Monday, May 28, 2012

"Bloom" by Kelle Hampton. Reviewed by Tricia Ann Dutterer

I didn't intend to write this.  I figured I would just let it go, but I decided, why not.  So I'm going to just go for it. 

First of all, I want to recognize the things about Bloom that I liked.  I liked her honesty.  She was transparent and raw in sharing her emotions.  In her blog, she has not been very open on her thoughts about Down syndrome and her struggles, and I think she opened up more in the book.  She's still unicorns and rainbows, because she always goes back to the same fundamentals:  Nothing else matters, because I love my child.

I LOVE how she has the pictures in the book too.  If I ever write a book, I think I might steal that little idea. 

In college, while learning to be an elementary school teacher, I learned that during a parent-teacher conference, you should tell the parent what you like/ the positive, then give the negative.  I did my positives, so here's my "negatives".

Kelle made reference to the fact that "she was going to do this different".  I get that she's all unicorns and rainbows, and even though she is a pretty extreme version of that, I don't feel like she is doing things so different than most of us do.  I think the vast majority of us are celebrating our children and focusing on the positive.  We are not walking around depressed, with a black veil over our faces.  We are living every day and loving our child.  Some of us share our struggles with things like gross motor or speech or sensory issues, or whatever more freely, but it doesn't mean we're dark and twisty.  We're just being honest and trying to help someone else who may be feeling the same way.

I felt like I was judged for being a Christian.  Because certainly I must hate anyone who lives a lifestyle that is different than mine.  I don't, by the way.  I also must think that anyone who is gay is going to Hell.  I don't think that, either, by the way.  The Bible makes it clear the Way to Heaven, and that's Jesus Christ.  You know that whole "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life."  It's true. 

I felt like I was mocked for being a Christian.  You know, the whole "God spinners" thing.  Sure, there are people that use God as a cliche and could care less about God until their version of God fits into their life.  But I believe that God has a plan, and I'm not "spinning" God when I say that.  The Bible says, "But the very hairs of your head are all numbered" in Matthew 10:30.  And in Matthew 6:26, it says,  "Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?"  It's like saying, Hello!  If God cares about a stupid bird, don't you think he cares so much more about you?  Does that mean that God's hand is absent from things when tragedy happens?  No, of course not.  God does not want anyone to suffer, but some things just are, because they are a part of life.  Death and sickness are a part of life.  I would never go up to someone who just lost a loved one and say, "Oh, it must have been God's plan", because that is not helpful.  But I would encourage them to turn to God for peace, because it's there.  And I know it's there when I look at ladies like this one or this one.

Ok, and now for the part that I know is going to make me really uncool, which I am pretty uncool, by the way.  But I'm cool with that, because it's been that way my whole life.  In middle school, I got made fun of for wearing tennis shoes from PayLess and clothes from KMart.  I still wear shoes from PayLess, by the way.  And if there was a KMart in our town, I'd go right now and buy a shirt.  In high school, I was known as the girl who never talked.  And then in college, I started to figure that it's ok to be who I am.  So here goes.  I find it completely annoying when people cuss.  And not just annoying, but I feel like it makes them sound less intelligent.  It doesn't mean they are not intelligent, it just sounds that way.  We have a beautiful language, full of descriptive and colorful words and someone has to use a 4 letter cuss word to describe how scared or surprised or mad they were.  C'mon, there's so many better ways.  By the end of Bloom, it felt like I was reading cuss words on every page.  I would never let my kids read it, and I wouldn't recommend that they read it either. 

And for uncool thing number 2:  I find the sentiment of "throwing back a cold one", whenever life's troubles arise, unappealing.  I grew up with an alchoholic.  We would come home after an evening out at soccer practice or where ever, and he would be so passed out, drunk that we had to climb in the window, because we were locked out, and he couldn't hear us knocking.  When I was probably around 6 or 7 years old, I remember sneaking into the beer stash and dumping it all out into the yard, because I didn't want him to drink anymore.  And I'm sure when he went to get more, he just figured he had forgotten, and it was all gone.  And by the end of Bloom, I felt like the running theme was, "Hey if you're having a rough day, just drink.  It makes everything better."  I don't know if she was trying to come off as cool, because she wants her kids to think she was the cool mom when they read the book one day.

So that's what I thought about the book.  Boo me if you want.

As far as Kelle, I respect everything she has done in the Down syndrome community.  All of the interviews she has done only bring more awareness to Down syndrome and how beautiful it is, and I love that.  I love her writing (when she's not cussing), and I love her pictures.  I'm just not a big fan of the book.

