“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.” —Matthew Logelin, New York Times bestselling author of Two Kisses for Maddy
Bloom is an inspiring and heartfelt memoir that celebrates the beauty found in the unexpected, the strength of a mother’s love, and, ultimately, the amazing power of perspective.
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 syndrome—a 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 life—a 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."
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About the Author
Writer and photographer Kelle Hampton chronicles the simple joys of motherhood and daily life on her popular blog, Enjoying the Small Things. An advocate for individuals with Down syndrome, she 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. Kelle lives in Naples, Florida, with her husband, Brett; their two daughters, Lainey and Nella; and her stepsons, Austyn and Brandyn.
Read an Excerpt
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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Prologue: The Story of Nella's Birth 1
Chapter 1 waiting 31
Chapter 2 home 41
Chapter 3 room 16 57
Chapter 4 the blue pill 75
Chapter 5 homecoming 91
Chapter 6 new life 109
Chapter 7 week one 135
Chapter 8 moving on 141
Chapter 9 blueprint 159
Chapter 10 support 177
Chapter 11 the current 197
Chapter 12 jeremy 213
Chapter 13 nella's rockstars 235
Chapter 14 becoming real 251
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.”
"The Good, the Bad, the Beautiful": Barnes & Noble Review Interview with Kelle Hampton
Kelle Hampton, the author of the eye-opening memoir Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected, left for the hospital to give birth to her second child with "everything just perfect," packing not only the birth music, the blankets she'd made herself, the baby's coming-home outfit, a special nightgown, and a crown for the baby's big sister but also hand- designed, beribboned favors to pass out to visitors. Yet the moment her newborn daughter, Nella, was placed in her arms, Hampton's concept of perfection altered in an instant: Though ultrasounds had signaled nothing unusual, Nella was born with Down syndrome.
Hampton writes with bracing, brave honesty about her initial response to Nella's condition "I think I cried for seven hours straight. It was gut- wrenching pain" and her struggle to find hope, joy, and an expanse of possibilities in what first seemed to bring only sadness. As on her blog, Enjoying the Small Things, the journey Hampton records in Bloom becomes a call and not only to parents to rethink our concepts of perfection, discover our capacities for resilience, appreciate the family and friends on whom we depend, and, yes, find beauty where we may not have noticed it.
We asked Hampton, via email, about Bloom and the experiences and impulses that inspired it. It may be typical of the author that she immediately turned the task of tackling our questions into an event worthy of celebration, writing, "I'll put some good music on tonight, light a candle, grab a beer, and completely enjoy the process." Amy Reiter
The Barnes & Noble Review: One remarkable aspect of your writing is your knack for tapping into emotions, both your own and your readers'. Has motherhood and particularly Nella's birth made you more connected to your emotions?
Kelle Hampton: I feel emotions very intensely. Expressing them is another story. I think we're all conditioned to mask certain emotions because we think they won't be accepted or they're "too much." Motherhood definitely compelled me to express emotions more freely. The depth of love, the fear of losing, the need to protect, the unearthly joy it was too much for me to contain. That's why I started writing more. And writing something I was thinking seemed more acceptable than saying it out loud. Then with Nella's birth, there were these contrasting emotions that were so difficult to deal with grief, fear, sadness, shame. But once I expressed them through writing and realized other women related to them, it gave me the freedom to express myself in a way I had never done before.
BNR: Bloom, like your blog, uses photos and text to tell your story. Why did you choose to combine both elements?
KH: The book is a testament to my journey that first year, and writing and photography played equal parts in my healing and perspective shift. Because the book deals with Down syndrome, a condition that has many negative stereotypes, the photos are a powerful way to showcase the beauty of these children and the beauty Nella brought to our family.
BNR: Early in Bloom you mention a book you read shortly before Nella's birth, Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, which spoke to you of "the power of challenges how living a life of comfort does nothing to make us grow, and how hard times shape us." But you also say you couldn't fully grasp Miller's message until you went through your own challenges. Can we learn life lessons from books or only from our own experiences?
