of it was coming back up, with that nice acid smell of – you got it – milk gone bad. I changed constantly, but the smell was everywhere. Luckily, my own milk did not smell as strongly as cow’s milk and over time, considering all the other things I had to deal with (like sleeplessness and anxiety about the baby’s wellbeing), it wasn’t so bad.
  2. Before I gave birth, I had a few conversations with girls wondering what does it smell like during delivery… “well the thing has been inside for nine whole months, it must smell a bit stale, no ?” Actually, in the hospital, things smell of a lot of things, mostly disinfectant… In the labour ward, you also smell your sweat (especially once the contractions start) but by then you couldn’t care less what it smells like. During delivery, I hear there are sometimes other smells, for C-section probably also blood. I honestly don’t remember, I was too freaked out by the peridural needle…
  3. The new baby smell: Yes, well, I can’t really disagree, the Johnson’s baby shampoo or the Nivea one smell lovely and so does the baby when it’s washed and sleepy… but there are many things that can interfere with your lovely baby smell, such as: the crusts on the head (croutes de lait in French) – it can get real smelly on top of the head of the baby, before you peel it off…, the vomit and of course the all time favourite – the nappy.
  4. The nappy, it merits a whole point for itself. At the beginning, the smell isn’t too bad. Digested milk looks disgusting, but the smell is mild and bearable. The real thing starts when baby starts eating solids and especially meat. If you did not get a smell-proof nappy bin before then, you better get one now or start investing in scented candles. (Note: and no, it does not smell better to you because it is your kid… it smells as bad, but there is just no one else to do it for you, so you get on with it…) Habituation is key as you can’t hold an active baby or toddler, change a nappy AND pinch your nose the whole time through. Also, I have never managed to change the nappy while holding my breath… When the choice is between the smell and lack of oxygen, the risk of fainting is similar in both cases.
  5. Baby food – you would not believe how smelly some of the stuff you are supposed to give the baby is. Hello Olvarit! Broccoli and veal and potatoes cooked into oblivion, just to make sure there is not a single living thing in the glass jar, have a certain whiff to it when heated. I would not eat it either warm or cold. Well, it seems my daughter has similar tastes. 🙂 so long Olvarit!

When entering toddlerhood, you will discover a new range of smells – such as the very strong odor of the lotus essential oil your toddler spilled on the floor of the bathroom, forcing you to breathe through a handkerchief all the time you sit on the loo – too much of a good thing, you know the tune; the smell of mouldy pieces of bread or biscuits they stashed under or behind the carseat or in the toys trunk.

And your nose will become a priceless guide in the maze of motherhood. Smelling bottles if they are clean enough or need to be rewashed/sterilised, smell food if it has not gone bad before giving it to the kids, smelling your kid’s butt (through pants) to see if you make yourself that cup of tea now or if there is something to deal with before, smelling suspicious stains on your clothing or the floor to determine if it’s chocolate or not (if you have to ask, it’s probably not). Smelling clothes to know if they have to be washed or could be worn one more time… (men apparently do that all the time :-)) And if you are good and practice, one day, you will be able to tell your husband to change the baby without getting up from reading your paper in the morning and be right 90% of the time, just trusting your nose…


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