Blog: Life is Beautiful 

Friday, May 25, 2012

"Bloom" by Kelle Hampton, Reviewed by Emily Cornell

Last week I promised a book review of Kelle Hampton's Bloom. It seems as soon as I make promises, life gets crazy. Sickness, spring break, and the craziness of raising three kids has gotten in the way this past week. Most nights I fall onto the couch to relax after my crazy days, exhausted, and aimlessly flip through the channels or web surf because it doesn't require any extra effort. In actuality I should be diving into the textbook sitting on my end table ("Effective Methods of Inclusion"...for my teaching license renewal, though there will be some personal gain from this class I am sure!), but I haven't mustered up enough energy to start that one yet. Soon. Instead, I will blog.

So, what did I think?

I didn't preorder the book, and I wasn't sure if I would want to read it as soon as it came out. I actually had a lot of mixed feelings about it. I found Kelle Hampton's blog shortly after Charlotte's birth. At the time, it was exactly what I needed. While digging through website after website of scary statistics and all the health issues my newborn may face, Kelle's blog was a breath of fresh air. Beautiful pictures, a carefree approach to the world, and words that painted a picture of a joyous life. Her blog showed me that I would feel okay again one day, and joy would return to my life.

I did end up buying Bloom for my Kindle the day it came out. My apprehension about reading the book came from knowing that reading someone's account of their birth experience of a child with Down syndrome would hit pretty close to home for me. Kelle and I have a few things in common; we were (are) both teachers, both in our early 30's when we had our child w/DS and both have older children. I relate a lot to what she writes and I was worried that reading her book would force me to revisit feelings I have since put behind me.

I read the book in two nights. It was a quick, easy read and it delivered everything the book trailer promised. It was hard for me at times; more than once I found myself dabbing away tears. I appreciated Kelle's honesty as she recounted Nella's birth and early days. I was most touched by her description of the first time her older daughter met Nella, and how at first it was hard for her to witness because all she could think of was the "sister relationship" she had built in her head for her girls and how it wasn't going to be at all like she imagined. This was something Mike and I struggled with in the beginning; Mike having three sisters, me having three brothers, neither of us had experienced the bond of a same-gender sibling and were excited to witness this relationship between our girls. We mourned this in the early days, only to realize later that we didn't need to.

I have read a few posts about reactions to Bloom on the Down syndrome message board I frequent. Some are turned off by Kelle's approach to her blog and, really, to life. Some thinks she makes life look too perfect, and doesn't give an honest account of what raising a child with a disability is like. Kelle's blog existed before the birth of her daughter Nella, and I personally enjoy how she has kept it pretty much the same, while including advocacy and awareness when she sees fit. I believe Kelle is doing a lot of good for the Down syndrome community, and Bloom (which was #11 of the best seller list last week!), is bringing awareness to Down syndrome that wasn't there before.

I tend to be an optimist when I blog. I enjoy reading blogs and books written by other optimists. When I write about  raising Charlotte and what a joy it has been, I mean it. This doesn't mean I am not constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. It is hard not to think about those scary statistics and wonder what health concern we will have to deal with next. It doesn't mean that I don't already have anxiety about sitting through my first IEP meeting...and it is still a year away! It doesn't mean that I am not freaked about the future, the unknown of what adolescence and adulthood will be like for my daughter. It also doesn't mean that I don't constantly think about the first time any of my children have to face ignorant bully.

However, I tend to focus on the joy, because frankly, why wouldn't I?! Everyone has fears and worries about future problems that one can't control. I, like Kelle, try not to focus too much on the negative, because I would rather concentrate on the pretty awesome things happening right before my eyes.

I recommend Bloom to anyone looking for a good, heartfelt story. Check it out.

Blog: Charlotte's Web(site)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"Bloom" by Kelle Hampton, Reviewed by Lisa Morguess

I’ve been reluctant to read this book ever since I first heard, months ago, of its impending arrival on bookstore shelves, given that I’ve been turned off by the whole Kelle Hampton brand since her now famous birth story first started making its way around the internet over two years ago.  I finally relented because, let’s face it – it’s pretty much the biggest thing to hit the Down syndrome community since Road Map to Holland.  There’s been a ton of hype and promotion of this book, and in the end – especially since, as a parent of a child with Down syndrome myself, I try to read everything that hits the Down syndrome literary landscape – I caved and downloaded Bloom to my iPad.

I won’t lie and say that I wanted to like this book.  What I wanted was to be able to read it with an open mind, which I knew would be difficult given my well-settled distaste for most of what Kelle presents and seems to represent, and I wanted to try to understand what it is about Kelle and her story that seems to appeal to the masses so much.

