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Update: 23 Weeks 6 Days

Wednesday, March 23, 2016 - 12:36 AM

Juniper French in the NICU Juniper French in the NICU (Cherie Diez)

An update on Juniper French, a tiny baby, born at 23 Weeks and 6 days -- roughly halfway to full term. And a whole universe of medical and moral questions.

Technology has had a profound effect on how we get pregnant, give birth, and think about life and death. The decision to become parents was not an easy one for Kelley and Tom. Even after they sorted out their relationship issues and hopes for the future, getting pregnant wasn't easy. But, thanks to a lot of technology, they found a way to a baby. Then, about halfway through the pregnancy, the trouble began. Neonatal nurse practitioner Diane Loisel describes helping Kelley and Tom make the most important decision of their lives. And Nita Farahany helps Jad and Robert understand the significance of viability, and how technology has influenced its meaning...making a difficult idea even harder to pin down.

Kelley and Tom had hoped that meeting their daughter would be the happiest moment of their life. But when she came early -- at just 23 weeks and 6 days, that moment was full of terror and an impossibly difficult decision. And when the time came to face it, Tom and Kelley turned to their baby for help. Seeing their daughter for the first time, they looked for her to "declare herself." That's a phrase that comes up again and again to help guide decisions in Neonatal Intensive Care Units. But parents and medical professionals have very different ideas about what the phrase really means. Nurse Tracy Hullet and Neonatologist Keith Barrington describe the difficulty of interpreting the fuzzy boundary between a baby's strength of will, and simple physiology. Meanwhile Kelley and Tom are left to wonder, and wait.

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU, is a land of emotional and medical limbo. Kelley, Tom, and their daughter Juniper got stranded in this limbo for months, fighting to survive, and finally get to the next chapter of their lives. Their doctor, Fauzia Shakeel, describes the moment when Juniper's life hung in the balance, and Keith Barrington helps us understand how our newest technologies open the door not only to hope, but also to a pain that we, as humans, have kept hidden for most of our history.

And finally, Kelley, Tom, Nita Farahany and Juniper herself, nearly 5 years old, give us an update on her life and what has happened since our story originally aired. 




Kelley Benham, Nita Farahany, Tom French and Diane Loisel


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Comments [84]

Stephen from California

I'm deeply offended by this episode of Radiolab. I am considering never listening to your program again, even though I am a longtime fan and contributor to my local station, with my gift made specifically for Radiolab. This episode is so one sided, filled with pathos, and it lacks logic, moral debate and there is scant scientific objectivity. Strictly from the human point of view, I have no hesitation when I insist that until the life and health of every child on earth that comes to full term is secure, it is indefensible to make this expense for the sake of one individual. Not to mention the hubris of the homo-centric world view that has given us a planet with 10 billion humans and 25% of other species threatened with extinction by 2050. Seriously, I am led to believe that you must have a Right to Life donor who compelled you to make this episode. But I will say what needs to be said. If humans had any sense, they would adopt a position that discouraged reproducing, or at least be limited to one child. After hearing this story I'm building on the conviction I've had that it is more likely that we will kill much of the life on the planet and ourselves too.

Dec. 20 2017 12:17 AM

It's a nice story, but as a physician who has worked in more than one NICU I would caution about too much optimism. These two stories have a happy ending. Not every story ends like that. Not every parent is capable of dealing with a child who has the sequelae of prematurity. We all try our hardest. I feel for parents who have to make a decision -- but the answer is not always to just do more.

Dec. 18 2017 10:08 PM
rh from nyc

I don't understand why, if we let the elderly pick what they do or do not get to prolong their lives, why we can't let parents pick what they do or do not want for their child.

The fact is, I was 28 weeks and my mom was told to leave the hospital, don't even stay because either I'd live or die and there was nothing for her to do about it.

There's no reason to argue about 22, 23, 24 weeks when 28 weeks had a decent chance of dying 50 years ago, but now is considered "a done deal". The reality is that every time a child born at 22 - 28 weeks, any procedures done on that child who might not live WILL help older children who are delicate for whatever reason.

I'm an atheist by the way, it's nothing to do with religion, it's everything to do with avoiding eugenics. Because if we don't avoid eugenics, we just might as well withhold care from disabled folks. Like myself.

Dec. 18 2017 09:01 PM
Clarence from Land of the free, home of the brave

When all children on the planet are adequately cared for I might entertain pursuits like this. Until then it's just another story of boundless self indulgence. Starting with the storytellers.

