The Post I Almost Didn’t Write

Cover photo from Goodreads.

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.

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29 thoughts on “The Post I Almost Didn’t Write

  1. Ah well, sorry it was such an unfulfilling read.
    Surprised she found a publisher for it. Though the quality may be why they’re giving away free copies…

  2. There are so many memoirs about someone’s triumph over adversity. Not all of them are good writing, good reading or particularly uplifting. I admire you for being honest about it.

  3. Well, sounds like a waste of space. My oldest sister was born with Downs in 1946, this was a time when doctors told parents to put their children in homes at birth as life expectancy was less than 16 years. My mother told them to ‘go to hell’. This from a very proper 18 year old staring down into the eyes of her first child. My sister is still alive, my mother fought many a battle for her.

  4. I’m not a parent, and I haven’t read this book. However, I am disabled and anything that whiffs of ‘triumphing over adversity’ makes my skin crawl.

    Have you read The Memory Keeper’s Daughter? Now, I DID hurl that book across the room!

  5. This makes me sad. I want to think she got swept up in the “market” for an uplifting parenting memoir before she was able to truly reflect and process her experience this far. Parenting “normal” kids is so hard, especially when you have all these “perfect” families out there to compare yourself to. I don’t believe in perfection anymore. I do like pretty black and white photos, though. Thanks for an honest and well-written critique.

  6. hi, i do think this is a very difficult situation for more than one reason, it takes a very good writer to get across to another person the depths of a situation like this and maybe unfortunately for her she is not a good writer? also she may well be suffering from the idea that if she tells herself and anyone who will listen that everything is perfect then eventually she will be believe it , i am not sure having not read the book, to be honest i don’t tend to read books like this, but i wish her, whoever she is the strength to believe that life can be good even when faced with adversity, and to give some of that strength to me because i just crumble ! although i would advise her to go to writing classes 🙂 have a super day 🙂

  7. Bummer. Thanks for reviewing it so honestly, so others know what to expect.

    It’s been a while since I read it, but I was surprised in a POSITIVE way by Jenny McCarthy’s (I know…I went in with VERY low expectations) book about her son’s autism…Louder than Words. Much more “real” than Hampton’s book sounds.

  8. I get turned off by the word snuggle too. Much of my lexicon these days is baby talk, so when I actually sit down to read something written by an adult, for an adult, I want the author to speak like a grown-up.

    Thanks for writing this review. Well done and very fair.

  9. “The whole book feels like a lie. Whether that lie is for the benefit of the reader or for herself, I am not sure.”

    Although your review doesn’t incline me towards actually reading the book, I’m inclined to cut her a little slack. Writing about your special needs child is incredibly difficult because you are also writing about your own hopes being crushed. (Some would say changing, but at first, it’s pretty crushing.) So it’s an extremely delicate balance, trying not to sound like a selfish pig, while also mentally adjusting all of your expectations.

    Actually, I hate most of these types of books. I’m usually done after about fifty pages. It’s more sadness than I feel like voluntarily succumbing to, but I understand where others might find them interesting.

    • I hope I didn’t come across as harsh in my review. I have sat on it for several months because my gut reaction was so strong. Maybe in a few more months, all I will feel is pity for her that she feels like she can’t show the real her.

      • She probably isn’t telling the whole story, but some people are incredibly zen-like when it comes to their kid’s special needs. I’m always envious of those folks.

  10. We all put so much into our writing, and our work flounder unread, unpublished it is astonishing that someone can put so little heart and soul into such an important topic and be published and promoted.

  11. Wowza. That is also not a word, but I will use it again. Wowza. The concern over “hmm, what will this look like to other people” over “will my child be okay?” is sad.

  12. You almost make me want to read it just to see the terribleness for myself. It’s the kind of book that’s so terrible you have to finish it, huh? Just to see if she ever redeems herself. Note to self: Don’t read this one. Thanks.

  13. I haven’t read the book but I can imagine it from your commentary, which I loved. My “perfect” Down’s baby is 18 now and I’ll be honest, I can just now take a break. I have finished the rough draft of my book about him and believe me, it’s not all “good times.” He and I have both sobbed several times over the years out of the severest frustration I have ever known. Oftentimes, I wasn’t sure I was going to survive it all. Of course, he is also one of the three loves of my life. 🙂 I admire your honesty. I’m sure it was difficult to write.

  14. I love the honesty in your review, which is seemingly far more honest than that of the author of “Bloom.” I’ve read those books that leave the reader with a sour taste in the mouth because of a total lack of realism. It is frustrating both because I feel I’ve wasted my time and because of the impact on public perception. I remember reading about one couple’s journey through infertility treatment while I was going through treatments. They coated everything in romance, blanketed with their unrelenting faith in God. They never said a cross word to each other or cursed in anger. I felt like a total failure because I had cursed at both God and my husband in frustration. It took me some time to realize that they were describing their journey, or at least what they wanted others to believe, but that my journey through infertility was a bit more common.

  15. BC: It took me by surprise that your gave this book a negative review. For some reason I thought it was going to go the other way. Not having read the book, I really appreciated your honest, heartfelt review. I agree with Elyse: how does someone who writes like the author you reviewed get published and so many better writer’s works never see the light of day? (Do I sound bitter? 🙂 )

    Enjoyable read.

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