Spring Book Review: Juniper, The Girl Who Was Born Too Soon

A baby entered the world at 23 weeks and 6 days old; a Barbie doll with a beating heart. She was one day younger than the proven medical viability for micro-preemies of 24 weeks or later. The true story follows the first months of her life as chronicled by her parents, Pulitzer Prize winning author Thomas French and journalist Kelly French.

Though written six years after Juniper entered the world too soon, the authors take you so clearly into the NICU of the Florida hospital you feel you are there. The Frenchs poured over medical records, notes, journal entries, and accounts from friends, family, and their medical team to present the miracle they witnessed in the grandeur it deserves. You anguish for the Frenchs as they face so many days of uncertainty. You cheer for Juniper when she first grabs her mother’s pinky, or when her nurse dresses her in silly outfits. You cry when her bad days outnumber the good ones, or when the babies in the incubators around her don’t win their battle.

A baby born before 24 weeks should not survive; and yet, Juniper does. Though clear to me who worked so mightily in this little child’s life, the authors do not give this credit. I want to be clear that this book is not written through the lens of Christianity; the authors don’t pretend to worship God, and they don’t live by his standards. From a Christian viewpoint, it would be right to question their methods to create a baby. The choices and situations that led to their marriage should not be glossed over or made acceptable because of their struggle. We should have concern for the language they use and that they speak critically of themselves and others.

To me, all of these things make their testimony all the more powerful; this helpless, hopeless child only had a chance to live and to thrive because they poured their unconditional love upon her. Juniper’s shot at life was nothing her parents deserved, yet because of grace she lives. 

The book also raises important questions that Christians must consider, because the world will ask. What is the monetary value of a human life; when one day in the hospital cost $6000 for this baby, could that money have been used to help more people? Is modern medicine “playing God” by using extreme measures to stop what otherwise would have been a natural death? This child was born in the second trimester with a beating heart, fully formed limbs, and the strength to fight each day for life; how does this help us articulate why a 24 week old is a human inside or outside of the womb when many states allow abortions up until that mark? These are tough questions that deserve our prayerful and Biblically-backed responses.

I am certain that the authors did not intend to write a celebration of God’s faithfulness, or chronicle the miracle of creation, or recognize the power of community and prayer. But as I read it, I was overcome with hopefulness that their story was far from over. This baby girl had been on her mom's heart since she was a child; Kelly writes how clearly she could imagine her wild and free-spirited girl. Even if she doesn’t, I recognize this as a desire placed on her heart by the Lord to serve as part of a larger story. I am a believer in redemption; and this family has a narrative written by God that I believe he will use for His glory.

After I had finished the book, I could not stop thinking about this family, and I feel like I have to spoil the ending to give proper credit for God's grace on display here. The book ends with Juniper's hospital release and homecoming, and I wondered how their lives had changed in the time since. I found photos on Facebook of a wild and free-spirited girl, a now seven-year-old Juniper, who has impacted so many that have read the story of her miracle. I pray that she may change the world with her story of life, love, and faithfulness someday.