Title: Juniper: The Girl Who Was Born Too Soon
My rating: 5/5
Juniper French was born four months early, at 23 weeks’ gestation. She weighed 1 pound, 4 ounces, and her twiggy body was the length of a Barbie doll. Her head was smaller than a tennis ball, her skin was nearly translucent, and through her chest you could see her flickering heart. Babies like Juniper, born at the edge of viability, trigger the question: Which is the greater act of love — to save her, or to let her go?
Kelley and Thomas French chose to fight for Juniper’s life, and this is their incredible tale. In one exquisite memoir, the authors explore the border between what is possible and what is right. They marvel at the science that conceived and sustained their daughter and the love that made the difference. They probe the bond between a mother and a baby, between a husband and a wife. They trace the journey of their family from its fragile beginning to the miraculous survival of their now thriving daughter.
I initially picked this memoir up from BookExpo America last year in Chicago and am now getting a chance to read it. Now, I’m kicking myself for not jumping in when I first got it! This was not the typical preemie baby story that I’ve come to hear from news outlets and made for tv movie which was refreshing. Kelley and Tom are a nontraditional couple in which years pass between them as well as a divorce and 2 kids from another marriage, not to mention a few years gap between them and where they think they should be in life stages. Once they finally are together, it takes some convincing as well as fertility trials that add more time in their biological clocks. It seemed that the right time, place, and people aligned when they needed it the most as an egg was harvested by a friend of theirs combined with the sperm of Tom. If that wasn’t challenging enough for invitro, Kelley delivers Junebug 4 months into the pregnancy – not even close to the ideal birth-date. With all the wires, surgeries, round the clock nurses and doctors and more, the Frenchs’ do their best to provide a normal child-rearing out of what hand they were dealt. I thought it was endearing how Tom read his little girl almost the entire Harry Potter series and she reacted positively to his voice. Her father made the connection that Junebug and Harry were similar in that they were overcoming obstacles and death multiple times as well as a similarity to Dobby in terms of shape and obscurity. My body melted with the painfully detailed descriptions and updates of Juniper’s first few weeks of life. The nurses, specifically Tracy, were depicted as unsung heroes as they made light of the situation by creating outfits for Juniper and giving the Frenchs’ opportunities for normalcy of new parents. I cannot imagine what this type of strain would look like for any of my relationships as Kelley and Tom navigated tough waters with challenges on their marriage and finances. However, their continued desire and motivation to provide a more than normal life for their daughter was ever-present. I appreciated the photographs the Frenchs’ shared in their narrative and the fast-forward to where they are at now and how beautiful life is through all the chaos they experienced. A beautifully powerful memoir that reminds us of what is important and how strong the will to live is.
Quotes that stayed with me:
“Mysterious and self-contained, she refused to be understood before she was ready” (French and French, 22)
“I wanted to raise a leader and a thinker. If someone was always telling her Be careful! Stop! Put that down! I worried that she would learn not to trust herself. I wanted her to discover her own limits. The only way to learn to pick yourself up, I figured, was to fall” (French and French 64)
“‘The world consists of the tension between order and chaos,’ a mathematician had once told The New York Times,” (French and French 269)
“I was…a writer who knew, beyond a doubt, that stories kept us alive. Sometimes they even brought us back from the dead” (French and French 296)