Dec. 18 2017 05:42 PM
Kathie Aberman from Liberty, NY

It was very emotional for me to hear this Radiolab, and to read all the comments as well. There are so many issues to consider. But back in 1986, when my daughter was born at 28 weeks, weighing 1 lb. 8 oz., when the docs said she had a 10% chance of surviving, my brain couldn't consider any of those questions. All I could do was keep telling myself, "She's alive right now," and refuse to consider any other scenario. That was when I first heard of surfactant, and had to sign permission for that then-experimental procedure. Katie lived for 17 hours. after going through several episodes of seizures. The doctor sat me down in the middle of the night and explained that with every seizure, her brain, all her organs, were sustaining damage. I agreed that if there was another one, we would let her go. That was the hardest decision I've ever had to make in my entire life. The seizure came, and I held her as she gradually stopped breathing. They took all the wires off her, and I just sat with her until the nurses came and gently took her away.

Katie was a life-changing event for me. I finally understood that it is a random universe, and that Katie's living or dying was just a toss of the dice. I grieved for a long time. My two-year-old son was the only thing that kept me from floating off into space, tugging at my shirt to bring me back to earth. When I gave birth to another daughter 2 years later, I experienced serious post-partum depression: every time I looked at my sweet little girl, I'd think, "You're here because Katie died." The hospital bills for that one day were astronomical -- and I didn't get to bring the baby home. We were in debt for years. And even today, more than 30 years later, when early October rolls around, I can feel it in my body. The cells don't forget.

Whenever I meet someone whose child survived and thrived after a super-premature birth, I am happy for them, amazed at how far the science has come. I know the cost associated with these babies is unimaginable. I know that way too many children die for lack of simple, inexpensive care, and that the cost of one super-preemie could finance basic health for many, many other children. But I still don't see this as an either-or situation. We should be doing both: taking care of the many children suffering for lack of food and clean water, and doing what we can to support the lives of super-preemies. And that is a very individual decision. Just remember, everyone, it's a random universe, so it's best not to judge people.

Dec. 18 2017 03:55 PM
Bennet Werner, MD from New Jersey

I have to agree with LindaRosaRN. This is a beautiful story, but let's be realistic: this is a one in a million outcome. The cost, both financially and emotionally, both for the parents and the child are enormous. One should not start down this very difficult and winding road unless one is prepared for all the bumps that go along with it. Painful though it may be, there should be. no shame in saying, "let's be humane" rather than "let's be heroic". I've taken care of many people at the end of their lives in which (usually family members say (because the patient is too ill)) "do everything" and that's just not realistic although one in a million will survive.

Dec. 18 2017 02:06 PM
Carol Brown from Rockaway Beach, Oregon

Stunning story. The concept that an infant “declares herself” is new to me. As a mom of a now 31 year old, born in a small rural hospital at 25 weeks, I recall as if were yesterday the NICU nurse who received my daughter after transport saying “It will be a long road, but she will be fine”. I had always wondered how and why she said that. Now I know.

Dec. 18 2017 01:23 PM
Dan Quixoté from Planet Earth

Great story. Understand some the criticisms and reactions. I am a father of many (by one wife!), which has included miscarriages, premature births, birth defects, and two children who have died later on. I've had all the struggles and feelings of those in this story and its detractors. And yet I very much approve of the story. While I wouldn't myself go to extraordinary means to get a child, when so many need fostering and adoption, otherwise the decision making processes presented in the story by all involved represent the best of what we've been party to.

Dec. 17 2017 05:27 PM
Angela from Reno, NV

Thank you for airing this again, especially with a Juniper update. As a mother to a micro preemie this story (when it was first aired) was so relatable (2x perforated bowels, her declaration to live, her voice in utero by means of heartbeat and kicking, the fears of a life of suffering, parent guilt). All of it, spoke to me so deeply. Thank you! Excellent journalism.

Dec. 17 2017 04:40 PM
Linda RosaRN from Colorado

There seem to be numerous misconceptions about child development in this story. While we can't get inside the head of a premie or infant, research indicates that a child's attachment with a parent -- and indeed, the ability to even understand the concept of the individual -- does not appear to start until 6 to 8 months of age, assuming a full-term birth at 40 weeks. Eye contact from a premie probably doesn't mean what parents imagine it to be.

