|Ellie, Megan's daughter.|
If you have a child with Down syndrome, the odds are high that you've read Kelle Hampton's blog. Even if you don't have a child with Down syndrome, if you read mom blogs or craft blogs or photography blogs, at some point, you've probably encountered Kelle's "Enjoying the Small Things." I heard of Kelle's blog twice in a short period of time while we were awaiting Ellie's arrival. The first was in a note from another mom who has a daughter with DS. The second time I heard of Kelle's daughter Nella was through our maternity photographer.
I read throughout my pregnancy, and while I was in the hospital being induced, I won a random drawing on "Enjoying the Small Things" for a baby dress. I've encountered Kelle online only, via her blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And I like her. Therefore, I picked up her new book, "Bloom," expecting to enjoy it, and I did. (The same thing happened when I read "A Good and Perfect Gift." But I also tend to think my friends have good taste, and I would have enjoyed both books regardless of my interactions with the authors and their friends.)
This review isn't sponsored. I bought the book myself; Kelle is unaware that I'm writing this. In fact, I pre-ordered "Bloom," but I guess I picked the slowest shipping option. The day it was released, I saw it in a bookstore. Instead of literacy books, I sat for an hour while Ellie napped and devoured "Bloom." The next day, I purchased it. I figured that an extra copy would make a good gift, a good loaner, or a good pick-me-up for a new mama to a little one with Down syndrome.
First of all, I loved the book layout. Because Kelle is a photographer, the book features plenty of full-color pictures of her girls, her family, Nella's birth, and most striking, a picture of Kelle's face as she realizes Nella has Down syndrome. That single photo explains the fear that accompanies a new diagnosis better than any words ever will. Reading Kelle's blog now, life seems happy and enjoyable, but her detailed description of the grieving process reminded me that sometimes, we have to journey to happy. I've read criticisms of Kelle, categorizing her writing as too "rainbows and unicorns," but her book contains rawness alongside the rainbows.
While reading Kelle's blog gives a window into her life, I enjoyed the greater detail the book can offer - on her beliefs, meeting her husband, and her family. The descriptions of her dad during the initial days of Nella's life caused me to cry right into my coffee at Barnes and Noble. His prayer for Nella is simply perfect. "Poppa" is a chaplain in a hospital, and I cried because he would have been a comforting presence during Ellie's hospital stays. I also cried remembering and appreciating those who stood alongside us - our pastor who baptized Ellie shortly after her arrival, our friends, our families, and even this online community.
Rik, if for some reason you read this, (but you're such a proud dad, somehow I wouldn't be surprised) we could use you in DC.
Our experience with Ellie has been different than the Hampton's experience with Nella. Ellie's extra chromosome was diagnosed before birth. Nella was diagnosed in the delivery room. Nella has an older sister and two big brothers. Ellie's our first. Ellie has been in and out of the hospital with a couple of major surgeries, whereas Nella has been fairly healthy. Still, there is much of Kelle's story that I can relate to, to point at and say "I know that feeling!" As a memoir, this book is about Kelle's journey, and isn't a "how to" of raising a child with Down syndrome, nor does it pretend to be.
Some of Kelle's experiences are very "special needs" specific. The uncertainty as a team of people arrive to evaluate your child for early intervention. Meeting your child's therapist. (Nella has a hot therapist who rides a motorcycle. Ellie's therapists don't ride motorcycles that I'm aware of, and none are good-looking men, but she has a team of amazing women that I will thank publicly every chance I get. So thanks again.) Arriving at your first "Down syndrome" event and feeling scared, but meeting the parents who help make things better. Meeting a child a bit older than yours who speaks clearly and can read, opening your heart to more possibilities than you dared hope. (Thank you, Sammi.)
I don't think the "special needs" stuff is the best "Bloom" has to offer. Aside from Poppa's prayer of thanks, my favorite portions of the book were about parenting and life. Kelle writes, "But here's the thing: once you become a parent... once you start feeling a little funny and you buy the pregnancy test... once you see a pink plus sign... once you know that it's not just you anymore... well, you automatically carry around, for the rest of your life, an increased likelihood of having your heart broken." That's true whether your kid has 47 chromosomes or 46, whether they're healthy or in the NICU.
I've written before about my love for John 10:10, where Jesus says, "The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy, but I have come that you might have life, and life to the full." Regardless of your beliefs, or Kelle's beliefs, or my beliefs, her book illustrates this verse beautifully. Full life isn't always easy. No one ever promised it would be. But a good life is rich and full, with a range of emotions.
Since I know not everyone agrees with my taste, I'll add that if you are bothered by super-positive, optimistic types, you probably won't like "Bloom." But I like optimism. "Bloom" feels a bit like sitting down with a friend for a cup of coffee, telling stories, and opening phones to share photos.