Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected--A Memoirby Kelle Hampton
Love me. Love me. I'm not what you expected, but oh, please love me.
That was the most defining moment of my life. That was the beginning of my story.
From the outside looking in, Kelle Hampton had the perfect life: a beautiful two-year-old daughter, a loving husband, a thriving photography career, and great friends. When she learned she was/i>
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Love me. Love me. I'm not what you expected, but oh, please love me.
That was the most defining moment of my life. That was the beginning of my story.
From the outside looking in, Kelle Hampton had the perfect life: a beautiful two-year-old daughter, a loving husband, a thriving photography career, and great friends. When she learned she was pregnant with her second child, she and her husband, Brett, were ecstatic. Her pregnancy went smoothly and the ultrasounds showed a beautiful, healthy, high-kicking baby girl.
But when her new daughter was placed in her arms in the delivery room, Kelle knew instantly that something was wrong. Nella looked different than her two-year-old sister, Lainey, had at birth. As she watched friends and family celebrate with champagne toasts and endless photographs, a terrified Kelle was certain that Nella had Down syndromea fear her pediatrician soon confirmed. Yet gradually Kelle's fear and pain were vanquished by joy, as she embraced the realization that she had been chosen to experience an extraordinary and special gift.
With lyrical prose and gorgeous full-color photography, Bloom takes readers on a wondrous journey through Nella's first year of lifea gripping, hilarious, and intensely poignant trip of transformation in which a mother learns that perfection comes in all different shapes. It is a story about embracing life and really living it, of being fearless and accepting difference, of going beyond constricting definitions of beauty, and of the awesome power of perspective. As Kelle writes, "There is us. Our Family. We will embrace this beauty and make something of it. We will hold our precious gift and know that we are lucky."
“A constitutionally positive person…Hampton makes a convincing argument that grief and disappointment can be transformed into compassion and joy.”
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Finding Beauty in the Unexpected
By Kelle Hampton
HarperCollins PublishersCopyright © 2012 Kelle Hampton
All rights reserved.
It was two days before Lainey's first birthday when Brett finally gave in and agreed that we could try for another baby. I had longed for one since the day Lainey grew out of the light blue cotton sleeper with the pink strawberries on it that I associated with every ounce of newborn-ness she possessed. And at that party, as we watched our little girl blow out her candle and smear white frosting all over her cheeks in celebration of that first astounding year of life, I was comforted by the fact that the sadness I felt surrounding her getting older would soon be replaced by the joy of knowing another "little" was on the way.
But it didn't happen. I had gotten pregnant with Lainey within two months, so by the fourth month of trying for my second baby, I grew impatient. I also understood how annoying it must be for women who struggle with infertility when the onslaught of sympathetic advice pours in. It'll happen. When you relax. When Brett's job stress is gone. When you're not thinking about it. When you try Clomid. When you're least expecting it.
Blah, blah, blah.
The thing was, I didn't want to wait. I could taste her then. What she looked like. What she smelled like. What the weight of her tiny body felt like in my arms. I yearned for another baby as if the survival of the human race depended on it, and if I had to pee on a stick one more time and squint my eyes searching for a line that didn't exist, I thought I'd pretty much die.
Which is why, on March 9, 2009, after quite a bit of anticipation, I jumped around the kitchen sobbing and screaming holding a pregnancy test with two pink lines. Two. After eleven and a half boxes of pregnancy tests over the previous months and all the imaginary second lines I had conjured up in my brain, I finally saw a real one. It was beautiful ... and exciting. It held the promise of another amazing journey I was already blessed to know so well.
I'm not sure when my mother heart was born, but for as long as I can remember, I've wanted kids. Forty-seven of 'em, to be exact, and I used to tell people I was going to marry my dad and raise those kids in a tree house in the backyard. That wasn't exactly feasible for a number of reasons (legality and morality chief among them), but at least I had some ambitious goals at a young age. My mom tells me I wanted a job in the church nursery when I was six and that my scrawny body could carry a tot on my hip like I had been doing it for years. Even my first kindergarten paper - an "All About Me" assignment that came home in my backpack that first day of school - bore proof of my destiny. Under where I had filled in "pizza" for my favorite food and "Buffy" for the family dog, there was a line of red Crayola chicken-scratched letters in all caps - a forceful answer to What do you want to be when you grow up? A MOM. And, at the ripe old age of eight, I spent many afternoons lying on the living room carpet of my best friend's house where we rifled through old baby photos from our family albums, pretended we were the moms, and wrote our fake kids' names in Magic Marker, along with all the activities they were involved in on the back. I recently found one of my own baby pictures and flipped it over to find my eight-year-old handwriting: "Nicole Alexandra. Ballet. Tennis. Soccer."
