I think anyone that's ever been through childbirth can tell you that it has a very distinct smell. It's a primal smell. Of blood and earth and things that are older than recorded memory. And so it's fitting, somehow, that it is the only smell I will ever associate with my son, Matthew.
Matthew was stillborn on March 26, 2013. We knew for about nine hours before his actual birth that he was never going to take a breath. I will never know his favorite color. I will never know if he prefers bacon and eggs or pancakes for breakfast. I will never change his diapers or hold his chubby baby fingers when he takes his first steps. I will not choke back tears while I walk him in to his first day of kindergarten. I won't see his face flush with embarrassment when I insist on taking a million pictures of him with his date to prom, or excitement and pride when he walks across the stage to accept his diploma. I won't wear beige and cry through his wedding, or hold his first child in my arms.
So I can't feel sad about losing these things, because I never had them to begin with. What I feel is so much more primal. It is a grief that has no words. An all-encompassing, raw wound that stretches across every inch of my body.
Matthew never smelled like a baby - like powder or shampoo or lotion. He smelled primitive, like blood and earth, like the sweat and tears that poured from my body when I brought him into the world. His perfect cheeks were cool under my lips when I kissed him, and his long, nimble fingers - so much like his father's - curled so neatly around mine, even if there was no grip behind the motion. The nurses cleaned him up as much as possible, but his skin and hair were still stained and bore that primal scent.
I held my son for several hours before surrendering him to the hospital to prepare him for a post-mortem examination. He will be released tomorrow for cremation, and then we will bring him home to Arkansas to lay him to rest. I will never hold my precious Matthew in my arms again. I will only hold him in my memory. And in my mind, in my heart - these primitive forces of undying love and unyielding grief will stay with me forever.