There is perhaps no moment as extraordinary as seeing your child for the first time. Kelle Hampton was looking forward to meeting her second daughter and gazing into her eyes. But after Nella was born, Hampton knew something was wrong. Nella looked different. And soon her fears were confirmed when she and her husband were told that their new baby had Down syndrome. The story of Nella’s first year --- or, more accurately, Kelle Hampton’s first year with Nella --- is what this memoir is all about. From her sadness to her celebration, BLOOM is intensely honest and deeply personal.
"BLOOM is beautifully written, and Hampton’s photographs add a visual energy and intimacy to the book.... a thoughtful examination of motherhood and facing unexpected difficulties."
Nella’s Down syndrome came as a surprise to Hampton. Even as she was processing it, she had to share the news with her family and tight-knit circle of friends. Some of them cried tears of disappointment and frustration, while others believed Nella’s difference to be a blessing. Hampton herself was in mourning. She grieved for the baby she thought she was having, for the sister she thought she was giving her oldest daughter, for the mother she thought she was becoming.
But even so, she held and nursed and kissed her newborn, and, slowly over those first hours and days, came to love her. This love was complicated and difficult, she writes, and took much adjustment and soul searching. Eventually she came to see Nella as a gift and the daughter she was meant to have. She found an acceptance and a peace (mixed still with moments of fear and anxiety).
As Hampton came to learn more about Down syndrome and the life Nella would lead, the highs and lows continued. But creative and active, Hampton took an energetic approach to the challenge. She blogged about Nella and found a supportive online community and many new friends. She found purpose in fundraising and raising awareness as well. And mostly, she settled into her new life as a mother of two lovely and healthy little girls.
BLOOM is beautifully written, and Hampton’s photographs add a visual energy and intimacy to the book. But sometimes, despite evidence to the contrary, it seems that Hampton leads a charmed life. This can be a bit disconcerting, yet she remains a likable figure and her year-long journey is genuine and powerful. All told, Hampton seeks happiness for her family, friends and self, and she finds it in some surprising places: at a dance for adults with Down syndrome, at a dive bar with her husband on their wedding anniversary, behind her camera, in the hospital room where Nella was born one year earlier.
It is not just her ability to look for happiness, but also her realization that one often must work to create it, that makes BLOOM such an interesting read. From personal and familial rituals to artistic expression, from the cultivation of friendships to the bravery of support groups, Hampton was willing to work for the happiness she desired and for the life she wanted for Nella. And luckily for readers, she wrote it all down, captured it on film and shared it.
Perhaps too sweet (despite its harsh realities) for some readers, BLOOM is a thoughtful examination of motherhood and facing unexpected difficulties. Published just in time for Mother’s Day, it is worth a read any time of year.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on April 6, 2012