On another matter, the cost of trying to save a severely pre-term baby is mammoth, and it doesn't stop when the child goes home. One study found 80% have permanent neurological problems. Just because we have the technology doesn't mean we should always use it. This story may encourage parents to use all possible means, making their child's last days/weeks a misery, to say nothing about wracking up huge bills. From TIME magazine (May 02, 2012):

"...The U.S. Institute of Medicine has calculated the annual costs associated with preterm birth at more than $26 billion. [Twin premies] Ethan and Aidan Sinconis racked up $2.2 million in medical bills in the first 18 months after they were born. Insurance covered most of the costs, but their parents’ portion approached $450,000. “It destroyed us,” says Sinconis, 35, who has written about her family’s experience in *A Pound of Hope.* She and her husband, Justin, were forced to file for bankruptcy and sold their possessions on Craigslist to generate cash. Meanwhile, the boys struggled through heart surgery and eye surgery, sepsis, rickets and brain hemorrhages. When they left the hospital after six months, they were ordered to avoid contact with the outside world. Attached to oxygen, heart monitors and feeding tubes, they remained at home in isolation for three years."

Dec. 17 2017 03:31 PM
Arun from Rockville, Maryland

An excellent and heart-touching story of a kid who never gives up till she recovered. Very brave and strong parents, and hospital staff hopes yielded a success...

Dec. 17 2017 01:09 PM
Kathy from Wisconsin

I have the honor of being a parent of a 2lb 3oz. Baby girl. It was a rollar coaster of emotions from June to Oct. Including open heart surgery and 3 years of supports. She has some subtle difficulties but a beautiful person. She is now 25 years old. Many years and lots of love later I listen to this remembering the journey we lived and feel blessed we have a beautiful daughter in our lives.

Dec. 16 2017 02:48 PM
Bob from Maryland

What a miracle for everyone.....especially Juniper !

Dec. 16 2017 02:03 PM
jen from new york

I was enthralled by the story this morning but felt compelled to post a comment because while I am always relieved to hear of a happy outcome, I am slightly bitter that those are the stories that seem to be reported in depth. My sister had extremely premature (22 weeks 5 days) twins who suffered setbacks but managed to make it home after extended NICU stays and, for one baby, experimental pulmonary treatment. One is now nonverbal autistic and the other has cerebral palsey and is unable to walk, control basic body functions or communicate. They are now 16 years old. I never seem to hear about these sorts of outcomes. I do not think that my sister and brother-in-law would have done anything differently than the parents featured in the Radiolab story, but that is the point. Events and technology sweep parents along, and everyone just hopes and prays for the best. However, there are a lot of not-so-happy endings, and those stories deserve their own shows too.

Dec. 16 2017 01:10 PM
Coleen Morris

This is a very touching and inspiring story, I admire Juniper and her parents for remaining hopeful even though hope May look almost hopeless. Keep sharing your story as much as you need too because your faith can ignite the faith of others who may need to know that you should not give up, God bless your beautiful family.

Dec. 16 2017 01:09 PM

Really awesome story - thank you so much for spending the time and effort to bring this kind of story, and this story in particular, to air.

Dec. 16 2017 12:58 PM
Ashley from Denver, CO

Thank you radiolab for this story and thank you Kelley for putting your feelings into words. We spent 10 months in the NICU with our preemie girl. She is now 4, at home, still trached and vented at night but doing really amazing. This is the first time I have heard my feelings echoed by other parents. The good, the bad, the ugly and the terrifying thoughts that ran through my head. I still struggle to look back to those days and I still worry about my daughter constantly. I haven't found words to put this kind of trauma in perspective. I cried through the whole story. I feel less alone knowing that other parents had similar feelings. Thank you for being so brave and sharing your story. My daughter, Haven, is beautiful and funny and incredibly strong. She fought very hard like your daughter. And we all have fought very hard for her.

Dec. 14 2017 03:08 PM

This was one of the first RadioLab stories that really hooked me. Today, 10/26/16 I am 23 weeks 6 days with my first child. This story has touched me so deeply that I was waiting until this point so I know there is a CHANCE that if something happened the baby might be okay!

