Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected – A Book Review

Bloom emerged from a blog author Kelle Hampton began shortly after her first daughter, Lainey’s, birth. Through her blog, Enjoying the Small Things, Hampton wanted to share with others the simple joys of motherhood she was experiencing.  She could not have foreseen how the birth of her second daughter, Nella, would challenge her so vigorously to continue to find a way to enjoy the small things. Bloom chronicles Hampton’s coming to terms with having a child with Down syndrome, her grieving process over her expectations of what could have been, and her resolve to take the situation that was handed to her and make the best of it. Bloom is by far the most visually beautiful memoir I have seen. The photographs included are stunning and bring Hampton’s experiences to life for the reader. One of the most wrenching photos is on page 7. Family and friends are toasting Nella’s birth and in the background, behind the half-full glasses of champagne, you can see Hampton’s face and it is clear from her expression that she already knows something is not right with her daughter.

Bloom is so much more than just Hampton’s experience learning that her daughter has Down syndrome. It is a testament to the miraculous healing power of family, friendships, women, and forgiveness – not just forgiving others, but forgiving ourselves as well. When I started reading, I thought this was another memoir that sugar-coated the process that a mother goes through when they find out their child has a special need. Being a mother with a child on the autism spectrum, I needed to see how someone else handled learning their child has special needs and how they came to terms with it. I needed the good, but I also needed the downright ugly. It was so refreshing to see that in Bloom. Oftentimes, when I read a memoir that only highlights the rainbows and butterflies and skips over the tornadoes and hurricanes, I feel like a horrible person, like somehow I should be able to make every day full of rainbows and butterflies. I needed to read something I could relate to, something that showed what it’s really like to find out your child is different from what you had expected and Bloom filled that need. I love the authenticity Kelle Hampton exemplifies; the courage she shows through her willingness to bring us fully into the ugly. It is ugly, this awakening. It is an awakening to our own selfishness in our expectations for others and our prejudices towards those we don’t perceive as perfect. It is an awakening to just how much we define ourselves by what other’s think of us and it brings us to a place where we question our beliefs about ourselves, our world, and God. As we see in Bloom, though, the beauty far outweighs the ugliness, and if we choose to let it, that beauty can transform the ugly from a raging wildfire into a tiny flicker.

Bloom spans the first year of Nella’s life and I love how Hampton shows that the fears, the questions, and the journey itself, does not stop just because we’ve learned to accept what we have been given. It continues and the ugliness can creep back in if we do not make a conscious choice each day to keep it at bay by focusing on the good that surrounds us no matter how small. Hampton’s journey to find the beauty in the unexpected and her truth on how she got to that point will help so many others start searching for and find the beauty hidden in the ugliness of their situations too.

Hampton addresses in Bloom how her positive outlook about Nella’s diagnosis caused uproar with some of her blog readers. She was told that she was in denial and to wait until Nella got older and her services ran out and she’d have to fight to get the care her daughter needs. Then she would fully understand the awfulness of her situation. I am there now, and yes, it is hell, but I don’t believe keeping a positive attitude about your situation is ever a bad thing. It is beneficial to warn others what might be up ahead, but not beneficial to scold them for enjoying the time they have right now. I think it is wonderful that Hampton has the blessed opportunity to enjoy her daughter at a time when every need she has is being met and that she has the mindset to enjoy it instead of focusing on what might happen years from now. It is one thing to be prepared for what might happen and quite another to be so worried about it that you don’t enjoy what is happening right now.

This is a wonderful book for anyone who is facing a crisis that has led them to question everything they thought they knew about themselves and about life. It is an uplifting, transformative memoir. We are witnesses to the shattering of Hampton’s tough outer shell in the midst of tremendous heartbreak and the emergence of her true, authentic, beautiful self that had been patiently waiting for the right moment to be revealed.

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The Anti-Romantic Child by Priscilla Gilman

I began this book, as a mother of a child with Asperger’s syndrome, not quite sure what to expect. However, I quickly fell in love with how Priscilla Gilman related so much of her experiences to her most beloved poetry. As a reader, you can literally feel the perception shift in Gilman as she comes to terms with the special needs of her son by the way her interpretations of poetry shift. I could relate so well to Gilman’s experiences with her son. I was shocked, though, when I came across the page where Gilman describes hyperlexia because she was describing my son perfectly. It was because she chose to share her story that I was finally able to identify a mysterious piece of my son’s early development and could provide information on hyperlexia to his therapists and doctors. Through sharing her experiences, Gilman provided me with a new understanding of my son and new ways to relate to him. She opens up the discussion on how we come to terms with having children that do not “fit” others’ and even possibly our own definition of “normal.” Gilman shows the power of love to not necessarily overcome adversity, but to accept it as it is, embrace it, and even welcome it. She shows us that through the shedding of who we thought we were supposed to be, who we thought our children were supposed to be, a new way of thinking, a new way of life, a new self emerges. What was once considered anti-romantic becomes most romantic and beautiful through the acceptance of what is and a fierce determination to no longer allow others to define who we are or who we should be. Gilman not only becomes an advocate for her son but also for herself. She grows alongside Benj and finds strength and courage through his experiences and uses them to ultimately find her true self.

I believe everyone should read and will learn so much from The Anti-Romantic Child. We are at a point where excavating our authentic self is more important than ever, and it may just be that the children we’ve labeled as “special” are indeed so, as they are emerging as our greatest and most powerful teachers yet.