KH: I've thought about this question a lot, especially from a parent's perspective, because we make efforts to keep our children from pain and to give them happiness. No one wishes heartache for their child, and yet I know a lot of my happiness and contentment today comes from challenging experiences and sadness in my past. I think we can learn a lot from others' experiences, and books give us an opportunity to do that. But life without any pain is unrealistic, and the great thing about reading books and learning from others is that when we do go through hard things, we're more equipped to handle them and don't feel quite so alone.
BNR: I initially assumed that, before Nella's birth, you'd led a life without much difficulty. But then you discussed challenges you faced during childhood, in particular the breakup of your parents' marriage when your father, a preacher, came out as gay. Did those childhood challenges help prepare you for those you've faced as a mother?
KH: My siblings and I talk about this a lot the fact that we are so grateful for our past, even though it has a lot of pain, because it made us tough and definitely more compassionate. Once I started writing those chapters from my past, it really hit me how much those painful memories created a foundation for later challenges in my life. Does that mean someone who had a dreamy, heartache-free childhood is at a disadvantage for handling hard times as an adult? Not necessarily.
It's important to me, as a mother, not to shield my children from life's more disheartening realities but to bring awareness to them in a way that gives my children both a sense of gratitude for what they have and the motivation to bring positive change to their world. I want my girls to know that life isn't going to be without pain, but I also want to equip them with love and confidence and a perspective that allows them to face these challenges when they come.
BNR: You learned fairly early in life to embrace difference. But still you struggled at first to embrace the ways Nella was different from the daughter you had envisioned. How has your sense of "perfection" changed since you had Nella?
KH: I've definitely shifted my views of perfection away from image and more to inner happiness, and that shift has taken away so much pressure and allowed me the freedom to really be myself. That, in itself, is happiness.
BNR: After Nella's birth, your close circle of girlfriends your "Net," as you call them stayed with you, giving you incredible support. What do you think is the secret to having such close female friends?
KH: I think women's friendships get a bad rap in the media. They're portrayed as catty, jealous, and unsupportive. That saddens me because I know how amazing it is to be part of a group of women where you find love and support. I think women have high expectations for each other, and sometimes we are inclined to run or drop a friendship at the first sign of drama. I embrace my friendships with the understanding that because we are all women with fiery personalities, big dreams, and a hell of a lot of passion, some drama is inevitable.
You have to approach it with compassion and forgive mistakes, because we all make them. Of course, yes, you also need to make choices to surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you, who challenge you, who bring good energy. Those who don't aren't worth exhausting efforts.
Secondly, if you want close relationships with friends, you have to be vulnerable. I know how much it means to me when a friend admires me enough to call, crying, asking for help or trusting me with an intimate conversation. Likewise, I want to do the same and reach out to my friends, revealing my own vulnerabilities. My friends are great for shopping, laughing, or going out for drinks, but the best, most beautiful moments I've experienced with them are far more serious. And when you experience heartache with a friend at your side, it is bonding in a way that can't be forgotten.
BNR: Do you think women can support each other in ways that men (even husbands) cannot in tough times, and particularly those involving parenting?
KH: As much I support equal rights for men and women, there are certain gifts women possess that men don't naturally have and vice versa. Even though Nella is [Hampton's husband] Brett's child and he, of course, was the only one who could sympathize with that personal parental loss of receiving her diagnosis, there was something so comforting that came from my friends women who understood, in a way Brett couldn't, the emotional aspect of the end of a pregnancy, a mother's expectations, the ideal birth experience.
BNR: You write that you knew immediately, before anyone told you, that Nella had Down syndrome and worry that you didn't show her enough love at that moment. We all sometimes feel a disconnect between the mother we want to be and the mother we fear we are in a particular moment. Should we even have a concept of what makes the "perfect" mother? Does that give us something to strive for, or give us only impossible standards we'll never measure up to?
KH: I think we all have this imaginary version of the perfect mother we want to be. There is a quote I love about the fact that there is no way to be a perfect mother, but there are a million ways to be a good one. I try to focus on that, to know that when I try my best, acknowledge mistakes, follow my instincts, and remind myself of what's most important, that is perfect parenting.
