04/05/2012 11:23 am ET Updated Jun 05, 2012

My Baby With Down Syndrome: Finding Beauty In The Unexpected

Healing is a bit like watching a flower bloom. You don't really know when it's going to happen, and despite the fact that you might be sitting there in front of barren ground attempting to will a bare stem to blossom, it doesn't happen on command. No, it is gradual. Like time-lapse photography. And as you are sitting, waiting, pleading for growth, you eventually begin to forget that you are waiting until suddenly, days later, you look and behold... a bloom.

Although I might not have known it, my heart began its healing process the moment my eyes met Nella's for the first time. It was painful. And brutal. And would be followed by moments that seem so far from bloom-worthy, you'd think my little seed had been dug up and abandoned. But, no. Healing was there, burrowing its roots deep into my heart, painfully yet purposefully cutting through, the way the strong roots do until they are grounded deep enough to anchor what they know will follow -- growth.

I woke up on January 23, the day after Nella was born, to a dark hospital room. And when I say I "woke up," I mean I decided to get out of bed for the day because I never slept that night. I closed my eyes to numb the pain a bit, but never slept. It was 5:45 a.m., Katie was asleep next to me in bed, her arm wrapped around my waist where Nella was snuggled in a nook between us, and Heidi was half asleep on the pull-out couch next to the bed, her semireclining position suggesting she was attentive and willing to jump up and help when she heard the slightest of my cries. I recalled for a moment what I thought this morning would be. How I had imagined it a week before. That sunlight would be streaming into the windows of my happy, flower-strewn room and I would be nursing my baby, victoriously smiling, awaiting the throng of visitors. And here I was, beaten down, despairing, drowning in the darkness of a room that held so much sadness. I looked down at the tiny bundle nestled next to me and traced her lips with my finger. Her perfect little lips. I watched her chest rise and fall peacefully next to me as I slipped out of bed, snuggling her next to Katie so she wouldn't be alone. I wanted Brett. I wanted the room to fill with friends. I wanted to see sunshine and to shed the sadness so badly. So I took the first step to newness I could think of -- a shower.

I'll never forget that shower. I'll never forget shedding my nightgown in that tiny bathroom and looking down to see the absence of her -- my stomach was gone. And the sadness gripped me. Suffocated me. I wanted that stomach back so badly, wanted to have some reminder of the happiness I had -- of the perfect baby I imagined was burrowed inside me. It was over. There was no beautiful bulge that kicked and pressed her feet against me. Just the doughy remains of what was. I was cold and couldn't manage to get the water warm enough from the measly trickle that dripped out of the hospital showerhead. I didn't want to wake Heidi or Katie after what I had put them through that night, but I couldn't take it anymore. I pressed my hand against the cold tile in front of me, leaned over, and let my body and my heart do what they needed to do -- sob... hard.

"Heidi," I cried, hoping she might be able to hear me over the water stream. "Heidi!" I called again, desperate for company. And then she appeared, and I lost it. "I can't be in here alone. I can't do this. I can't breathe." I stood there cold, naked, and literally gasping for air.
"I'm right here," she affirmed, and I watched as my friend dragged a rocking chair into that tiny bathroom, right next to the shower, and plopped her exhausted body into it. "I'll keep talking," she said, and I listened to her as I lathered my hair, shaved my legs, and tried to will the trickling lukewarm water to wash away my heartache.

"The net," my friends call it -- the ever-present existence of one another, standing by, ready to catch any one of us who might be falling. We've all needed it at different times over the years. My friend Kelly needed it when she went through four years of infertility and two in-vitros. We'd huddle up at a bar after one of her disappointing blood tests and tell her it was going to be all right. That she was going to be a mama someday. That her body was not broken and that periods, yes, indeed sucked. And we'd sit for hours, telling stories, crying, laughing, bonding over cold beers with lots of limes. And then there was the occasional bad day for any one of us. And a battle cry would disperse over text or e-mail or down the line of our trusty phone tree. We've been there for one another through getting married, having babies, stressing at work, arguing with husbands, loving family, you name it. We gather over brunch at our favorite coffee shops and cover one another's asses when we're late to pick up kids or forget to bring a birthday present. And the moment the battle cry went out just minutes after my girl arrived that January evening, they were there for me. In droves.

As I stepped out of the shower and took the towel Heidi held out for me, I knew they'd be here soon. I didn't have to ask. I knew there were secret schedules and quiet phone calls being made in the hallway, reporting my status, arranging the troops. Months later I would ask them each how they were told and what they felt, but I didn't know at the time. I didn't know a birthday party celebration came to a crashing halt the evening before when the phone call came in. I didn't know my friend Stephanie fell to her knees on the cement in Marsha's driveway and cried for me while others helped her up or that Rayna walked out of the hospital, got into her car, laid her head on her steering wheel, and shook with sobs. I didn't know she was angry with God. What I did know was that they'd be here, as long as I needed them, and they would be here soon.

Excerpted from "Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected -- A Memoir" by Kelle Hampton. Published by William Morrow.