Wednesday, July 4, 2012

My Thoughts on Kelle Hampton and "Bloom"

My sister-in-law recommended Kelle Hampton's blog to me shortly after Levi's birth. I remember sitting in the corner of my bedroom hiding out with my laptop night after night, pouring over her photos and words while my weak little baby slept in his crib. Her blog playlists also grabbed me and drew me in. I felt connected and encouraged.

I went through some crazy emotions while I tried to get a grip on the fact that I was going to be raising a child with Down syndrome. It may sound silly, but while looking at her blog, I thought, "Okay, this happens to cool people, too. Maybe I can do this." I liked seeing that she was the same person even after Nella was born, and I still enjoy going back and reading old posts like this one. Kelle Hampton took great photos, loved holidays, and was madly in love with motherhood long before having a child with Down syndrome. Down syndrome didn't change her. That's what I like about her.

She gets criticized in the Down syndrome community for not being a stronger advocate and is nit-picked when she does mention anything about Down syndrome in her writing. The thing is, her blog is not about Down syndrome. Never was. She even has a tab at the top of her page entitled "Special Needs." There she gives links to resources for people that are looking for support but pretty much tells readers that her blog is just a blog about her family like it always has been. Her youngest daughter's birth just brought her a large readership of people who feel connected to her because of Down syndrome.

Her book, Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected: A Memoir, came out a few months ago. Keep in mind, it is a MEMOIR: an account of a person's own experiences. Her experiences are just that: her experiences. She just wrote about her thoughts and her memories. She can't get that wrong. It wasn't meant to be a guide book for a mother's first year of raising a child with Down syndrome or anything like that, and I appreciate that she doesn't pretend to be an expert. She is just herself.

I almost stopped reading it because it took me back to so many of those ugly, early emotions that I didn't want to relive. She talks a lot about her memories of the first few days with Nella, and those first few days with Levi were earth-shaking for me. I am so far past that now, and going back to that place made me feel weak and vulnerable.

And while I can relate to being a parent of a child with Down syndrome, I do not relate to drinking, which she wrote about...a lot. Again, the book was her memoir, so it is her writing about her own experiences. It was just a big turn off for me and another reason I almost didn't finish reading the book. I think Bloom would be a good read for someone seeking insight about what it is like processing the shock and other emotions a mother might feel when a child is born with unexpected special needs, but it isn't one I've recommended to many people.

Here's the thing though. Kelle Hampton is Kelle Hampton, and having a child with Down syndrome doesn't make her a different person. Many of us with special needs kids have connected through blogs and the Internet, but we all have our own perspectives, our own approaches, and our own lives. I just wish people would stop being so judgmental and hard on each other.

Kelle Hampton has responded to most of the emails I have sent and has even commented on my blog a few times when I've sent her an email with a link to something I wanted her to see. I think she is real and doesn't pretend to be anyone she is not, even with all this new popularity. I love her photography and her blog...and I would love it just as much if Nella didn't have Down syndrome.
A few weeks ago, I got to be part of a video conference with Kelle Hampton...for a few short moments. You may have seen some photos on my blog a little while ago of my friend, Tara, and her daughter, Vada. We met at 5 pm at Gigi's Playhouse in Moline, IL. Coincidentally, there was a video conference with Kelle Hampton there at 6pm, and Tara texted me that we might be able to get in on it. I let my excitement get the best of me and emailed Kelle Hampton to tell her that Levi & I might get to see her that night. When we got the Gigi's Playhouse, I realized that the video conference was part of an incentive for buying A LOT of copies of Bloom. The woman hosting the video conference bought the required amount of books for the video conference with Kelle Hampton and invited a select few of her friends. It was fairly clear we weren't welcome, so Tara & I stood in the back of the room with the our little ones. The conference started, and I figured we'd just watch from the back of the room for a little while then head on out. Then while the women were introducing themselves, Kelle Hampton saw us in the background and excitedly said, "Is that April and Levi?!?" We walked closer to the computer set-up to say hello, but the looks we were getting from the group made us think it would be best to leave. We ended up going out to eat and had a wonderful time. I guess I'll just have to get my own video conference someday.

I'm excited to tell you more about this picture. Check back soon.


Becky said...

I do agree that I wish people would stop being judgmental and hard on each other. Our world can be like that so quickly. In the end, even though we all may have children with DS, we are still individuals ourselves and do not fit into the "DS family stereotype" either. That is why our children with DS are individuals too! :) Too bad you were not able to chat more at that video conference...those there did not sound very nice. Oh well...sounds like a good meal after!

teal915 said...

Wow, sounds like those people were really rude. But it mademe giggle that Kelle asked to see you. Haha. Guess that kind of showed them. I didn't care for the book, and I wrote a review about it. I don't think I said anything mean about it, but I agree with you. If I had ever connected with her personally like you have, I may not have even written the review or said less. But I just didn't care for the book, and I didn't feel like it represented me or even how I want the Down syndrome community to be represented.

ckbrylliant said...

A very responsible review. I agree that we should view her book for what it is-- a memoir. This was not meant to be the face of Down syndrome today. This is one person's experience that many people may need to validate their own experiences, thoughts, and feelings. I am so not cool and therefore have had a hard time relating to Kelle and her blog. I do however respect her right to be who she is and love seeing the journey of Nella. Thanks for posting this and glad I found your blog.

lovemy3 said...

I had to remind myself several times that it was a memoir...there was no right or wrong way to write how she felt and how she handled it. Not a big drinker here either, grew up around alcoholics so we stay clear of it except for occasional social drinking (once a year maybe). Sorry to hear about your reception at the video conference. I do like that through her blog and book, she has shown the world that we are "normal" families leading "normal" lives.

Kristi said...

A very objective review..and i agree with you..there were many times i stopped and said to myself..."Really??" and then had to tell myself that it was a memoir and it was just her experience and thats it..but i really almost stopped reading it too on the drinking. i like her blog to look at her pictures and to see just the normal life stuff..but didnt care for the book.

Laura said...

I enjoyed Bloom but wouldn't say it was my favorite memoir about Ds. I don't know Kelle at all but am happy for her success. I say, good for her!

Anonymous said...

I have seen so many comments about the drinking in Bloom! I downloaded it myself (was tricky, as I am in the UK) and I honestly can't see what everyone is going on about, there's a few mentions of having a beer and one story about getting drunk pre-kids? Is that it?

This is a good balanced review though, I enjoyed reading it.