Life, of course, didn't turn out exactly as I'd planned it. My sister had her kids well before me, and I lived vicariously through her for many years. I skipped so many classes my first year of college to be with my nieces that I actually had to retake Psychology and Microbiology. If it wasn't for the fact that I finally moved away from her to finish school, I'd probably be living alone, attending my nieces' parent-teacher conferences today. Not to mention I'd be well versed in psychology and microbiology.
Eventually, I had to cut the cord, so to speak. I packed up my teal Ford Escort station wagon with a few pieces of clothing and a hundred framed pictures of my nieces, made my tearful good-byes, and drove the great distance of 120 miles to Spring Arbor, Michigan. I needed to finish school and find myself. Finish school, I did, but find myself, not so much.
Spring Arbor University is a small, faith-based college known for bestowing upon its graduates not only a valuable degree, but also a devoted spouse. Most of my friends met and married their fellow classmates there, planning their weddings in between taking notes in the basement of the Whiteman-Gibbs Science Building.
I, on the other hand, didn't meet anyone. I graduated after four years with a diploma in one hand and a prescription for Zoloft in the other. I had gained the "freshman fifteen" plus another five or so every following year. I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life, I couldn't find a permanent teaching job, and living with my dad wasn't exactly the Chicago studio bachelorette pad I had dreamed of. I was dressed and ready for life but had nowhere to go.
I spent a year post college as a substitute teacher at two elementary schools, all the while watching my friends start their lives and wondering what I was going to do with mine. I was a damn good teacher and poured myself into my sub jobs, even offering to do lesson plans and grading for other teachers when I could. I felt like I had so many ideas, so much energy, so much creativity and love built up, but no outlet, nowhere to use it. So I delivered a social studies lesson to a fourth-grade class like my life depended on it. I dressed up like Christopher Columbus. I brought in samples of exotic teas to make the Boston Tea Party lesson a little more fun. Heck, I once set up an entire grocery store in a classroom with canned goods and a cash register to teach a math lesson. I even had my local grocery store make me a real name tag. But still, I didn't belong. I wanted my own classroom. My own place. My own family. My own life. I was tired of living through everyone else, and I needed a jump start to shake things up. Finally, a year later, I accepted a teaching job in Naples, Florida, on a whim after a fifteen-minute phone interview. At the time, I was doing odd jobs in the hospital Cardiology Department where my dad was a chaplain, and I'll never forget hanging up the phone in his office on my lunch break, after I got hired. My dad walked in to find me sitting there at his desk, crying in my blue scrubs. "I have a job, Dad. In Naples. And my first day of school is in eleven days."
And so I packed up and marked the beginning of my new life by saying good-bye to my teal station wagon, which had by now acquired a duct-taped fender, a dented passenger door, and a push button starter.
In its place, I bought a Chevy Malibu - splurged on a new car but scrimped on roll-down windows. It was black and sleek and represented a new start. I arrived in Naples feeling invigorated, courageous, and spontaneous. Which is why I enjoyed the span of very un-motherly behavior that followed - behavior that may or may not have included falling off a six-foot amp in a Miami club where I was dancing some very cool moves. I'll never know what happened to the guy I landed on, but I do know that I was carried out with a smile on my face and woke up six hours later in a bed with an earth-shattering headache. And if my children are reading this, I made that up.
I found a condo and decorated it with an eclectic mix of furnishings from Home Goods and Target that somehow, when put together and rearranged a few times, eventually resembled a photo spread in Home Décor, in my humble opinion. I hung framed covers of vintage Vogues on my new yellow walls (Bagel yellow, as I recall the paint chip saying) and piled up billiard balls in old vases on my coffee table. It was youthful and swanky and, combined with my new weight loss (finally lost the freshman fifteen) and newly acquired running habit, I started to feel kind of cool again - like someone I might want to be friends with. So I started having parties, spending way too much time on hand-sequined invites that said corny things like Cocktails and Cupcakes at Kelle's, and passed them out to fellow teachers who actually showed up.
And then I met Brett.
It was totally unplanned, just the way they tell you it's going to happen. Julie, my team leader, walked into my classroom one day, just weeks after I moved, and interrupted my earnest paper grading with a, "Hey, would you ever go out with an older man?"
