When Kelle Hampton found out she was pregnant with her second child, she was ecstatic. But when her new daughter Nella was born, she knew instantly that something was wrong: Nella had Down syndrome. Hampton writes about the experience in her new book, "Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected." Read an excerpt.
I turned thirty-one on December 29, 2009. My husband and I went to dinner with friends the evening before, and as we left, toting our leftovers in Styrofoam boxes and marveling at my very round pregnant belly that seemed to have grown a bit since dinner, I noticed the welcoming glow of the nearby bookstore. I had told Brett I didn’t need anything this year for my birthday, since Christmas had just passed and we had splurged on a new lens for my camera, but at the sight of the store window, I remembered a book that had been recommended by another photographer. As we walked by, I told Brett I changed my mind. I wanted that book, and I needed it that very second. So we ventured in, and he played downstairs with our two-year-old, Lainey, while I wandered up in the self-help section, thumbing through titles until I landed on the only copy—"A Million Miles in a Thousand Years" by Donald Miller.
Later at home, we put Lainey to bed and I drew a bath and climbed in, heaving my round middle over the edge of the tub and sinking into warm suds with my new book and a highlighter in hand. And I read. And read. And read. Underlining, highlighting, starring paragraphs and quotes and words that moved me hard. I warmed the water about a trillion times and pruned my skin to raisins, but I could not stop reading. I passed three hours in that tub, followed by another hour or so of reading in my bed.
The book spoke of the power of challenges—how living a life of comfort does nothing to make us grow, and how hard times shape us into interesting, developed characters. By the end of the book, I was inspired. Inspired to write a new story for our life—inspired to face challenges and leave my comfort zone and go through hard things because that is what turns the screenplays of our lives from boring to Oscar-worthy. And to be honest, in my mind, our most uncomfortable challenge boiled down to one thing: the changes in our life with Brett’s job and having him away from home. Little did I know.
Three weeks later, a Thursday, Brett and I teased all day that we were so ready for this baby, she had to either come Thursday or Friday. Every time he called me from work, he told me I should be out jogging. I didn’t jog, but I did walk like crazy, trailing Lainey through the streets of our neighborhood in a stroller, thinking, These might be the last moments with my only daughter alone.
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Thursday night, the pains started coming—nothing horribly uncomfortable but some significant cramps that were semiregular and popped up several times through the night. By morning, I had several that were fifteen to twenty minutes apart, and my doctor, convinced I would go fast once I was in full swing, suggested I go to the hospital within a few hours. I remember getting off the phone and it hit me: today was going to be the day. It was surreal. I texted my friends, called my family, began the last steps in the long process of saying good-bye to my only child. She wanted her face painted like a kitty, and although I was excited to pack up and head to the hospital, I savored every brushstroke of those last moments with my big girl.
I called my friend Katie in Fort Lauderdale. Katie was the delivery nurse the night Lainey was born, and we have since been forever friends. She promised me she wanted to be present for all my babies’ births, so she hightailed it over I-75 after my call to get there in time.
It was strange. It seemed so real and yet I had dreamed of this moment for so long, it was almost like a dream itself: Wanting a second child. Losing a pregnancy. Getting pregnant. The horrible night I thought it was all ending and the trip to the ER where we saw that little heartbeat. Waiting and preparing and finally, these last weeks, having everything just—perfect. The birth music ready to go, the blankets I had made packed and ready, the coming-home outfit, the big sister crown for Lainey, the nightgown I had bought just for the occasion—what I would wear holding my daughter the first night I rocked her to sleep. Even the favors I hand-designed and tied every ribbon to were lined and stacked in a box, ready to pass out the moment the room flooded with visitors. My heart could hardly hold the excitement, and I will never ever forget what it feels like to long for your baby to be placed in your arms the last few days of your pregnancy—it’s so real, you can touch it.
We said good-bye to Lainey as we left her with Grandma and headed to the hospital, where I was quickly instructed in Room 7 to drop trou and gown up. I slipped my white ruffled skirt and black shirt into a plastic belongings bag. Days later, just the sight of these clothes—the ones I wore during all the excitement, during those last happy moments before my life was changed—would bring pain. I think my friend Heidi finally hid the bag because it made me cry every time.
The early stages of labor were perfectly beautiful. Nothing hurt that bad, I had the anticipation of this utopian experience ahead of me, Brett was chill, and my girlfriends started trickling in the room. We actually played a game—the “If you could” cards I had packed in my bag for this very purpose. If you could vacation to anywhere in the world, where would it be? If you could change one thing about your past, what would it be? I played moderator, firing questions from my hospital bed—questions that ignited good conversation, laughter, the feeling that this was fun and beautiful and more like a sleepover than an afternoon hooked up to monitors and IVs. And all the while, among the laughter and small talk was the accompanying melody of the girl I was about to meet. Her heart steadily beat a beautiful rhythm that could be heard loud and clear from the monitor strapped to my middle. Bum-pum. Bum-pum. Bum-pum. I had it perfectly planned, and it was going just as I had imagined—but better…
Excerpted from "Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected" by Kelle Hampton. Published by HarperCollins, 2012.
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