Since Million Miles came out about six months ago, It’s been an honor to hear the many stories of what people have done with their lives after reading the book. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard. But there is another kind of story I find equally as inspiring, and it’s the story of people who’ve encountered hardships and yet have found beauty in the midst of their pain. I first read Kelle and Brett Hampton’s story when my assistant forwarded me a link to her blog. The subject line in her e-mail simply said “You are going to need tissues for this one.” Sure enough, I did. I read the story and cried over the incredible honesty and beauty Kelle shared as she told the story of the birth of her daughter, Nella. She and Brett are heroes, and Nella is an angel.
Thousands have now read Nella’s story, and thousands have left comments on Kelle’s blog. I asked Kelle if I could repost the blog, pictures and all, on my site, and she kindly and graciously agreed. I just wanted to bring the story to more readers. May you be blessed like I was. May you be touched. May you be reminded of how brightly God can shine.
You are going to need tissues for this.
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.
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 savored every brush stroke 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 favors 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 labor 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 anesthesia 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 anesthesia walking in to give me an epidural, Brett getting uneasy, girlfriends talking me through it, my pediatrician 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 savor 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.
I don’t remember a lot here. My friends have filled me in, but I feel like I was in a black hole. I know I held her. I know I kissed her. I know I begged every power in the world that this wasn’t happening…that she was normal, but I knew in my soul exactly what this was.
She was scooped off my chest and taken to the warming bed where nurses nervously smiled as they checked her over. I wanted someone to tell me what was going on…I kept asking if she was okay, and they told me she was fine. She was crying and pink and just perfectly healthy. I wanted to say the words, but couldn’t. So, I asked why her nose was smooshed…why she looked funny. And because she came out posterior and so quickly, many people in the room honestly thought she’d look a little different in an hour or so. But I knew. I cried and cried while everyone smiled and took pictures of her, like nothing was wrong. I kept crying and asking, “Is there something you aren’t telling me?” …and they just kept smiling.
At this point, I have believed until recently that the pediatrician came in right away and told me the news. But because I was so confused and emotional and haven’t slept much in a week, I am told it wasn’t right away. The nurses apparently called my pediatrician in for ‘D.S. suspicions.’ And during this hour, I was handed back my daughter as if everything was okay.
When I think about this time later, I have cried and cried wondering what I did. Did she feel love? Did I kiss her? Did I hold her and tell her ‘happy birthday’ and smother her with happy tears? My friends in the room smile when I ask this and promise me I did. They said I couldn’t stop kissing her. And while I held her, the room went on. Someone popped champagne and poured glasses and a toast was raised…”To Nella!” while I sat, confused, trying to take it in.
…and I am so very blessed my beautiful photographer friends, Laura and Heidi, were there to capture every single moment. They never stopped shooting…there are over 2000 images from the delivery and they have helped me relive the beauty. This photo is so beautiful to me…because it speaks with emotion. This is how I felt while everyone carried on for me.
I remember feeling….nothing. As if I literally left my body for a bit.
But they said I kissed her. They said I loved her. They said I was a mama.
I remember my pediatrician suddenly walking in and my heart sank a bit…I knew. “Why is she here?” I asked. And they told me she was just checking the baby out. Which she did. And then the room grew quiet and everyone was asked to leave. I started shaking. I knew it was coming. The tears. The twisting in my stomach that they were about to rock my world.
Brett stood behind me, stroking my hair and my nurse friends, Dot and Katie, stayed on either side of the bed. And it happened.
My pediatrician snuggled Nella up in a blanket and handed her to me…and she knelt down next to my bed so that she could look up at me…not down. She smiled so warmly and held my hand so tight. And she never took her eyes off mine. We had been through a lot together with Lainey’s jaundice and I have spent many tearful conversations with her over the course of these two and a half years. She is an amazing pediatrician. But at this moment, she became more than that. She was our friend as she beautifully shared the news.
I need to tell you something.
…and I cried hard… “I know what you’re going to say.”
She smiled again and squeezed my hand a little tighter.
The first thing I’m going to tell you is that your daughter is beautiful and perfect.
…and I cried harder.
…but there are some features that lead me to believe she may have Down Syndrome.
Finally, someone said it.
I felt hot tears stream down and fall on my baby’s face. My beautiful, perfect daughter. I was scared to look up at Brett, so I didn’t. I just kissed her.
And then, Dr. Foley added…
…but, Kelle….she is beautiful. and perfect.
I asked for my dad to be let back in the room. And when he walked in, I cried again. They think she has Down Syndrome.