Oct. 26 2016 08:17 PM
Juniper Nichols from Santa Cruz

Well I certainly think her parents chose an excellent name :-) I was already so moved by the first story, then I heard my name which is always a shock, since it's not common. Also, I happen to be working on a young adult novel tentatively titled "When Does Life Begin," having to do with a cloned teenager and her family dynamics. I'm so happy to hear this update about little Juniper, she sounds awesome! It might please her parents to learn that the name Juniper is closely tied to Ginevra, Harry Potter's beloved. Also, Ginevra d'Benci was an Italian aristocrat who was the subject of Leonardo da Vinci's first commissioned portrait. There's a historical fiction young adult book called "Da Vinci's Tiger" that explores the significance of the painting and their relationship. My final recommendation is to read Wise Child and the sequel Juniper by Monica Furlong, truly excellent middle grade books that were my favorites as a kid, and not just because of the character names. Wishing you all the best!

Jul. 25 2016 02:33 PM
Lance from miami

Nice story, glad that she made it, and I hope that she stays healthy and strong.

Jun. 24 2016 01:01 PM

I was born 2 months early,and was 3 pounds 4 ounces. I am a the youngest of triplets and I have 2 brothers, my mom was 40 and had 2 miscarages before us I was in the NICU for the first few months of my life. I found Juniper's story inspiring and hope others found it too. I hope Juniper is doing well.

Jun. 07 2016 06:13 PM

A most touching story.

Like K who wrote earlier, I wonder at the cost of Juniper's care. Not everyone has vast amounts of money to put on the table to push the miracle button. And yes, Juniper is a miracle. Because people pushed that "LIVE" button and pulled out all the stops to see her through, which is a beautiful sign of teamwork/cooperation. Yet, I wonder if the hospital, doctors, and nurses would have done the same for a family who didn't have the means. In fact, might have prepared them for the inevitable death Juniper might have had, had nature taken its course. Touching story- am happy for Juniper and her parents, but it sounds more like the "richest will survive" over the fittest.

May. 26 2016 12:14 PM
Josh from Ohio

Thank you so much for this story, I had no idea what it would mean to my family when I first heard it. Believe it or not, our twin girls were born just two weeks after I heard Juniper's story... at 23 weeks 6 days. So many things that happened before they were born were just like Kelley and Tom described; the same discussions, the same decisions, the heartbeats on the monitors next to us. I really remembered them saying they let their little girl decide, and that's what we did.

Finley fought so hard to meet us and we were able to hold her as she slipped away quietly and peacefully hours after she was born. Riley was in much better shape after the birth and is still fighting in the NICU almost 6 weeks later. She is facing many challenges and, as Rob S said in his comment (which was outstanding by the way), we are letting Riley drive this ship as we wait and pray. We are fortunate to have incredible family and friends and a faith that sustains us but I also wanted to thank everyone who was involved in producing and sharing this story that was so encouraging to us. And I hope Tom doesn’t mind, but I totally stole his idea and am reading her Harry Potter, we are now halfway through book 3.

May. 17 2016 01:35 PM
Alexander from Toronto, ON

Amazing story, tears in my eyes the whole way! I'm happy for the family. I was born 3 months premature,1lb 13 oz, and wasn't supposed to survive.

May. 12 2016 04:47 PM

For those who are curious about Keith, the director of his own NICU unit who saw her daughter suck, here is the update:
His daughter is now 4 years old, and I think she is doing well.

May. 10 2016 03:22 PM

Another development in this story out of Cambridge:

May. 10 2016 01:23 PM
Heather from Canada

I am so happy for Juniper and for her parents that their story is a happy one. However I have to agree with the comments alerting to the fact that alternate endings do regularly occur, and that, like this story, there is in many cases a period where the parents-to-be grapple with this very difficult decision. In those moments, as they wait and hope not to enter into labour, they have time to search the web and to seek out stories, that may help them decide. I do believe RadioLab has the responsibility to shed light on the sad stories too. There is so much pain and anguish and guilt after deciding to not fight for a child's life, however young. There is so much struggle parenting a child who suffers from chronic pain. I think these stories are important. I know you have the talent and the capacity to share such stories in as poignant a way as you did Juniper's story.

I have a personal connection to a sad version of this story, where the hospital staff were not transparent, where messages were mixed and information unavailable, where time was of the essence, and where a tiny, deeply loved baby lived for 23 hours in her parents' arms before slipping away.

May. 03 2016 10:36 PM

I was deeply moved by this story. I could not stop listening and put the ear buds in, walked from my car to my office and sat staring blankly at my computer screen while the story played. But I'm a tough guy and didn't show a thing...until little June Bug read the credits. Now everybody is staring at me. Gee, thanks guys! No seriously, thanks. That was beautiful.

