Two skilled journalists collaborate on the most personal of stories: their extremely premature daughter’s struggle to survive.
Thomas French (Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives, 2010, etc.), who won a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 1998, and Kelley French (Journalism/Indiana Univ.), who launched this project with the series “Never Let Go” (a Pulitzer nominee) in the Tampa Bay Times, write alternate chapters in their latest book. Before the daughter appears in the narrative, the authors set the stage for her arrival by telling of Kelley’s longing for a baby, the couple’s late-blooming, on-again, off-again romance, their failed attempts to conceive a child, their decision to use donor eggs, Kelley’s pregnancy, and Juniper’s cesarean delivery four months early. Knowing that her chances of survival were slim, the Frenches opted to ask the doctors to try, and the rest of their story is set primarily in All Children’s Hospital’s neonatal care unit. Thomas’ chapters reflect the fact that as a journalist, he kept extensive daily notes of his observations and his actions (he read Harry Potter aloud and played Bruce Springsteen songs to Juniper) in the unit during those long months; Kelley’s, which include portions of her Times series, are less specific and more reflective. The authors also provide a capsule history of neonatal care. Inevitably, there are crises, times when death seems close, but with a photograph of a toddler on the cover, readers are spared the suspense suffered by the parents. The authors raise questions about the enormous cost of saving a single life when the same funds could provide health care for countless children, and they are aware of the great risks of permanent damage to an extreme preemie undergoing lifesaving procedures. But for them, their daughter’s life was priceless, and the risk paid off.
A fierce and fact-filled love story with few holds barred.