Thomas French, professor of practice in journalism in the IU Media School, stood up in front of a crowd of friends, colleagues and students at the Barnes and Noble on Third Street Sunday afternoon.
“I want to thank you all for coming out today,” French said. “A lot of you held our hands through the living of these events and then held our hands again through the writing of it.”
The small crowd gathered for the launch of the book Thomas and his wife, Kelley French, also a professor of practice in journalism at IU, wrote together. They applauded the authors before stepping forward to have their books signed by the two and their daughter, Juniper.
“Juniper: The Girl Who Was Born Too Soon” is a firsthand account of what Thomas and Kelley experienced when Juniper was born at 23 weeks and six days. A full-term baby is born at 40 weeks so Juniper’s survival depended on a team of skilled doctors and several months spent in a neonatal intensive care unit..
“When we were living through it, we knew at the beginning of that time period that if we made it out of the NICU with our daughter, that we had a pretty powerful story,” Thomas said. “We had this really close, detailed look at this part of our society that is usually very tough to get into.”
The book examines the the difficulties of parenting a premature child when obstacles like medical precautions and health risks separate a parent and their child with a box, Kelley said.
“When you’re a parent and you have this one-pound baby and her eyes aren’t open yet and you can’t hold her and you can’t do any of the things that parents normally do to bond with their children and to help them when they’re first born, it can feel very overwhelming,” Thomas said. “It can feel like you have no power, but in fact you do.”
Kelley said a lot of the information about premature babies and their prospects is often outdated and dismal. She wanted to write a book that was accurate and would rise to the top, she said.
“There’s a lot more hope in the statistics than a lot of people realize, including doctors,” Kelley said. “I wanted to put a story out there that had a happy ending.”
But this isn’t Kelley’s first time telling Juniper’s story. After writing a three-part serial narrative for the Tampa Bay Times called “Never Let Go,” she was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
The book has been recognized nationally and won the attention of organizations like NPR and USA Today, but the process behind it was not always simple, Kelley said.
“The hardest part and the best part was writing with each other,” Kelley said. “It’s amazing to have a partner. Our strengths are complementary, but it’s also just open warfare through the whole process.”
Friends, some with their own children, of the pair came out to show their support for the couple, their daughter and the struggle they all went through.
“I had known parts of her story and wanted to know all of it,” said Emma Clevenger, who worked at Juniper’s preschool. “It’s really cool to be able to read about how much she is loved and what she went through and how strong she is.”
Kelley said the love she has for her daughter is what motivated her, in part, to write about the process.
“I wanted her to have this record of what she went through and how strong she was and how hard she fought and how many people loved her,” Kelley said. “I wanted her to know what she was at her raw core, because I saw that. I saw how strong she was, and I wanted her to see that too.”