I won this book from Goodreads, and I was so stoked. It’s the story of a woman who delivers her second child and discovers that she has Down Syndrome. I have worked with kids with special needs since I was twelve years old, and Downs kids have always had a special place in my heart. I was intrigued by the story this mom had to tell. I fell to reading the book the moment I got it in my hot little hands. And I’ve regretted it ever since. I finished it months ago, and I have put off reviewing it because it was hard to get my thoughts together.
The whole book feels like a lie. Whether that lie is for the benefit of the reader or for herself, I am not sure. The first thing that struck me as weird about the book was that the blurb on the cover was from the Pioneer Woman. It seemed a very strange and random choice, as though the publisher needed to push the validity of the story before I even opened the book.
I have struggled with putting my finger on what bugs me about this book. For starters, the author is incredibly superficial, describing her life in the most idyllic terms, including an overuse of the word “perfect.” I have not yet met a parent who could honestly say that they “loved every minute” of parenting, so from the get-go, I found Hampton to be completely unrelatable. She has no struggles in her “perfect” life. And then she has a baby with Down Syndrome, and for 24 hours, she’s a total wreck, and then she’s fine. Or says she is.
It bugged me that she spent 62 pages crying over the discovery that her perfect baby was not, in fact perfect. 62 pages. Let me put that into some perspective for you. She describes the one non-perfect event in her life, offers one solitary opportunity to draw me in, and she blows it. She shares that her parents divorced when she was younger because her pastor father came out of the closet. I barely had time to process this revelation before she resolves it two paragraphs later. And now they have a “perfect”, albeit somewhat estranged relationship. Really?
Three paragraphs devoted to what must have been a cataclysmic event for everyone involved, the kids who see their parents divorce, the man who has been living a lie and is suddenly ripped from his family. She has a chance to make me feel something for her besides annoyance, but she glosses over it all in a way that makes me wonder why she bothered to mention the divorce in the first place. So 62 pages of crying over an imperfect baby seemed extreme. And I’m still not totally sure why she was crying.
When I was pregnant the second time, testing indicated a higher than normal chance that our baby would be born with Down, so I do have a bit of empathy for Hampton’s situation. It was hard, and it took several days to wrap our heads around it. We had a heads up, which is always an advantage. My son was born normal, but we did not know that for the last 20 weeks of the pregnancy. Though I wanted to, I couldn’t relate to her. The concerns she mentioned were superficial and had nothing to do with the baby herself. Would having a sister with a disability ruin her “perfect” first daughter’s “perfect” life? If people saw them in a shopping mall with a child who looked different, what would they think of her? Is that why she is crying? These are actually normal concerns, but without any concerns at all about her newborn baby’s health and quality of life to balance them out, she is left looking very shallow indeed.
No mention was made of the baby having to go for an echo cardiogram shortly after diagnosis because babies born with Down have heart conditions about half the time. Hampton does say that the baby’s heart is “perfect,” but she never mentions being afraid for her child before or during the procedure. Like it didn’t register on Hampton’s radar that her daughter was being taken from her to check for a life-threatening condition. Like the baby’s an accessory and not a human being in her own right.
Hampton says that she fell deeply and madly in love with her new baby in the first 24 hours. I have to be honest with you (at least one of us needs to be, after all), I wasn’t feeling it. She tried really hard, but she resorted to shallow, vapid prose that left me nauseated. Using the word “snuggle” twice in one paragraph hurts an author’s credibility in my book. Using it five times on a page makes me want to hurl both the book and the contents of my stomach. And she refers to children as “littles,” ( I know, spell-check. I don’t recognize it as a word, either.) which is both annoying and at times very confusing.
Maybe what left me cold was that this book was supposed to be a memoir, a tell-all, the baring of her soul. That didn’t happen here. The book is a photographic journal, both literally and figuratively, carefully chosen portraits of the author’s life that reveal very little truth, or at least not the truth she thinks she is sharing. In this book Hampton neither honestly struggles with her child’s disability nor believably embraces the beauty she claims to have found. I could have embraced her either way, as long as she was genuine. As is, her tale is sugary sweet icing on a cardboard cake.
To be fair, the photography is good (most photos were taken by the author herself). The black and white images are the one redeeming feature of the book. If you simply must pick up this book, I recommend perusing the pics and skipping the text. The story Hampton tells is nothing more than a glamour shot. The kind you could get at the mall in the 1980’s.
***Update*** A friend just clarified for me that the Pioneer woman has a child with a disability, which now makes the Pioneer Woman’s endorsement palatable.