Saturday, April 28, 2012

"Bloom" by Kelle Hampton, Reviewed by Megan Landmeier

This post was originally published by Megan Landmeier at My Stubborn Little Miss.  Reposted with permission.

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.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bloom, by Kelle Hampton. Reviewed by Leah Thompson

Last week I finally finished Kelle Hampton's book Bloom.

And I have to admit, although I was looking forward to it, I appreciated her book even more than I thought I would.

I was introduced to Kelle's blog the week that Cora was born.  Within a couple of days, one of my friends e-mailed me Nella's birth story.  Since I was a brand new mom struggling my way through the beginning of my baby's NICU stay, still reeling and aching from a surprising diagnosis, Kelle's account of her own daughter's surprise Ds diagnosis hit home.  While I had been feeling so alone in my feelings, reading about Kelle's shock and grief really helped me to accept how I was feeling.  To know that I wasn't the only mother who had felt that she had been given the wrong baby, to know that the feelings of grief and shame and sorrow were not unique to me was so important to my own healing process.  I was happy to find that Kelle was able to bond with her daughter so quickly in spite of her tumultuous feelings and was able to express her love so purely.

As life with Cora progressed, I enjoyed occasionally getting my fix of Kelle's beautiful blog; perusing her gorgeous photos and reading stories of the joyful moments with her daughters.  But sometimes, especially when I was despondent over not being able to feed Cora, or quaking with fear over heart surgery, I couldn't relate to Kelle's happy and normal posts.  I just wasn't quite there yet.  After Cora's surgery, as our lives indeed began to feel normal, I was able to get back to Kelle's blog.  I know that there are people that feel that her outlook is too positive and not very true-to-life about the stress involved in a life parenting a child with special needs.  But, I don't really agree.  Yes, she is mostly positive.  And for me, I need perspectives like Kelle's.  I need to be reminded about the myriad of beautiful moments to be appreciated if you choose to look.  I need to catch glimpses that remind me of the importance of perspective, even if my own photos aren't quite as flawless, and my own Northwest weather not as accommodating year-round, and our own activities often more mundane.

Yes, Kelle is inspiring to me.  So when her book came out, I was excited to read it.  I was ready to feel motivated and inspired.

And although Bloom delivered that, it also delivered much more.   Kelle's book was not so much about Nella, but about her own journey during Nella's first year.  It delved into the details of her process into acceptance and revealed more raw emotion and a longer grieving period than I had expected after reading her birth story.  She talked about a health scare with Nella, which as any parent who has shared this kind of fear knows, puts your true values into perspective fast.  She talked about her nervousness meeting older people with Ds, and the worries about what life will be like when her daughter is no longer in the "cute baby" stage.  She wrote about wondering what to say to strangers, and even initially whether she had used the beautiful name she had chosen for the wrong baby. All of these worries and thoughts were part of her process, even after falling in love with her girl. And they are not unique to her.  Many of the mamas I have met in person and online since Cora's birth have struggled with similar things, myself included.  So it was really nice to gain insight into this side of Kelle.

I also really appreciated seeing how big a role her friends and family played for her.  My own network of friends is considerably smaller, but just as important.  And although I may have held people at arm's reach for a little while as I gathered my bearings, the support of my family and friends was crucial.  I will never forget the night that my mom and my youngest sister stayed with Cora at the NICU while I rested, being too loud during quiet time and partying with my wee girl as they somehow coaxed her to drink a full bottle.  Nor will I forget how important Mira's pep talks have been to me; always offering me a new way to look at things and the insight to actually appreciate my circumstances.  But certainly most important to me is the absolute love that has been shown to my girl from the second she was born.   Yes, hearing about Kelle's appreciation for her friends and family really reminded me how very thankful I am for my own.

And while my own enjoyment of Bloom was affected by my own similar experiences, it is a beautiful book that can be thoroughly enjoyed by readers that haven't been through something similar.  In fact, I am sure that a great many of the people reading this best-selling book don't have children with special needs.  But they are certainly gaining insight into at least one such life.  And this is a great book to offer that glimpse.  It is a beautiful book with a wonderful message and it does an excellent job of conveying how beautiful life can be, even when it takes an unexpected turn.  And that, my friends, is a great lesson for everyone to learn.