I knew reading this book would be difficult for me, it would be for anyone, but especially for a parent. I almost wished I was reading it before I had become a mother myself because it would have been less painful to read. Although, it would have had less impact too, I don’t think I would have been so engrossed in it, had I not had a child myself. Juniper is the true story of Kelley and Thomas French‘s daughter who was born at 23 weeks and 6 days (keep in mind 40 weeks is the typical length of time a baby spends percolating in the womb). Before Juniper is even born, her parents are given the option to not keep her alive, simply because her chances of survival and having a healthy quality of life are so slim. But, the Frenches persevere and spend 6 months in the NICU with their premature baby, and Juniper survives against all odds, now living life as a happy and healthy 5 year old.
Even though I began the book knowing Juniper survives, I still had myself a couple good cries as I read it. The book is written by two amazing, prize-winning journalists, so needless to say it is a wonderful read. We get just enough medical information to keep us engaged but not confused, and the emotional experiences they endure as parents are so relatable but no less frightening, and at times beautiful. The hardships of having a child in the NICU for so long are hard to imagine, and the toll it takes on them as human beings is difficult to read about. They lose all interest in eating and sleeping, stuck in this terrible zone where their daughter has to fight for her every breath. There are countless times when Juniper is so close to death, the nurses later admit to the couple that they are convinced Juniper is a miracle, because there is no other explanation for the way she pulled through.
Journalists are expected to write without judgement or emotion in particular pieces, but of course the Frenches include themselves in every bit of this book. However their ability to remove themselves from situations is still evident in a select few situations, one of most memorable occurring while in the newsroom talking to a colleague. Juniper had been in the NICU for a few months at that point, and it was costing literally thousands of dollars a day for her care (luckily, their insurance covered the majority of these costs). One of Kelley’s colleagues callously asked if the great expense was worth it, and couldn’t that money be better spent on feeding millions of starving children in Africa? Regardless of whether her question was justified (it would open up an interesting debate no doubt), what kind of person says this out loud to parents in that situation? It would have taken all my effort to not claw that person’s eyes out should they have asked that about my own kid, but Kelley responded calmly to her question without judgement: “Better for who?” (p. 250).
Books were a lifeline for Tom, who read the entire Harry Potter series to Juniper during her time in the incubator. Once again-books are always the answer!!!! Anyway, the time he spent reading to her seemed to offer them both comfort, as the machines monitoring her vital signs always showed positive affects when he cracked open the book. They also found humor in doing little things like dressing Juniper up in little outfits once her skin was thick enough that it wouldn’t rip at the slightest touch. Although the never-ending waiting put pressure on Kelley and Tom’s marriage, they fought through it together, and from what I can tell on their website, they seem to living life as a happy and healthy family now, although we don’t get any specifics on Juniper’s health. I get the sense that they are protective of Juniper’s privacy as much as they can be after writing a book about her, which is completely understandable.
So do I recommend this book? Yes, definitely, it’s too well written for me not to. But it’s not an easy read, and it will make you hug your children a little tighter, so depending on your anxiety levels, you should make the ultimate choice whether to read it or not.