When I first read the story of Nella Cordelia’s birth a little over two years ago, I found it all to be unreal.  So much of it seemed staged, and there was very little I could relate to – from the Martha Stewart-esque party favors, to the full makeup while giving birth, to the photos that seemed absolutely intended for a vast audience.  Most of all, I just couldn’t swallow the notion that this woman “got over it” – her baby’s surprise diagnosis of Down syndrome – so quickly and virtually effortlessly.  It seemed that within 24 hours, she was fine with the whole thing, and I called bullshit.  Having gone through it myself about a year and a half before Kelle did, I knew that there is a process of grief involved in coming to terms with birthing a baby who turns out to be different from the one you planned for.

In Bloom, we find out that, indeed, she wasn’t over it in 24 hours.  But her account in her book is almost as unreal as the initial nearly griefless account she documented on her now famous blog, Enjoying the Small Things.  Rather, there was earth-shattering grief, there was “writhing in bed” with the pain of it all, there was crying “for seven hours straight,” so that in the morning after Nella’s birth, Kelle looked like a prize-fighter with eyes so swollen with shed tears that they were mere slits in her face.  And this went on for days.

That’s the thing about Kelle Hampton: it’s all about extremes.  Nothing is average or middle-of-the-road, and the constant extremity of it all diminishes her credibility.  So does the fact that in the midst of this soul-shattering grief during the first couple of days in the hospital, she was able to pull herself together enough to notice that the on-call OB was hot.  In fact, she refers to him in her book as “Dr. Hottie” as she recounts asking him for something she could take to help her “not be so sad.”  I can’t help but wonder how it would go over had her husband referred to – or even noticed – a nurse who was “hot” so soon after the birth of their daughter, and during such a time of initial grief, to boot.
I spent a good part of the book feeling disgusted and rather pissed off.  Why, oh why, was her grief so extreme?  Yes, she gave birth to a baby and received a surprise diagnosis of Down syndrome.

 That is a shock, and one that everyone who is faced with must come to terms with in their own way and their own time.  But, I have to say, as one of many, many moms whose baby’s surprise diagnosis was accompanied by immediate health issues, immediate major surgery, an extended stay in the NICU, and prolonged feeding difficulties, it is very difficult not to feel like – if this is the true account of Kelle’s experience – that she was a big, spoiled baby.  Nella was fine.  The worst – and only – issue she faced was jaundice, which was treated with photo-therapy right there in Kelle’s hospital room.

 And though Kelle had a normal, uncomplicated vaginal birth, she was allowed to remain in that hospital room with her new daughter for five days – she never had to suffer through forced separation, she had full access to her daughter at all times.  Nella nursed like a champ and gained weight from the get-go.  Kelle’s hospital room was constantly filled with dozens of friends from her “net,” bringing her food and beer from the outside, pampering her and holding her hand while she cried for hours on end, keeping her company while she showered, and handing her her makeup so she could primp in order to face this ghastly ordeal.

Sigh.  I think it goes without saying that this is not the average Joe’s experience.  And I don’t know that Kelle realizes this, either – that truly, in the grand configuration, she has lucked out at every turn.
After five days in the hospital, and after being reassured by her pediatrician again that Nella is “a normal, perfect, beautiful baby,” Kelle tells the doctor,
“You know,” I told her, “I’m gonna do this differently than you’ve ever seen it done before. I’m gonna come up with my own way, and it’s gonna be amazing.”
Thereby rejecting the entire Down syndrome parenting community who came before her (much like Rick Smith over at Noah’s Dad) without even getting to know them, many of whom would become her most ardent fans and supporters.  Go figure.

The rest of the book chronicle’s Nella’s first year – or, rather, Kelle’s first year as Nella’s mother, because really, this book is about Kelle and not Nella.  Over that first year, we are treated to various parties and trips and outings, a physical therapist who is “a little bit hot,” a recounting of a wild night of drunken skinny-dipping with the neighbors (not really sure what this had to do with anything, except maybe to show everyone how super cool she is?), her ability to identify with women who struggle with infertility because she suffered through four long months of trying to get pregnant, many, many photographs (227 to be exact, 103 of which contain Kelle herself – in case you were wondering), and, oh yeah, the breakup of her parents’ marriage when Kelle was a kid.