And he smiled as his eyes welled up with tears and he said, “That’s okay. We love her.” He scooped her up and I asked him to say a prayer. And there, in the delivery room where moments earlier she entered the world, we huddled around my bed…Brett still stroking my hair, Katie crying on one side, Dot on the other and Dr. Foley kneeled down beside my bed. He prayed and thanked God for giving us Nella and thanked him for the wonderful things he had planned for us. For our family. For Nella. Amen.
Dr. Foley hugged me and told me she got to hold her for her examination, but now she wanted to hold her just for some snuggles. And she did. I will always remember her compassion and know there is no one else that could do a better job sharing this challenging journey with us.
Katie asked if I wanted to nurse Nella, and I did. Another dreamy moment I had always anticipated and yet it felt so different this time. But I remember her latching right on and sucking away with no hesitation and looking at her, completely accepting me as her mama and snuggling in to the only one she’s ever known and I felt so completley guilty that I didn’t feel the same. I felt love, yes. I just kept envisioning this other baby…the one that I felt died the moment I realized it wasn’t what I expected. But the nursing…oh, the nursing…how incredibly bonding it’s been. The single most beautiful link I’ve had to falling in love with this blessed angel. And, look…I smiled. I don’t remember smiling, but…I smiled.
The hallway was still filled with everyone who was waiting…and there are stories from our other wonderful friends and family of what happened behind those walls while they waited. All I know is that there was more love in that birthing center than the place could hold. As anxious eyes re-entered the room, I held my baby and told them all, crying, what we had been told. I knew there was a stream of friends ready to come and celebrate and I wanted them all to be told before they came in. I couldn’t emotionally handle telling anyone and yet, strangely, I wanted people to know as soon as possible because I knew I needed the troops…I was falling, sliding, tunneling into a black hole and I needed as much love as possible to keep me up.
I just remember happiness. From everyone. All of the blessed souls in that room celebrated as if there was nothing but joy. Everyone knew…and there were a few puffy eyes, but mostly, it was pure happiness. More friends trickled in. More smiles. More toasts. And hugs with no words…hugs like I’ve never felt. Ones that spoke volumes…arms pulled tightly around my neck, lips pressed against my forehead and bodies that shook with sobs…sobs that told me they felt it too…they felt my pain and they wanted to take it away.
And Brett…well, he never left our girl’s side. He was quiet through this all, and I’m not sure I’ll ever know what he felt, but I know the daddy of our babies, and I know he knows nothing but to love them with all his heart. And he did from the very start.
As soon as the epidural wore off, I wanted my own nightgown. They were going to take me to our new room upstairs, and I was ready for a new start. Everyone carried our stuff up and waited for us. And then…the moment I always talk about…the moment they put you in that wheelchair and place the baby in your arms…and stroll you through the hallways to your room while onlookers smile and wish they were you. It’s so strange, but I barely remember it.
I remember arriving to our room and being told Lainey was on her way. And I cried new tears…I hadn’t even thought about how this would impact Lainey…what she would think…how her life would be different…how every beautiful vision I had of two sisters growing up together, grown-up phone calls, advice-giving, cooking together, shopping…everything would be different. Numbness started leaving my heart and sheer pain started settling in.
Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry when Lainey gets here.
…and then I’ll never forget her face…her cute outfit someone put her in…her eyes when she walked into that room, and the way she tried to hide her excitement with her shy smile.
I will never forget the day my girl became a big sister.
I will never forget the moment her little sister was placed in her arms. I watched in agony…in tears…in admiration as my little girl taught me how to love. She showed me what unconditional love looks like…what the absence of stereotypes feels like…she was…
…and that was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. I needed that.
As darkness set in that night and people started trickling out, I felt paranoid. So completely afraid because I knew with darkness…with the absence of everyone celebrating…the grief would come. I could feel it coming…and it hurt so, so, so very bad.
I wanted Lainey to go home with Brett. My heart was in a million pieces and wanted to be with her, and if I couldn’t, I wanted him there. And so he left…with the little girl that completed my world, and I was left in the hospital with my two amazing, wonderful friends who will never ever know how special they are because of what they did for me that night. And they heard and saw things no one else will ever know, but I could have never made it through the night without them.
I think I cried for seven hours straight. It was gut-wrenching pain. I held Nella and I kissed her but I literally writhed in emotional pain on that bed in the dark with our candles and my friends by my side until the sun came up. I remember trying to sleep and then feeling it come on again…and I’d start shaking, and they’d both jump up and hug me from either side, Nella smooshed between the four of us. I begged for morning, even once mistaking a street light for sunlight and turning on the lights only to find it was 3 a.m. and I still had to make it through the night.
I can’t explain that evening. And I suppose it’s horrible to say you spent the first night your daughter was born in that state of agony, but I know it was necessary for me to move on to where I am today. And, knowing where I am today and how much I love this soul, how much I know she was meant for me and I am meant for her, knowing the crazy way our souls have intertwined and grown into each other, I can say all this now. It’s hard, but it’s real, and we all have feelings. We live them, we breathe them, we go through them and soon they dissolve into new feelings. So, here I go.