BNR: I wonder, too, about the dangers of our expectations for our kids. If we have a preconceived notion of who they should be, we may fail to appreciate them as they are. That's a lesson you say you've learned. Is it something you feel is important for all mothers to learn?
KH: Yes! I'm learning it with Lainey [Hampton's elder daughter] just as much as with Nella. I've been challenging myself not to push Lainey to be a leader all the time. I have a preconceived notion that kids need to be leaders, not followers, and my husband recently reminded me that we do not need to tell our children to be leaders; we need to tell them to be themselves. It makes us all happier to sit back, to lead by example, to accept what we are given, and to love our children no matter what path they choose to take in life.
BNR: Motherhood can be a touchy topic. Some of the emotions and responses you talk about in the book are bound to incite strong responses mostly positive, but perhaps also negative. Were you afraid, writing about such personal topics, that you might be misunderstood and attacked?
KH: When I first published Nella's birth story [on her blog], I discovered right away that being honest about touchy things is not always well received. It was good for me to read responses, even those "Oh my God, what kind of mother would say they want to run away!?" remarks. It initiated a personal process for me of challenging myself to write what's true in a respectful way, of course and not to change my writing to cater to other people.
BNR: Did you ever find yourself pulling back? Or did you just write through those concerns?
KH: There were parts that I went to write and stopped to ponder the effects first. And, most always, I proceeded, hoping that people will understand this is my journey. Memoirs are personal, and not everyone is going to shake their head "yes" to every line, and that's OK. The other side is that it has been incredibly fulfilling to read e-mails from women who have said, "Thank you for saying that. I felt it too, but didn't want to say it, and you make me feel normal for admitting it."
BNR: Do you worry about how your kids will respond to what you write when they're old enough to read and understand it?
KH: What I wouldn't do to have my own mother's thoughts and photos and words and things that inspired her preserved from when we were little. I hope my children, through reading everything I've written the good, the bad, the beautiful will always read between the lines and be inspired by the constant truth of "Wow, she loved us. She celebrated life."
BNR: One of the things you consider is how much you let your sense of how society perceives you shape how you feel about yourself. Was writing this book a way of shaping your own identity and taking charge of your own narrative?
KH: I can't begin to explain what writing this book has personally done for me. I owned every word I wrote, and as I typed it, I believed it even more. Empowerment that's what it is. I realize how much stronger I am, how much more effective I am in living purposefully, when I take control of how I feel about myself, my family and raising my kids, write it down, and put it out there for the world to see.
BNR: It sounds like writing is deeply therapeutic for you.
KH: There's something mysterious and enlightening about the space I give myself when I write. It's when I take all those loose philosophical/emotional thoughts I've had throughout the week and weave them together. I learn a lot about myself. I face my pain and struggles head- on, and I overcome them through the process of expressing myself. And, for me, when I write I'm going to do something? It's even more powerful than saying it. When I write, "I'm going to rock this out," it's almost as if I hear the band in the background with each letter I type. I feel motivated, eager, excited. I'm inspired in a way I can't explain. Writing is powerful and it doesn't cost near as much as therapy does.
BNR: Is it the same with photography?
KH: After taking pictures for a while, you begin to look at life a little differently, continually scanning landscapes, people, situations for that "framable" shot. In those first days, taking photos of Nella brought light to her beauty and made me recognize how perfect she was the new, wrinkled skin on her fingers, those sparse rows of tiny eyelashes, her soft cowlick of silky hair. And it went beyond Nella as well. When I thought my world was this depressing reality, I'd pick up my camera and see the opposite oh look, a sunset. Vivid blue skies. My child holding an ice cream cone with rainbow sprinkles. A dimpled smile. My husband rocking his new girl to sleep. I ever stopped taking pictures of these things, and it sinks in after a while: Look for the good, and you will find it.
BNR: What are you most hoping readers will take away from Bloom?
KH: Life is full of challenges. But life is also as beautiful as you create it to be.
April 12, 2012