I actually do think that this little bit of history is pertinent to the whole Kelle story.  Kelle and her older brother and sister had an idyllic childhood with a dad who was a pastor and both parents who approached child rearing like it was “an Olympic event.”  When she was in the third grade, she was called out of class to leave school early for the day because, as it turned out, her mother had packed up their belongings and left Kelle’s dad because, as she later found out, her dad was gay.  She writes:
“So, for what seemed like six hours, my mom and grandma did what you do when you love your littles and want to spare them from hurt. You pretend it’s okay. You fake smile and tell stories and overcompensate for the slightest moment of awkward silence with forced normalcy.”
And that, my friends, is why she has this need to make everything perfect, or at least to appear perfect. She never learned to truly cope. She learned to fake it, and she learned that if you can make it look good, then it is good.  Appearances seem to play such a huge part in the whole Kelle Hampton brand, which to me, makes everything seem very shallow.

Her writing is mediocre – not horrible, but certainly not stupendous.  I’ve long wondered if her writing could stand on its own without all the fabulous photographs, and I think the fact that this book is about 50% photos speaks volumes.  While she has the ability to dig deep and come up with something meaningful, she’s very prone to melodrama, canned-sounding nuggets of wisdom, clich├ęs, and sophomoric expression.  This is not the writing of a mature woman, but rather, of a girl who sees herself as a “rockstar” and a “badass,” and enjoys her position up on a high pedestal.
“I walked through the parking lot, breathing heavy and chanting to the rhythm of my jeweled sandals hitting the pavement, ‘I’m a rockstar. I’m a rockstar. I’m a rockstar.’”
I think the thing that bothers me the most is this whole facade of Kelle having overcome so much adversity and triumphing in spite of it.
“At the fork in the road on this journey, I thought long and hard before I chose my path. And, for the sake of everyone – but especially my kids, who needed a happy mama – I took the path of positivity.”
She is widely seen – and touts herself – as a “positive person,” as someone who sees her glass as “half full.”  The truth is, though, that her cup runneth over!  And yet, she’s lauded for seeing it as half-full?  And what adversity has she overcome?  A broken home?  Millions and millions of us have come from that and worse.  A child with Down syndrome?  Tens of thousands of us have also dealt with that, and in her case, Down syndrome is barely more than a label, seeing that Nella has been fortunate enough to be minimally affected by her extra chromosome.

Kelle believes in “living life big,” but to me it just comes across as grandiose and materialistic.  I find it very disturbing and puzzling that so many people have chosen someone with those ideals to hold up as a role model.

In the end, she manages some reflection, some regret, and some gratitude, but it’s not enough for me.  Fundamentally, I think Kelle will remain too focused on appearances and the audience she now caters to and depends upon for her popularity.  I think those who already love her and what she presents will love this book, and those who already don’t like what she’s selling won’t like this book.  People who read it and are not themselves touched in any way personally by Down syndrome probably will see her as noble and courageous, since most people on the outside of this experience still see Down syndrome as something inherently tragic, and that to accept it and embrace it is heroic.
I’m most concerned about how this book might impact expectant and new parents facing a diagnosis of Down syndrome; if they are as fortunate as Kelle has been, then it might be a welcome addition to their bookshelf; if, on the other hand, they are like many other parents who do not enjoy the good fortune and resources Kelle has, I think it just might make them feel like shit.

I think Kelle still has quite a bit of blooming to do.

Lisa Morguess:
Turn The Page (Book Reviewing Blog)
Life As I Know It (Family Blog)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

"Bloom" by Kelle Hampton, Reviewed by Krista Lee Ewert

Thoughts on "Bloom"

This morning I sent Ben off to take Jakob to a birthday party, I made myself another cup of coffee and finished Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected--A Memoir by Kelle Hampton. It was important to me that I buy it and read it not only to support Kelle, who I view as a sister in this big DS family but also because she is, whether she knows the impact of it or not, the present voice of DS Mommas. She has the ability to speak and be heard by many, raising awareness and showing the world how wonderful a life with designer genes can be.

Let me begin by saying, Kelle has produced a very aesthetically pleasing book filled with many of her beautiful photographs. Her writing style stays true to her blog, which could be a good or bad thing depending on your own preferences. And while it is not the genre I tend to be drawn to, it definitely resonates with the larger population of Mommas who read it. She has written out her story beautifully, a story which a lot of people find themselves in. But note, I am not going to try and push aside my feelings towards Kelle in my review of this book. I read it with all of my own preconceptions from the journey we have had together for the last two years whether she is aware of it or not (which I am pretty sure she is not, as I have never met her nor conversed with her).

