Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Juniper: The Girl Who Was Born Too Soon by Kelley and Thomas French

Reviewed by Kristin

How do you decide whether or not to take extraordinary measures to save a baby born at twenty-three weeks and six days gestation, right at the very edge of viability?

Do you look at the statistics that say the overwhelming majority of babies born at this stage of development will either die or live with immense disabilities?  Do you pin your hopes on the small possibility that the child will have some kind of a normal life?  Do you wonder if the strain of taking care of that baby will tear apart your marriage, your finances, and your heart?

Kelley and Thomas French had to face all those questions and more.  After going through a wide range of fertility treatments, Kelley finally became pregnant via an egg donor.  At only twenty weeks, she began showing signs of pre-term labor.  Her doctors managed to slow down the process for four more weeks, but all too soon the baby had to be delivered by an emergency caesarean.  Kelley and Tom were heartbroken, but searched for a thread of hope that their child would live, would continue to grow, and eventually would thrive.

This is such a story of hope and of defeating the odds that I was kept breathless following the baby’s struggles for life.  It’s not much of a spoiler to tell you that the baby did survive, is named Juniper, and her smiling face is shown between her parents inside the back flap of the book.

However, before I even got to the part of Juniper’s conception and birth, I had serious doubts about her parents.  Tom and Kelley first met when she was a high school student attending a journalism camp, and he was a speaker at the camp.  Seeing as Tom was over thirty years old and was married with two children, I was glad that he was merely a teenage crush for Kelley at that time.  Almost fifteen years later the two met again.  Tom was divorced but was in a serious relationship with another woman.  Still, somehow Kelley and Tom had a connection.  As I read about how they continued to crash up against each other, bickering and sniping, I wondered how in the world these two people had ever gotten to the point of having a child, much less writing a book together about the difficulties of bringing a micro-preemie into the world.

If Kelley and Tom had been fictional characters in a novel, I might have given up on them.  But as their story developed, I became more and more immersed.  I began to care about their journey through infertility and the struggles they faced.  I began to respect them for being willing to tell their whole story without sugarcoating their behavior.  They faced difficult ethical choices about medical intervention while grieving the potential loss of their child.  With touches of levity between the anxious moments, Tom and Kelley’s journey to parenthood is full of hope and love. 

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