I cried out that I wanted to leave her and run away. I wanted to take Lainey and my perfect world and this perfect love I had built with my two-year old and our cupcake-baking days and our art projects and our beautiful bond and I wanted to run like hell. I wanted to be pregnant again. I wanted to be pregnant so bad. I wanted it to be the morning she was born again…when I was happy and excited and when I wore the white ruffled skirt and black shirt and put it in the belongings bag knowing joy was to come. I wanted to go back. I wanted to go back. I wanted to go back.
I moaned in pain and through it all, this little breath of heaven needed me. I cried while I nursed her. I cried while I held her. I cried while I pulled my nightgown off just so I could lie her body on my naked skin and pray that I felt a bond. I literally writhed in emotional pain for hours. And Heidi and Katie saw parts of me no one else have seen. My eyes were so swollen, Heidi said I looked like Rocky…like someone beat the hell out of my face and then cut little slits for eyes. It was that bad.
…and then morning came. …and with it, hope.
There is so much more I could write…and I will…in chapters of our book.
My sister arrived the next day and revolutionized the place with her “I Have a Dream” speech. She told me I swallowed the blue pill. She told me I could never go back. But that I held a key to a door that no one else does. And, with tears in her eyes, she excitedly and passionately told me how lucky I was. She told me that I was chosen and that it is the most special thing in the world. She told me it was going to be just fine.
And she was so right.
The day after Nella was born, I fell in love hard. I knew she was mine. I knew we were destined to be together. I knew she was the baby all along that grew in my beautiful round tummy…the one I thought I almost lost…the one that I proudly rubbed when people told me how beautiful that belly was. It was. It was Nella all along.
A huge turning point for me was when my sister published my blog entry and an outpouring of love turned on. I had no idea. None. I had no idea you all were out there. And the words you all said…I believed them. And maybe I believed them all along, but to hear them when I needed them…you all empowered me. And my friends and family…oh, they’ll never ever know how special they are to me. I’ve never felt so loved. You all truly gave me your hearts to borrow while mine was breaking. And you loved my baby. You loved her so good. You’re not her mama and yet you washed her with tears when you held her. You kissed her. When she cried in the middle of the night and I needed some blessed sleep, you rigged up the jaundice lights against the nurse’s orders, put your sunglasses on and took turns sleeping in a chair just to hold her.
You promised to be there on this journey and that alone means more than we can ever tell you. To be loved…is the greatest feeling one can ever feel.
Over the course of the next several days, things just became beautiful. I cried, yes…but they soon turned to tears of joy. I felt lucky. I felt happy. And I felt that I didn’t want to run away with Lainey anymore…and if I did, I was taking my bunny with me.
When Lainey was in the hospital with jaundice, I remember hugging Brett and crying. I told him if God would make her better, I’d do anything. I’d live in a box, I’d sell everything we had, I’d be happy with nothing…just make her better. When she did get better, that feeling of raw gratitude was real, but it wasn’t long before real life set in and I was complaning once again about the dirty grout in our cheap tile and how much I wanted wood floors.
I’ve often thought about how quickly that feeling left because we have a perfect, healthy little girl running around that erases all the painful memories of when we thought something might be seriously wrong.
I felt that feeling again last week. And as the pain has slowly disipated, I’ve realized…I will always be reminded. My Nella, my special little bunny, my beautiful perfect yet unique girl will be my constant reminder in life. That it’s not about wood floors. No, life is about love and truly experiencing the beauty we are meant to know.
And so, we came home…happy. In fact, walking out of the hospital with our new baby girl and our proud new big girl, all crowned up, gripping the handle of the carseat with Daddy…it was just how I had imagined it.
Life moves on. And there have been lots of tears since. There will be. But, there is us. Our Family. We will embrace this beauty and make something of it. We will hold our precious gift and know that we are lucky. I feel lucky. I feel privileged. I feel there is a story so beautiful in store…and we get to live it. Wow.
The story has begun…
Page by Page…
(First “Well Baby” Visit…Dr. Foley, we love you.)
I cannot begin to tell you how much I love her. I wouldn’t trade her for the world, and y’all can have that heart you let me borrow back. My broken heart has been healed…and if you held her, you’d know what I mean.
photographed by my dear friend, heidi
My Girls. I am complete.
There’s been so much wonder I’ve wanted to share…but I knew I had to tell her story first. More to come…we’ve been taking lots of pictures and loving the beauty of life…and the funny…and the hectic…it’s been crazy.
I did it. I told our bunny’s story.
If you’d like to follow Kelle’s terrific blog, you can check it out here.