Babies born prematurely conjure up images of infants that are incredibly small, but fully formed, and equally as precious as their full-term counterparts. Pre-term birth is fairly commonplace, with one in ten births occurring prior to thirty-seven weeks. A full-term pregnancy lasts forty weeks, and every day in the womb is vital when it comes to a child’s development. Nowadays, neo-natal units are generally prepared to deal with babies that are born a few weeks early, but micro-preemies are a different story all together…
Tom and Kelly French had a difficult time conceiving, but four and a half years and one donated egg, later, they were delighted to learn that they were finally pregnant. Until her twenty week check-up, Kelley’s pregnancy was unremarkable, but that all changed when she started bleeding. And bleeding. And bleeding. She bled intermittently for the next four weeks with the specter of her doctor’s bleak warning hanging over her like a dark cloud: A baby born prior to twenty-four weeks gestation is not viable.
A baby who is born before twenty-six weeks, and weighs under one and three quarters pounds is considered a micro-preemie. These children cling to life, typically experiencing countless near-death situations during their extended stays in the NICU. And even if they live, many must deal with physical and/or mental handicaps for the balance of their lives.
Kelley and Tom French, both accomplished journalists, were left to weigh every possible outcome as they eked out each day of her uncertain pregnancy in an attempt to reach twenty-four weeks – and any hope of viability. At twenty-three weeks and six days however, Kelley gave birth to their daughter, Juniper. Fragile, translucent and far from resembling a full-term baby, Juniper was immediately taken to the neonatal unit and put on numerous life-preserving machines. She was watched over twenty-four hours a day by a staff that was uniquely trained to deal with micro-preemies as well as her parents, who were laser focused on her survival.
During their several months in the NICU, Tom and Kelley watched in awe as Juniper fought for every moment of her life. They sang and read to her, touched and held her as often as they could, and devoted themselves completely to Juniper’s fight. Juniper had several surgeries and too many close calls to count, but eventually she was released and sent home, where the nurses promised that she would really come to life.
Their words were true, and once home, Juniper began to grow and thrive at a rapid pace. Today she is a happy, healthy five year-old girl. She’s on the smaller side, but suffers no health problems despite her harrowing start in life.
Juniper, the girl who was born too soon is Tom and Kelley’s chronicle of Juniper’s struggle for life. It is a hopeful story for all parents – especially those of micro-preemies.