Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Book Review: Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected, a memoir by Kelle Hampton

Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected
by Kelle Hampton 
William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers
2013 (paperback) 
304 pages 

When Kelle Hampton became pregnant with her second child, she expected life to be perfect. After all, it already was: she had a beautiful little girl, a wonderful husband, a thriving photography career, and a close-knit group of friends. There was no reason to believe that all this wouldn't continue, blissfully ever after.

But as soon as baby Nella was placed in her arms, Kelle knew something was wrong.

"I knew the minute I saw her that she had Down syndrome and nobody else knew. I held her and cried. Cried and panned the room to meet eyes with anyone who would tell me she didn't have it. I held her and looked at her like she wasn't my baby and tried to take it in. And all I can remember of these moments is her face. I will never forget my daughter in my arms, opening her eyes over and over ... she locked eyes with mine and stared ... bore holes into my soul. 

Love me. Love me. I'm not what you expected, but oh, please love me." (pg. 6) 

Bloom is Kelle Hampton's memoir of her incredibly emotional first hours, days, and months as Nella's mother. Instead of basking in the joy of having a perfect-in-her-own-way newborn, Kelle found herself in a very dark, very frightening place where she struggled to accept this child who was different than she had expected.

(Accept may not be the exact word. As Kelle writes, "I don't think acceptance is just a course you can check off when you're finished, never to return to it again. You continually arrive at a greater place of understanding through each challenge, experiencing many moments when you feel broken along the way: This is hard. I don't know how to do this. I need help. I'm not strong enough for this. I've had those moments outside of Down syndrome, and I fully expect there will be more in the coming years, both with Nella's challenges and with life struggles in general. Because of those moments, I understand that the brokenness and confusion and inner disarray are all gifts, allowing you to discover yourself and grasp your connection to the world. When you feel you've arrived at your lowest point, think again. It's really just the starting line for your highest point - the greatest understanding, the most strength, the deepest confidence." pg. 281)

Make no mistake, Bloom is not always such a feel-good, introspective, motivational book. There's a lot here that is emotionally difficult to read. Kelle owns her struggle, fully and completely, and she gives it to her readers in every heartwrenching detail, even when it would be easier to edit out the parts that others would keep private.
"A week before she was born, I had used a gift certificate my friends had pooled together to buy an over-the-top pink silk baby book that I paid extra to have "Nella Cordelia" elegantly embroidered across the top. And, I am sorry to say, I had a moment of disappointment after my sweet girl entered the world in which I actually thought, I guess I can't use that baby book anymore. I am ashamed to admit that, for a moment, I felt I had used up a beautiful name on a baby I hadn't intended to be the recipient or that I suddenly didn't want to send out a birth announcement when weeks earlier I obsessed over a flat or folded card. This saddens me now. But it was in this beautiful mess of my former self that true potential dwelled - potential to be molded and shaped by a grand defining moment. And where there is potential ... there is greatness." (pg. 140) 

I felt I had used up a beautiful name on a baby I hadn't intended to be the recipient ....

Honesty doesn't get more real than that, folks.

Kelle has been criticized on her blog and in some reviews of her book about her lifestyle and her reactions (such as those mentioned above) after Nella was born. All I have to say about that is this: We can be an incredibly judgmental society and we mothers are often hardest on each other. I have no interest in responding with nothing less than compassion. Even among those of us who are parents of children with special needs, our experiences are never, ever identical. (Kind of like, well, parents of any children, really.) Our journeys and our growth are uniquely our own. As we in the autism community are fond of saying, if you've met one child with autism (or Asperger's), then you've met one child with autism (or Asperger's).

I think that extends to us as parents, too. Over the course of Nella's first year of life, Kelle goes through a range of emotions - from the initial overwhelming sadness to adjusting to their new life to the beginning stages of healing. Sometimes from the vantage point of time it is easier to forget just how painful and sad and scary those days and hours were - or are.
"Healing is a bit like watching a flower bloom. You don't really know when it's going to happen, and despite the fact that you might be sitting there in front of barren ground attempting to will a bare stem to blossom, it doesn't happen on command. No, it is gradual. Like time-lapse photography. And as you are sitting, waiting, pleading for growth, you eventually begin to forget that you are waiting until suddenly, days later, you look and behold ... a bloom." (pg. 57)
As part of her healing, Kelle begins to share her story and photographs through her blog, Enjoying the Small Things, and finally, to embrace the wider Down syndrome community not just as Nella's, but as her own and her entire extended family, by growing and doing things she never imagined.
"Confidence doesn't always come in surges. Sometimes - lots of times - it brews unbeknownst to us, building during the time we feel the least confident - through the tears, the questioning, the self-doubt, the begging God to make it better. Confidence, like contentment, is earned, paved stone by stone until you finally turn back and realize it has all been pieced together to create something strong. Confidence is a process." (pg. 171)  
Just as there are difficult parts in Bloom, watching Kelle's journey unfold is also breathtakingly beautiful - made so by her words, yes, but especially so through the gorgeous photographs she includes. (As much as I love my Kindle, this is definitely a book to be read in print for the pictures.) They add a bit to the perfection mystique, sure, but they're important for several other reasons. They illustrate - more than words can ever say - the message that Nella is someone to be proud of, not hidden ... and above all else, a beautiful little girl who is without a single doubt absolutely, completely 100% perfect.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me a copy of Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected in exchange for my honest review. I was not compensated in any way.

See what other bloggers on the book tour thought of Bloom: 

Tuesday, April 2nd: Book Club Classics!
Wednesday, April 3rd: Tina’s Book Reviews
Thursday, April 4th: Lavish Bookshelf
Monday, April 8th: 5 Minutes for Mom
Tuesday, April 9th: Good Girl Gone Redneck
Wednesday, April 10th: From L.A. to LA
Thursday, April 11th: A Patchwork of Books
Monday, April 15th: The Well-Read Wife
Tuesday, April 16th: Mrs. Q: Book Addict
Wednesday, April 17th: The Betty and Boo Chronicles
Friday, April 19th: Momma Jorje
Saturday, April 20th: Words of His Heart
Saturday, April 20th: Simeon’s Trail
Sunday, April 21st: Unringing the bell
Monday, April 22nd: Kritters Ramblings
Tuesday, April 23rd: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books
Thursday, April 25th: Suko’s Notebook

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copyright 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

I admire Kelle for her completely honesty, especially in those areas that are particularly painful to admit to. I'm so looking forward to reading this book!

Thanks for being on the tour Melissa. I'm featuring our review on TLC's Facebook page today.

Anonymous said...

Bottom line she uses her kids for income. She plasters their pictures and personal stories everywhere and only an fing moron find this woman authentic. Pathetic.