When Tom and Kelley French’s daughter, Juniper, was born at 23 weeks gestation, she weighed just 1 pound and 4 ounces. She couldn’t see or cry. Her skin was so fragile, her parents couldn’t hold her.
“It’s so terrifying that it’s almost hard to connect or engage,” Kelley says. “We had to figure out how to be her parents. And not how to be her parents someday, but right then. We were making choices about who we were in that moment as a family.”
One of the choices they made was to set a tiny iPod inside the incubator with Juniper to drown out the sounds of the machines keeping her alive. On that iPod were the songs that resonated most with her parents — the music of Bruce Springsteen.
Tom, 58, has been a Springsteen fan since his teens. He knows he’s attended more than 90 concerts. “But I haven’t counted in awhile,” he says.
Kelley, 42, laughs and adds, “We kind of had a deal when we got together. If I could have animals, then I would go with him to see Springsteen.”
“He’s part of our everyday lives,” says Tom, who sang Springsteen songs to Juniper even before she was born. “Later, when Juniper was a baby, she slept with a cover of The River and said, ‘Night, night, Bruce.’ He’s been part of the family.”
Tom and Kelley, both journalists and professors in The Media School at Indiana University, wrote a book about the experience: Juniper: The Girl Who Was Born Too Soon (Little, Brown and Company). They travel a lot, making public appearances at everything from book signings to medical conferences. But one trip, and the public reaction to it, stands out a bit more than the others.
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