By Terri Rupar September 22 at 2:47 PM
I probably would have read “Juniper” in one sitting, but I had to stop because I was crying too hard.
The book tells the story of a girl named Juniper who was born at 23 weeks six days of gestation – “too soon,” as the subtitle puts it. That’s so soon that doctors can’t even agree whether intervention to save a baby’s life is the right call. Juniper weighed 1 pound 4 ounces — a micropreemie who couldn’t see or breathe without the help of a machine.
The story of the fight for Juniper’s life is told by her parents, journalists Kelley and Thomas French. They alternate as narrators, taking turns moving the story forward.
The Frenches’ experience is familiar to me, and not. My daughter was born at 28 weeks and spent three months in the hospital — a tough road compared with most but easy compared with Juniper’s. As I read, I remembered learning when to panic about monitors. I remembered singing and reading to my baby. I remembered the first time I could change her diaper, enormous on her skinny frame.
But the terror of Juniper’s first few months was less familiar. Her medical situation was dire: ruptured intestines, drains in her stomach, infection, a blood clot and more. The Frenches make their fear, panic and grief real. Will Juniper live? And if so, will she be okay?
Will her parents be okay?
The life-and-death problems Juniper and her parents face can be hard on the reader, too, but the authors’ photo signals that everyone’s going to make it out of the worst moments. This may not be the book for parents whose baby is in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), who don’t necessarily need ideas about what else can go wrong. But it’s a well-told, fast-paced and emotionally affecting memoir.