May. 02 2016 11:11 AM
Lisa from Australia

Scrolling through the comments can't believe nobody asked, what happened to the baby of the doctor you spoke to? The one who worked in the nicu and was interviewed talking about his daughter born in the 20 week range he was going to let nature take its course, then the baby started sucking
Did I miss some of the podcast? Can't believe noone else is curious about that family!

Apr. 29 2016 08:13 PM
Jen from NYC

Great episode. She mentions a custom babydoll company- anyone remember what it was? Thanks!

Apr. 27 2016 07:14 AM
Kylie from Canada

Like most listeners I was in tears while listening to Juniper's story. Many of the thoughts and hopes Kelley and Tom share, I have also experienced, however with a more tragic outcome. My sadness quickly turned to anger as I reflected on the messages that were conveyed in this story (this SINGLE story). Angry at the bias, angry that there was no mention of the other factors (such as WEIGHT!!) that influence outcomes, and that the emphasis was on gestational age (even though this is an unreliable estimate, plus or minus 5 days according to first trimester ultrasounds and up to a 10 day difference when relying on a second trimester ultrasound). Angry that this is another example of how only the "miracle babies" get attention and that this is what families read and hear about when they find themselves grappling for any ounce of hope - but that this is not the reality for most 'micro preemies'. What if Juniper didn't survive? Would they still have aired a podcast about their experience? What if she ended up with severe disabilities, and was unable to speak and playfully read out the credits? I find it extremely troubling that Radiolab felt it was acceptable to dedicate an entire hour to a single story on a topic that touches many families. Truth is, this story is the exception but we are presented with it so often in the media that it is often perceived as the norm. Every family wants to believe that their baby will survive against the odds, but in reality most don’t.

Apr. 25 2016 11:01 AM

I just want to say thank you for this podcast. As a mom who gave birth at 20 weeks with no hope and then again at 31 weeks and survived all of the trials and tribulations that came with having a preemie in the NICU for 8 weeks. Your story took me back and so perfectly describe so many emotions that I could never put into words. I'm so deeply happy for your family to have a happy ending to your touching story.

Apr. 13 2016 05:13 PM
Naumaan Qaser from Richmond VA

Its amazing to see that baby survive. May She lives a long life.
My daughter was born in 26th week of my wife's pregnancy and she weighed 15 ounces and She survived as well.
She is 4 and a half years old. Only problem she has is that she doesn't eat on her own, I mean she now does eat Puree food and hopefully within an year her G-tube will be taken out :) .

Apr. 12 2016 03:58 PM
Les Watts from London, UK

Thank you, thank you for this podcast. I made myself late for an important meeting just to finish listening to the end and the outcome of this brilliant account. I was not aware of this grey area between 22 and 25 weeks and can see that it a huge debate morally and scientifically. This is wonderfully portrayed in this family's plight.

My daughter was born with kidney failure and although she was a week early, she was still very tiny and it was heartbreaking to watch her go though all the treatment and eventually a kidney removal. I too know these wonderful/weird places where all this great medical stuff goes on. The incubators and dedicated staff. Pleased to say that my daughter is now 27 years old with a strapping 4 year old son of her own. Thanks again for this it was a real eye opener.

Apr. 12 2016 09:31 AM
Mark from AZ

I like to listen to podcasts like Radiolab when I run alone. This story brought me to tears - while I was running. Thank you, Radiolab, the Frenches, and especially Juniper!

Apr. 11 2016 12:46 PM
Vicki from Asheville,NC

Thank you Radiolab. I have never commented on a podcast but was moved to do so. This was a fantastic story and very gutsy of you to share since it brings up so many life issues. I have been on both sides of the life issue and life trumps death. I had two abortions in high school and thought nothing about it for years. In medical school I had to watch abortions which was hard for me. Flash forward two years and I have a baby at 251/2 weeks 1 lb 13 oz He did remarkably well but when he was born the doctors told us there was a 90% chance he would die. His NICU bill in 1991 was roughly 300,000 and he is now a college graduate employed and paying taxes. Money well spent. I spent many nights as a resident in NICU trying to save babies lives who could be legally killed. Doctors are not always right in their predictions. I look forward to the day when all babies and mothers have enough support that there will be no need for abortion.
Thank you Radiolab!!