I remember the first time someone sent me the link to her blog. Ella was already 8 or 9 months and I too had blogged my journey. So when I read her story, I hesitated before adding to over a thousand comments to welcome her to the DS family. But I did. Because, just in case she read it, I wanted her to know it was going to be okay. If I had known her feelings towards "support" at the time, I probably wouldn't have offered a hand but I did and I put a link to my blog to say you're not alone. Our kids were about the same age and probably like hundreds of other moms out there, I thought maybe she would find a connection and a comfort. I think she was already too big for that though. Regardless, I began to follow her blog, like I do many other DS mommas and had to swallow my tongue and my pride every time someone sent me a link to her site, which was often.

Kelle and I are very different people even though many of the circumstances and events in our lives are so similar. We both come from broken families where the church took sides and we, as kids were caught in the middle of a manipulative game. We have families that have taught us to love despite mistakes, misgivings, sexual orientation and pressure from those we trusted. The first chapters of Bloom couldn't make our differences more evident. I was captivated by her response to Nella. It was completely foreign to me and I while I felt my throat tighten as I read of her first night, the gut-wrenching pain that she spoke of was something I knew very little about.

Do you know the phrase, What doesn't kill you will only make you stronger? I hate that phrase. But now thinking back on it, I guess it is true. My life has been through many valleys. A friend commented on the last part of Ella's story, that she cried when she heard about Ella: How could this happen to my beautiful Krista? Hadn't their family been through enough? I won't go into the details but lets just say there has been major refining in my life. This refining I cursed at the time, but perhaps it was the reason that instead of crying out "WHY ME?!", I thought quietly, of course, me.

I have never had a "perfect" life at least not in the way society views perfect, so unlike Kelle, I didn't feel like I was losing out on anything when Ella was born. And when looking at this book as a whole, I think that would be my biggest disappointment: Kelle spends more time talking about herself, how she would accept the challenge...that she has been given lemons but with her incredible attitude and strength will make lemonade. Instead, I saw Ella as a gift. A precious gift that I had been entrusted with from God and he would give me the strength and grace to raise this child. And this, my friends is what our differences hinge on. While Kelle talks about God and even believes in God, He plays a very different role in her life than mine. She knows the lingo, she was a PK (pastor's kid) for goodness' sake but there is a serious disconnect and relationship that needs to be mended there.

This brokeness shines through in Chapter Nine when she talks about "God-spinners".

"And so I pictured myself, on a hill, fist raised to the thundering skies shouting to it all - to God, to the Universe, to Coincidence, to Science - "I see your challenge. I accept. I accept. I'll show you how I can do it. You have no idea just how I'm gonna rock this out."

That being said, I know she is not alone and many of her readers probably praise her for her honesty. They can relate to being hurt by the church. Its a common and complicated problem that comes from having finite sinners as the representatives of God here on earth.

There is a lot of growth that goes on between chapter six with her stories of getting completely wasted, skinny dipping and walking home stark naked and chapter 11 when she starts to sober up. After that, I can relate a bit more, and isn't that what so many people are looking for in reading this book? Hoping to find something they can relate to? Find out what the secret is to the courage, hope and optimism that Kelle seems to emanate?

From Chapter 11 to the end of the book she recognizes that she has been handed a torch. Whether she wanted it or not, she graciously accepted it and did as she says, faked it until she could make it. She was made a leader, or maybe always was and when you are a leader, sometimes, even though you are not completely convinced in your heart, you know what is right in your head and so you are bold and carry on. She maintains her personal touch and it sometimes resembles more of a Grad yearbook write-up than a New York Times best seller but I think she always knew she wasn't out to write a textbook or a self-help book, just one person's story, her story and that is why so many people love it, besides, we are a blogging generation.

In the last chapters, that inward focus turns outward as she talks about the Buddy Walk that she said she would never do, but raised over $6000 from, and Nella's Onefunder that raised over $100,000 all for the National Down Syndrome Society. I have watched her blog grow, and seen her attempts to connect with her thousands of followers. And despite my honest opinions on some of the shortcomings of the book I have to applaud her and recognize that she has faced a huge learning curve with grace. She has come a long way from the first negative feedback she received via Enjoying the Small Things to now, when I am sure, people feel much less hesitant about telling her when she has said something wrong. 

Taking it beyond the book, I am pretty impressed that she has been able to maintain the essence of her blog since the book was released, considering her life is probably full of emails, writing, PR, etc. I often wonder if she has since gotten herself an assistant. We'll see what the future holds for Kelle Hampton. 

Now that you know what I think, why don't you find out for yourself. Long story short, I accidentally ordered two. So just leave me a comment or email to let me know and it's yours.

Krista Ewert
Blog: One Beautiful Life