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“Mama, did you just smell me?”

“Um, yes honey. Yes I did.”

I smell her all the time. I smell her breath, I smell her hair, and the top of her head. Smell is such a powerful sense, and I love my daughter’s scent. Through scent I am drawn to her, and her to me, it is instinctual and innate. My daughter is of me, and her scent is a marker of this.

At birth, mothers and babies are hardwired to find each other’s scent appealing. This shared attraction is a natural aid to attachment. Scent is also an identifier. Studies have shown that after just ten minutes to an hour with their new babies, mothers are able to recognize their scent with 90% accuracy. After an hour the percentage rises to 98%. Babies are also able to identify their mothers based solely on scent.

It doesn’t surprise me that scientists have found that this bond between mothers and children may last well past infancy and into adulthood. Many adoptee friends of mine, who have reunited, talk about feeling viscerally attracted to their birth mothers, regardless of whether they felt emotionally hesitant or conflicted about meeting. They wanted to touch their mother’s hair, her face, but most of all, they wanted to hug her so they could breathe in her scent.

I was adopted at the age of two and a half. I was not adopted along with a sibling. I have not reunited with anyone in my birth family. Most of my life I’ve felt as though I was suspended in time and space. Not knowing a single blood relative is an unnatural state of being and can make you crazy. You feel disconnected and lost. When I scent my daughter, it literally grounds me and I become anchored to this world. When I scent my daughter, my soul quiets. On a primordial level, I claim our bond to each other. Through scent, I recognize her as my own, my family, and my blood.


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  Linda wrote @ June 24th, 2011 at 10:32 am

I love this …….. when I reunited with my daughter she was beautiful AND she smelled correct. Her sons? Same. I was intoxicated with my newly found grandsons…..they smelled so correct!!!!!

I believe scent is a bonding agent ……. forever.

  Kelly wrote @ June 24th, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Beautiful. Evocative. I particularly love the feeling and imagery of you anchoring and quieting when you smell your daughter. Thank you.

  Sarah Whitman wrote @ June 25th, 2011 at 6:35 am

I am the adoptive mother of two kids from Korea. My kids are not “of” me, we do not share blood. Yet I marvel at the shape of their fingers, the fall of hair over the forehead, the line of lower lip and chin that still evokes the sweet baby faces I once gazed into. My heart seizes with a mixture of pride and terror as they walk across a stage…is it me about to perform, or them? A rush of joy and exhilaration as I watch my son giddily scamper and skip ahead of me we head to a middle school interview. I draw in my breath as my daughter tries on high heeled sandals…her legs are long, and lovely! She sees my look and can’t suppress a quick smile…I’m pretty, aren’t I, Mom? And nothing, nothing on this earth compares to the serenity I feel watching either child sleep, straightening the pillow, tucking the exposed, pale foot back under the blanket. A feather light kiss on the forehead, and a quickly drawn in breath of the sweet sweet smell of my child, safe, asleep, and peaceful. Nothing on earth compares to this.

I grieve for my kids’ pain at having been separated from their birth families, and my heart wrenches when I think of how much their birthmothers have lost. And I know this family we have created is not perfect and is not the ideal.

But given the circumstances my kids and their birthmothers were handed, and given the unbelievable good fortune of their father and me, this is the family we have. It is neither perfect nor ideal, but it is a family nonetheless.

I know my kids’ birthmothers love and mourn their lost children, and I believe they love their lost children as fiercely and eternally as I do. But I also know that no one on this planet, not even my kids’ birthmothers, could possibly love them more than I do.

Imperfect, complicated, messy…but we are a family.

[...] Kim wrote a beautiful post over at the Adoption Mosaic blog about the primal connection she did not have with anyone until she [...]

  Tara wrote @ June 29th, 2011 at 10:04 am

Linda, The “correctness” of smell is just so fascinating when it comes to your blood family. It’s so true isn’t it?

Kelly, Thank you for your kind words.

Sara, It sounds as though you have a lovely family.

  Nina wrote @ July 2nd, 2011 at 4:01 pm

I am adopted and I love the smell of my daughter by birth. But when I met my birthmother in my twenties the very first thing I noticed the moment we reunited and hugged is that she smelled just WRONG, deeply wrong. It wasn’t bad body odor it felt and still does, twenty years later, feel more primal than that. She clearly is my bmom–because we look a lot alike. Anyone else had this experience? I’ve talked to a couple other reunited adoptees who said their birthmothers smelled really WRONG to them too. I was, as a child, comforted by the scent of my adoptive mom. I wonder if I had to reject that first mommy smell in order to adapt to my new family. I’ve always felt curious about this.

  Tara wrote @ July 4th, 2011 at 10:15 pm

Nina, to complicate it even further, I will add that, growing up, I too, found my adoptive mother’s scent comforting. But this changed. I can’t pinpoint exactly when, but I want to say it was once I became an adult and was no longer reliant on her to take care of me. Go figure!

  Lori wrote @ July 7th, 2011 at 8:12 pm

I found this post evocative and real. I too, when reunited with my daughter, wanted to smell and hold her – touch her – we held hands for hours…. she wanted me to touch her hair (which is not common for her, she doesn’t like to be touched). She smelled right. I didn’t even realize that she smoked for at least two hours. I have never had the joy of touching my grandsons, or even meeting them, but I look at their pictures and see those things that make us part of each other in a deep and human way.

I would like to link this to a short post on my blog….. I hope it is ok.

  Tara wrote @ July 7th, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Hi Lori, yes please feel free to link, and thank you for your comment

  Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy wrote @ October 18th, 2011 at 7:04 pm

Ah, the smell…..

When I finially met my son again, 19 years and 4 months later, I knew I had to smell him. I sheepishly asked…feeling silly… Not wanting to scare him. All he could do was smile an cheerfully obliged.

Inhaling him was the final piece that made it all real again. I could see him, I could hear him, I could talk to him and watch him laugh….and I smelled a scent that was like coming home.

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