J.K. Rowling found out her books helped save this baby's life. Her response was magic.

By Kelley Benham French
for Upworthy

On the worst night, when our 1-pound daughter was fading in the darkness of her incubator, my husband opened a book and began to read aloud.

"Chapter One: The Boy Who Lived."

He needed to say those words. I thought it was strange that he’d chosen the first book in a seven-volume series, a series that totals more than 4,000 pages, for a little girl who might not survive the night.

Tom saw it all more clearly than I did. He wanted Juniper, born barely viable at 23 weeks gestation, to hear a story about children who could fly. He wanted to read to her about a baby who survived the most powerful evil in the world because his mother stood by his crib and protected him with her life.

 

Juniper on the day she was born. Photo by Cherie Diez.

Juniper on the day she was born. Photo by Cherie Diez.

The Washington Post: Things I Wish I'd Known About Having A One-Pound Baby

My daughter was born as twiggy and translucent as a baby bird, her eyes fused shut, mouth agape. Through her chest we could see her flickering heart.

Juniper arrived at 23 weeks and 6 days gestation: the threshold between viability and futility, between what is possible and what is right. For me, after five years of infertility, she came at the trembling membrane between motherhood and despair.

She weighed 1 pound 4 ounces. That’s the size of a 6-week-old kitten or an adult Eastern gray squirrel. It’s the amount of breast milk an eight-pound newborn drinks in a day. It’s $1.26 in pennies.

She spent 196 days — 6 ½ months — in the neonatal intensive care unit at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla. Now she is 5, a ferocious, joyful kindergartner, master tree-climber, “mommy” to her pet chicken, Sesame. She asked me to tell you that she loves her life. She also wants you to know that she voted for Hermione for president.

People ask me, what do you wish you had known?

So many things.

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Dear Bruce: The thing we wanted to say

Dear Bruce,

We flew to Boston from Indiana for your book signing today because we’ve been trying for five years to find a way to thank you. We believe your music helped save our baby daughter’s life.  

Juniper was born at the limit of human viability outside the womb – 23 weeks gestation –  weighing 1 pound, 4 ounces. She was raw and red, her eyes were fused shut, and through her translucent skin we could see her flickering heart. She couldn’t see, couldn’t cry, couldn’t be fed or held. If we stroked her, they said, her skin could slide off. She knew nothing but needle sticks and isolation and darkness. But she could hear.

April 12, 2011. Juniper French weighed 1 pound, 4 ounces. photo by Cherie Diez

April 12, 2011. Juniper French weighed 1 pound, 4 ounces. photo by Cherie Diez

My husband Tom, who has followed you on tour for 40 years, put a tiny iPod inside the incubator to drown out the beeps and alarms. The first sounds our daughter heard were our voices mixed with yours. We had to build a world for her that was bigger than that plastic box. We read her the entire Harry Potter series, all seven volumes, for its messages of friendship and faith, and we sang to her about small things becoming big things, about not wasting time waiting, and about dogs howling in the night. We hoped that the joy and promise in your music would offer her some hint of a better world, waiting. Without that, why would she fight?

Is anybody alive out there? you asked her.

Can you hear me?

Don’t worry, we’re gonna find a way.

As you know so well, sound is a form of touch. We could see by the numbers on her monitors that your music calmed her when she was in pain and soothed her when she was upset. The monitors even told us that she had particular tastes. Her devotion to Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out never wavered. When her father finally got to hold her, he sang to her about a screen door slamming and Mary’s dress waving in the night. That was the summer that Clarence died, and when the news reached us in the hospital, we played her Jungleland, because it was all we knew to do. She nearly died a million times, and when her heart rate bottomed out, Waitin’ on a Sunny Day always brought her back. She had never seen the sun, after all.

We promised her that if she made it out of the hospital, we’d take her to see you, and she could watch you slide across the stage. She was in the hospital for six and a half months – 196 days.

Rocking the drop line. Louisville, 2016.

Rocking the drop line. Louisville, 2016.

Juniper is now 5, healthy and ferocious and lighting up kindergarten. True to our word, we took her to see you in Louisville, where she sang along to the River set and danced on her seat and kept asking me why I was crying. She was with me in line today at the Harvard Coop bookstore – in a sea of people who, I’m certain, were bursting with things they couldn’t say. All our worst moments, and our best, are tied up in your lyrics. Our story is tangled in yours.

“What do you want to say to Bruce?” I asked her as we inched closer.

"Is anybody alive out there?"

"Is anybody alive out there?"

“I love him, and I want Hermione to be my president.”

It was over in seconds. You waved at Juniper, and she waved back, and someone took a photo and I forgot to smile. We left you a note tucked inside a book that my husband and I wrote about all of this. It’s signed and illustrated by Juniper with sketches of you and the band. She wasn’t disappointed that the moment was so brief.

“He already knows me,” she said. “He sang to me all those songs.”

Please accept the book as our way of sharing our most desperate thanks. You gave us hope during the darkest and most difficult time of our lives. Your music promised us all that we would walk in the sun, and we have.

With love and gratitude,

Kelley French
and Tom & Junebug

To read more – Juniper: The Girl Who Was Born Too Soon

"He already knows me. He sang to me all those songs."

"He already knows me. He sang to me all those songs."

Things I learned from my 1-pound daughter

Juniper—the little girl and the book named after her—has an impossibly happy ending. Our daughter is 5 years old now, happy and healthy and just starting kindergarten. She cuddles chickens in our back yard and talks about Hermione and Harry in her sleep. She hurls herself into handstands and scales walls at the rock-climbing gym. She is ferociously, wildly, insistently alive.

Even so, I often think about those long months in the neonatal intensive care unit, when Kelley and I had no idea if we could keep her with us for another hour, much less another day. What I think about, more and more, is everything my little girl taught me even before she could speak.

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