Indianapolis Monthly: A conversation with Tom and Kelley French

When Juniper French was born, 17 weeks early, she weighed just over a pound. The next few months were terrifying and uncertain, as her parents, Tom and Kelley French, explain in their new memoir, Juniper. Both professors of journalism at IU, the two admit collaborating on a book wasn’t easy. As they recall in this conversation, though, writing the story was nothing compared with living it.

Kelley:  It was Tom’s idea to write the book. I had never wanted to tackle one. And Tom had written three others, right?

Tom:  Yeah.

Kelley:  This is the part where you’re supposed to say, “I realized I couldn’t do it without my wife.”

Tom:  That actually is the truth. I started to write, and I felt like a fraud—especially when I got to the delivery section. I thought, She carried the child inside her and the baby emerged from her body. And I’m trying to describe it?

Kelley: We’re so different as writers. In the middle of the process, I thought, Why would anyone do this? This is a stupid way to make a living.

Tom:  The night we found Juniper’s intestines had perforated, that was a really bad turn. We went home to do something, and I grabbed the first Harry Potter book, more out of instinct than any rational thought. If nothing else, I wanted to read to her the first chapter: “The Boy Who Lived.”

Kelley:  We were trying to figure out how to be parents to a baby in a plastic box. Really, all we could do was talk to her and hope she could perceive there was another world waiting for her—one with people who loved her and were waiting to take her home.

Tom:  I needed to read to Juniper as much for me as for her. Before she left the hospital, I was a third of the way through the seventh book.

Kelley:  When I was at the hospital, I would ask the doctors, “Will Juniper be normal? Will she go to kindergarten?” They said they didn’t know. Well, I took her to kindergarten orientation two weeks ago. I was walking through the rooms, holding her hand and crying. People were probably looking at me and thinking, Oh God, this is that mom who can’t say goodbye. But there is so much they can’t see.