As friends and family celebrated with champagne toasts around her in the delivery room, an exhausted and terrified Kelle Hampton knew that her newborn baby was different. A pediatrician soon confirmed that Nella had Down syndrome—a moment that defined her life, says Kelle.
With the support of her loving husband, Brett, and her four-year-old daughter, Lainey, Kelle embraced the unexpected joy of being a mother to a child with special needs and wrote it all down for the world to read. Her heartfelt blog, “Enjoying the Small Things,” touched thousands of readers and was named The Bump’s Best Special Needs Blog in 2010.
Bloom, an inspiring memoir recounting the first year in the life of Nella, is Kelle’s eye-opening story on the power of perspective and celebrating life. Below, we chat with the mother of two about her new book and embracing the extraordinary.
First off, why write your story down?
Kelle Hampton: I wrote it for my family and myself. It was an extremely cathartic experience and very healing, especially since I was writing as it was all happening. I’ve always found healing by hearing other people’s hardships and reading books, so I know the importance of sharing a story. So first I did it for me, but I also wanted to write something that could help other people through their own challenges.
Why do you think that so many people—mothers or otherwise—can relate to Nella’s story?
KH: I think a lot of it is the honesty and all the things that I admitted to, like the shame and sadness. It’s an unspoken fear for all young women, especially those having children or who want to, that our child won’t be this perfect version we have in our minds. People could understand the underlying aspects too—the whole idea of perfection and what society expects of us. There is this white picket fence that we feel like we’re expected to have and women can relate to that image being shattered. It’s this idea of what we think our lives are going to be like and the hope that you can still be happy regardless if that idea doesn’t come true.
What was your first thought when you realized Nella had Down syndrome?
KH: My first thought was “Where is my baby? Where is the one I dreamed of?” It was almost like dealing with a death—I couldn’t even grasp what Down syndrome meant. One of the first things I asked the doctors was about life expectancy. I thought, “What will she be able to do? Will my child be happy? Will she be accepted? What will her life be like with Lainey?”
How has Lainey and Nella’s relationship evolved since the first year?
KH: They are in love with each other and it’s everything I dreamed it would be when I was pregnant. It has been absolutely beautiful to watch. There is this connection they have that I see in moments—it brings me to tears sometimes. Lainey doesn’t see Down syndrome and she never has.
What has Nella taught you since that first year?
KH: She has allowed me to be more compassionate—not only with other people, but also with myself. I think deeper when I meet people and put myself in people’s shoes more often. I also realized what I’m capable of. In the beginning I thought, “Not me! How am I going to do this?” But I feel so proud to experience this journey. I’m less afraid of life and I embrace more opportunities and experiences—that’s the most important thing she’s given us.
What is one lesson you want to teach or show Nella?
KH: I would love for her to have the confidence that she can do anything. I want her to know that if you dream something, it can happen and there are no limitations. That can be more challenging for a child with special needs, but I truly believe that if she dreams something in life that we will be there for support and help her achieve her goals.
Any words of wisdom for mothers, or people in general, that may have trouble celebrating the unexpected circumstances in life?
KH: During the hardest times, sit back and appreciate the little things in life. For me, in those very first days with Nella, realizing that I still get to wake up every morning helped me. I could still get coffee, go for walks, have family visitors and take photographs. Even if it feels like your life is changing so much, you still have those small pleasures in life that we all enjoy, which brought me a lot of hope.
What would you say is the most rewarding part of motherhood for you?
KH: That our kids don’t see our faults—they just see the good. No matter how guilty I might feel at the end of a day for what I didn’t do or accomplish, in my children’s eyes, all they ever want is love and attention. They hold me on a pedestal no matter how I see myself and that is incredibly rewarding.
Do you have any plans for a second book?
KH: Yes, I do! I’ve enjoyed this process so much, and being able to do what I love is an incredible thing.
Photo by Kelle Hampton