"Does he have his own teeth and breathe on his own?" I asked. You never know what "older" means when you live in Florida or, as my grandpa called it, Heaven's Waiting Room. But Richard Gere was older. George Clooney was older. And they were hot. And, according to Julie, so was Brett. He was divorced, had two boys, and was described by her as "tall, blond, handsome, and an incredible father." She heavily emphasized the last part, dragging out incredible father like a Valley girl describing a guy who's totally hot. I had nothing to lose. There was something completely intriguing about Brett, the tall, blond, and handsome father, and I wanted to meet him.
Two weeks later, I watched from inside the window of the Mexican restaurant where we met for a group date with friends as Brett tenderly helped his boys climb out of the car and guided them toward the door. He was tall and handsome, just like Julie said, and despite the fact that I hated his shoes (a minor setback that later worked itself out when I took him to Dillard's and introduced him to a man sandal that didn't look like something Jesus would wear), I was smitten. He smiled genuinely, shook my hand, was kind and complimentary, all the while focusing most of his attention on his boys. He stroked his eldest's hair while he laughed at my stories. He cuddled his youngest on his knee as he passed out napkins to our friends and ordered me another beer. I loved that among the awkwardness of us both knowing we were here with all these people to meet each other and form a possible match, he was still an attentive father.
His kids came first, and I admired that.
It wasn't long before he was showing up in my classroom on Tuesdays to bring me lunch. And the deal sealer? He wanted more kids. We talked about it a lot, having kids. He said he always wanted a daughter, and pointing out little blond girls with pigtails that looked like they could be ours was becoming a favorite pastime.
His boys, Austyn and Brandyn, liked me and I liked them.
Hell, even his ex-wife and I got along. It was more than perfect.
What started as a group date at a Mexican restaurant was turning into something more. For the next three years we dated, and for the first time, I was beginning to find my place. And Hampton sounded like a damn good name to follow Kelle. Kelle Hampton. I wrote it with a calligraphy pen in my journal and stared at it. I liked it.
On July 1, 2006, we were married in a little white chapel with our friends and family by our side, and we started trying for a baby soon after. I quit my teaching job, took up photography full-time, and settled into my new life like it was a comfortable chair, just waiting for me to break it in even more. Brett's boys lived half of the week with us and half of the week with their mom, and while our blended family worked out quite swimmingly, I worried a bit when I was trying to get pregnant that my first baby would be Brett's third - a been-there-done-that milestone for him - and that consequently his excitement wouldn't rival mine. I was proven wrong the moment I saw his tears when I announced our first baby girl was on her way. Together, we celebrated at every stage of my pregnancy. We held hands the first time we heard her heartbeat, taped ultrasound pictures to the refrigerator, wandered through aisles at Babies "R" Us fighting over who got to "gun down" the bar codes for our baby registry. And we talked about everything. I felt confident that I would be a good mom. And when any fears emerged, I knew the incredible father I married would lead the way.
The day we welcomed Lainey Love into our life was nothing short of pure magic, and the next two years with her were beautiful. Don't get me wrong, motherhood is hard. It's scary and trying and demanding.
You stretch yourself, learn about yourself, and reach your breaking point, only to come back to that bond - that love that ties you to your little. Watching the culmination of your cells, your soul, your personality literally bloom before you, it's just amazing to witness.
Excerpted from Bloom by Kelle Hampton. Copyright © 2012 by Kelle Hampton. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are saying about this
“Bloom is one of the most emotionally stirring books I’ve ever read…. This story is a reminder that perfect, when it comes to human beings, is such a relative (and irrelevant) term…and that a mother’s love for her child is a powerful, eternal, unshakable force.”
“In her tender and genuinely beautiful memoir, Kelle Hampton encourages us to not simply accept the unexpected circumstances of our lives, but to embrace them like the things we wished for all along.”
“Kelle Hampton…reminds us that life may not always look pretty or perfect, but it is always beautiful…. She has indeed made of her life something ‘wild and precious’ and her book, like her two beautiful girls, is a bundle of joy. I finished it reluctantly and with a full heart.”
Meet the Author
Writer and photographer Kelle Hampton chronicles the simple joys of motherhood and daily life on her popular blog, Enjoying the Small Things. She has been recognized as a Babble Top 50 Mom Blogger, and her blog was named The Best Special Needs Blog by The Bump and The Blog You've Learned the Most From in the 2010 BlogLuxe Awards. An advocate for individuals with Down syndrome, Kelle has been honored by both the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) and the National Down Syndrome Congress (NDSC), receiving the NDSC National Media Award in 2010. She has been interviewed on CNN as a Connector of the Day and on Rosie O'Donnell's radio program, Rosie Radio. Kelle lives in Naples, Florida, with her husband, Brett; their two daughters, Lainey and Nella; and her stepsons, Austyn and Brandyn.
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