Apr. 09 2016 08:26 PM
Julie Williams from Mills River, NC

My son was born at 28 weeks, 2 days. While Juniper was in far worse shape than Ben, the French's exquisite descriptions of the stages of their process, the alien surroundings, the fear of bonding, reading Harry Potter (I sung him James Taylor songs), even the $14K RSV shots, were totally familiar to me. It was a lovely journey and I'm looking forward to the book. Thank you so much for the quality shows you bring me week after week.

Apr. 06 2016 11:10 PM
Inquisitor from south

I guess if you like kids or whatever, you will like this episode, I didn't. but what she said about "so in the future I guess life will be considered viable in the beginning!" as if that's a good thing, that's frightening. I am pro choice, and have had an abortion at 6 weeks, yes, after birth control failed (an iud), and I hope it never comes to that. Does that mean it's going to get to a point where sperm would be viable? a zygote? will women have to "save" the eggs they shed during menstruation? beyond ridiculous. Hell, I have a tubal now, but do you know how hard it was to get one, especially in the south, as someone who if of the age I guess where I can still have a kid, that I don't want? Give me a break. Radiolab why don't you do a story on women like me? The one's who want to control their life and not have to be told whats good and not good for them? Seems like okay, yes, this couple didn't abort the fetus, and yay it made it, but that doesn't mean all of them will. Such false hope.

Apr. 06 2016 03:32 PM
Bob from Westfield, MA

This was so heart-warming. Have 2 young girls of my own it was impossible not to think of them during this podcast and feel deep love for them. I thank God for this story and pray that He will bless this family as He continually blesses mine. I also pray that He will be with those who fight for the child and they don't make it. I can only see but small glimpses of that pain when I think about it if it had happened to my children. I pray for peace love and help when needed.

Apr. 06 2016 11:23 AM

nevermind, I see it on Amazon. It's titled "Juniper: The Girl Who Was Born Too Soon"

Apr. 06 2016 10:58 AM

where is the link to preorder the book?

Apr. 06 2016 10:56 AM
Carla Cram from Geelong, Australia

I have never visited the Radiolab website, nor have I commented but I was compelled to by this story which I listened to last night in bed while my 11 month old son laid next to me. He was born at 37 weeks which should have afforded him a completely normal entrance to the world. But despite his apparent gestation, his lungs were no better developed than Junipers and he had to be intubated and have the artificial surfactant mentioned in the show. It was a tough time. I found it confronting to listen to the story but also comforting. Not many people know what it's like, but the way Keely and Tom recounted it was so familiar and I feel powerful in sharing what its like with those who haven't experienced it firsthand. I am grateful too that you mentioned the Neonatologist who experienced it himself, so many doctors could stand to be a little more parent focused and not so clinical. Thank you for a wonderful episode.

Apr. 05 2016 08:19 PM
OgbaOghene Ozoro from Lagos, Nigeria

RadioLab where have you been all my life? That outro was beautiful.

Apr. 04 2016 06:59 PM

I'm disappointed that you haven't interviewed a parent whose child has died. Those parents have a point of view that would be valuable to contrast against the parents whose children lived -- implying that they have more "will" or "spunk" to live is just so awful when your child is dead. You are implying the blame is with the baby when the world and all the terrible things that happen in it are random. Your child who survived is no better than mine who died at 39 weeks in utero, God does not favor you as many people like to think. Life is random and very unfair. It would be more valuable to learn from the people who survive great loss and a lifetime of grief and still go on. And still honor their children despite having no "happy ending". The world would be a better place if we address real death and its consequences more often. Please think about doing a program on resilience.

p.s. The dolls you can order for the weight/size of the baby that was born are for parents whose babies have died. To soothe their empty arms when they leave the hospital alone. Its very common and very much "a real thing".

Apr. 04 2016 01:34 PM
Mike from Atlanta, GA

Listened to the entire story and got teary eyed throughout. But at the end, when Juniper started saying the credits, I just lost it. Hearing her voice, and knowing all she had been through. Thank you again radio lab for giving us some of the best stuff on the radio.

