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21st Mar 2020

Down Syndrome: One mum’s birth story is one of the most raw and beautiful things you will ever read

Today is World Down Syndrome Day

Trine Jensen-Burke

Kelle Hampton is an American blogger, author and mum-of-three.

A few years back she shared her daughter Nella’s birth story on her blog –a raw, moving and emotional post that quickly went viral.

Hampton’s story about giving birth to her second daughter – and learning once she was born that little Nella had Down’s Syndrome – touched thousands. The now mum-of-three received letters, cards, thoughts and prayers from all corners of the world, both from people extending their well-wishes on her beautiful new daughter and also thank-you’s to Hampton for being so honest about what it felt like the very moment she realised her daughter’s condition.

I first came across this story a couple of year’s back when a close friend of mine welcomed her beautiful baby boy – who also happened to have Down’s Syndrome. In searching for words to say to her, to both share in her joy and also try to understand her fears, I stumbled upon the tale of little Nella’s birth.

And I remember reading the words Kelle wrote as tears were streaming down my face, knowing that I have and will read a lot of things in my life, but few will be as powerful as these ones:

“This is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write in my entire life. The hardest and yet the most beautiful. As I even just begin to type here, late, in the dark in my room alone with my girls sleeping next to me, their little faces barely visible from the glow of the same candles that flickered in a very special room one week ago, my heart starts aching thinking of where I was at exactly this moment last week.

A week. How can it already have been a week? I’ve thought a million times what I’m going to write here and how I’m going to begin and what order I’ll put it in and I think I’ve been so afraid to come back here…so afraid of not doing justice this very precious night…of leaving something out…of attaching simple words to an event that is so far from simple, it might just not be possible. But I need to get it out. I don’t know how it’s going to come or if it will make sense, but I’m just going to write. And when I get stuck, I will pick up this tiny blessed life beside me and hold her tight. I will breathe her in and remember…

Oh, here it goes.
The story of our daughter’s birth.

This is Nella’s Story.

I turned 31 on December 29…exactly a month ago. We went to dinner with friends the evening before and as we left, we saw the new bookstore nearby welcomingly lit up. I had told Brett I didn’t need anything this year for my birthday as Christmas had just passed, but at the sight of the bookstore, I remembered a book I had read about from another photographer. As we walked by, I told Brett I changed my mind. I wanted a book, and I wanted it…tonight. So we ventured in, and he played with Lainey downstairs while I wandered up in the self-help section, thumbing through titles until I landed on the only copy of the book…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 with my big pregnant belly, my new book and a highlighter. 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. It turned into a three-hour bath followed by another hour or so of reading in my bed. 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 uncomfortable challenge was the changes in our life with Brett’s job and having him away from home. Little did I know.

Fast forward.

Last Thursday, Brett & 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.” And Thursday night, the pains started coming…nothing horribly uncomfortable but some significant cramps that were semi-regular and popped up several times through the night. By morning, I had several that were 15-20 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. And began the last steps in the ever long process of saying goodbye 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 savoured every brushstroke of those last moments with my big girl.

I called my friend, Katie, in Fort Lauderdale. I met Katie the night Lainey was born as she was the delivery nurse…and we have since been forever friends. She promised me she wanted to be present for all my babies’ births, so she high-tailed 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 seemed a bit like a dream as well. It all just hit me…we had waited for this. Wanting a second child. Losing a pregnancy. Getting pregnant. The horrible night I thought it was all ending and the trip to the E.R. 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 favours I hand-designed and tied every ribbon on 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 being handed in your arms the last few days of your pregnancy…it’s so real, you can touch it.

We said goodbye to Lainey as we left her with Grandma and headed to the hospital where I was quickly instructed to drop trou and gown up. I slipped the white ruffled skirt and black shirt I wore into a plastic belongings bag. Days later, just the sight of these clothes–the ones I wore during my excitement and happiness…during those last ‘happy’ moments before my life was changed–would bring pain. I think Heidi finally hid the bag because it made me cry every time.

The early stages of labour were perfectly beautiful. Nothing hurt that bad, I had the anticipation of this eutopian 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. I had it perfectly planned, and it was going just as I had imagined…but better.

By 2:00, my water had been broken and my contractions were in full force. The room was full of excitement and laughter. I chatted with my girlfriends until a contraction came on where I shifted gears, “ow-ow-ow-ow-ow’d” my way through it (and cursed), and came out of it as fast as I went in, picking up the conversation where we left off. I checked to make sure Brett was okay. Several of my girlfriends were headed out for a birthday party but, with news of my status, they all huddled into the room, dressed to the nines, before their night out to check on me. I liked the commotion…I loved the anticipation. I loved the feeling of people waiting anxiously for our baby. It felt special. …and we were so ready.

Two hours went by and I was off the wall in pain, begging for anaesthesia to get in with an epidural. They were tied up, and so I cursed them too. Little did I know, I was a 9. This is where things begin to get hazy. It all just happened so fast. I remember anaesthesia walking in to give me an epidural, Brett getting uneasy, girlfriends talking me through it, my paediatrician stopping in to say ‘hi’ during her rounds, and my obstetrician walking in and gowning up. This was it. With Lainey, it took forever and here I was, just hours after walking in this place, and they were going to tell me to push. They were going to tell me ‘just one more’ and then suddenly my life was going to change.

I couldn’t grasp it even then. It was all just happening so fast and I wanted to savour it. I looked around the room and tried to take it in…the candles, the music, the lavender oil I brought that wafted through the room and calmed the tension. And then I remember just speaking to myself. You are about to meet your daughter. You are about to be changed for good.

At this moment, I heard the sounds of our birth song begin to fill the room…When You Love Someone.

And I began to cry.

My husband, my friends, my dad, my nurses…all of them smiling…cameras flashing…

One more push.

Oh, this is so hard…

I pushed. I pushed and watched as the tiniest little body came out of me, arms flailing, lungs wailing…and then, they put her in my arms.

…and I knew.

I knew the minute I saw her that she had Down Syndrome and nobody else did. I held her and cried. Cried and panned the room to meet eyes with anyone that would tell me she didn’t have it. I held her and looked at her like she wasn’t my baby and tried to take it in. And all I can remember of these moments is her face. I will never forget my daughter in my arms, opening her eyes over and over…she locked eyes with mine and stared…bore holes into my soul.

Love me. Love me. I’m not what you expected, but oh, please love me.

That was the most defining moment of my life. That was the beginning of my story”

To keep reading the rest of Hampton’s beautiful and raw post, head over to her blog – trust me, this might be one of the most beautiful things you ever read.