Apr. 03 2016 11:37 AM
Brent from Santa Monica CA.

wow... My day started out as a blue sky walk down to the beach to run some errands along the way... its been a while since Ive been able to tune in to Radio Lab... and I wasn't prepared to sit in and Strap on for the Emotional roller coaster... walking past tons of shoppers entirely unaware behind my sunglasses I was tearing up so much. Fists clinching spontaneously at times... I found myself angry at god, marveling medical science, and re-evaluating my own moral beliefs and my deeper faith in science and how it might have to give a little to the more "faith" driven side of life.... An Edge of your seat ride, that in the end credits leaves you springing tears of happiness.. and glad the ride is over.... one you will Never forget. Thank you... Please keep this work coming.

Apr. 02 2016 11:32 PM
Danny Horton from Texas

Such a great story. This is the first time I've commented on a story from Radio Lab despite listening for many years. Best wishes to #Junebug and her very lucky family.

Apr. 02 2016 12:17 PM
Conner Smith from New York

Truly incredible story! I loved listening to this, what a lucky family.

Apr. 01 2016 11:11 AM
Jennifer Harshfield from Yelm, WA

Did he finish reading the Harry Potter book???

Mar. 31 2016 02:20 PM
Lydia Lewis from Geneva/ United States

This episode was very powerful for me but for very different reasons than other commenters. I was born premature at 29 weeks weighing 1 pound 12 ounces in 1992. I spent four months in the hospital on a ventilator as my lungs were not fully developed and, according to my Mom, I would just stop breathing when I swallowed- or something like that. I feel very blessed and fortunate to have had only very few health problems (mainly when I was a baby with a heart monitor for a few months) given the numerous babies my Mom saw who ended up in very poor shape. It has always been really difficult for me to imagine what my Mom went through (she was a single parent and older) even though I have seen countless photos from my NICU days and my early not so flattering baby pictures. I never really associated that little weird being with who I am now. Listening to this episode gave me a wonderful and emotional look into how my Mom must have felt especially since she had to go back to work a few weeks later. She would visit me three times a day. In a recent Skype call, she showed me this old photo of her where she look very happy and full of fun. She told me this was the photo that she asked the nurses to put by my incubator so I would know who she was. It astonished me as in my twenty three years that was something new to the story of my birth and I couldn't help but think how sweet and sad that was at the same time. This is all to say thank you to Radiolab for telling this story. It was beautiful.

Mar. 31 2016 02:13 PM

Hearing the part of the story where Tom read aloud to Juniper was incredible! I work with Reach Out and Read, an early literacy initiative and research confirms his statement that she was listening to him and responding (her vitals increased rapidly).

Reading aloud everyday from birth (or before) is so important! Thanks for the story!!

Mar. 31 2016 01:36 PM
Nichole from Missouri

I was really touched by the episode. I was actually in tears in some parts, while laughing at others...because I've been there! My daughter was born in November at 28 weeks & 5 days, due to my development of severe pre-eclampsia. I understand the ups-and-downs, and that many people have no idea how difficult the NICU world is. You see things no parent should ever have to see. My daughter was 2 lbs, 1 oz, and only 13 inches long. She stayed in the NICU for 86 days. She is home now, and we are praying for her continued development.

To those who are making comments about the cost of things, I will let you know that not everyone receives a hand-out. My husband and I both have full time jobs, and we qualify for no assistance. Trust me...I've tried! Either way, I would do whatever was in my power to help my daughter. She has already been through so much more than so many other people. She is a true fighter.

Mar. 31 2016 09:35 AM
Szilvia Beylik from Fillmore, ca

Well... Is it just me, or the update was essentially a rerun of the previous episode, plus a few minutes worth of actual update on how Juniper is doing now...?
Seek out more fresh ideas producers! A little disappointed...:(

Mar. 30 2016 08:41 PM
Jonathan from Virginia

Radiolab, you guys are really, really good at making a grown man cry. I'm a first-time father of a 16 month old boy, and after listening to the Cathedral episode a few weeks ago and now this, I don't know if I can keep listening to you in the car on my daily commute. It's too dangerous!

More seriously, stories like these make me appreciate my son so deeply. Well done, and thank you!

Mar. 30 2016 11:18 AM
Marie from Ireland

I gave birth to my daughter a few days shotr of 30 weeks. She weighed just below 800 g at birth. I remember measuring her hands and feet and her head using my own hands and fingers in those short minutes I was allowed to hold her right after birth. We were totally ignorant about life with a premature baby and had little support. She had a couple of nasty infectious diseases in her first year, could not get her vaccines on time, in school she tried and utterly failed to develop her otherwise healthy and fit body into a competitive athlete.

She is now 33 years old. It is only recently that we read statistics and medical reports on the various health and intellectual impairments in premature children. I am glad I never knew anything about that at the time. My daughter is a university graduate, she did have a hard time with maths and never made any money waitressing as a student, but other than that, she is fabulous.

There are experts who tell us that we were lucky, others warn us that even as an adult she is facing risks. We shall see. I don't believe in magic. She made it.

Mar. 29 2016 07:22 PM

Oh what an amazing story!

Such a testimony on the goodness that is life. It's hard to believe abortions happen daily, routinely while there are these amazing, little fighters in the NICU...

Juniper's voice and radiance were so beautiful to hear. May God Bless you all, wonderful family!

Mar. 29 2016 01:53 PM

I hesitate to ask a downer question in the face of this feel-good narrative, but what are the ethics of a system that will spend what surely came to hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, on one privileged child (which comes out of the pockets of everyone in that family's insurance pool—we're all paying for astronomical interventions like these, which very often do not turn out as rosy as this one), while

--5.9 million children under the age of 5 died in 2015.
--More than half of these early child deaths are due to conditions that could be prevented or treated with access to simple, affordable interventions.
--About 45% of all child deaths are linked to malnutrition.

I am happy for this family, and I am sure I don't truly feel how hard it would be to not "try everything" for one tiny life I was personally connected to. But I still feel uncomfortable about this story and wonder about our priorities.

Mar. 29 2016 11:29 AM

I am a midwife and a mother of a two year old girl called Juniper who we call Junebug or Juno. As a professional I find myself frequently contemplating, in theory, this challenge of how far do we go to save babies and how can we leave this decision in the hands of the parents who choose to not intervene without be negligent to the baby.

It is such a dilema knowing how much technology to use to keep babies, and anyone, really, alive. I, for one, have personal beliefs that we go way to far to keep babies alive but in a professional context, I would never stop trying, within my scope of practice (I do not work in intensive care). Of course, this same conversation swirls around end of life as well. Because we have all the technology to keep people alive now, should we....

I really enjoyed this story it was very interest and there is so much to be said about speaking to the babies and touching them. I always encourage mothers or father's to come over and speak to their baby if I am involved in a resuscitation even while the resuscitation is occurring. I think it is not only therapeutic for the baby but also for the parents who feels so lost in those moments. I found the reading of Harry Potter and the realisation of 'what if she never finds out what happens to Harry, Ron and Hermoine' very touching. I look forward to finding their book to read!

Mar. 28 2016 10:15 PM
Chris from In mixed emotions

What this does is show the absolute variability between each human being. Some live, and some don't --- the only constant is that it cannot be predicted.

My sister was born at about 28 weeks over fifty years ago. She was a tiny three pound preemie, at a time when most born that young died. She did not. Though she stayed in the hospital for a few months (I don't know the actual details since I was only four years old).

Apparently the most annoying complication was that she had constant diarrhea, which turned out be because she was lactose intolerant. Yeah, I grew up with a sibling who had a dietary restriction in the 1960s.

The other weird thing was she did not get as sick as the rest of us. Our family speculated that the reason she did not die was because she inherited an ironclad immune system. The only fallout being she is allergic to wool. She was our family's miracle baby. And no I am not jealous that she is gorgeous and taller than me... ;-) .

This was longer, but I am trying to be brief. My oldest son is autistic and required years of speech therapy to speak --- he was born at 42 weeks. Like my sister his outcome was just a roll of the genetic dice.

My younger son had a language delay precipitated by having a non-speaking older brother. After listening to this I went back and watched the videos of my kids I took in the early 1990s. Both of my boys had speech/language therapy (from "SLPs"), which my younger one only needed for one year before age five. His five year old speech was normal than Juniper's. He was treated for lack of vocabulary and word order, not enunciation.

Um, I think Ms. Juniper may need to see a speech/language pathologist. By dealing with SLPs I have learned that not only are there different kinds of issues but they are differences defined by: speech, language, disorder and delay. My oldest had both a speech and language disorder, and my younger just had a language delay.

Mar. 28 2016 01:26 AM
keeper quail

the ending credits made me cry :D

Mar. 27 2016 10:34 AM
keeper quail

i loved the story it was beautiful, but in the beginning robert said their weren't many storys like this but that is so not true.
for instance, mine.

Mar. 27 2016 10:31 AM
Lynn from mid-west usa

Great news for those parents. Now let's work on solutions for kids who die because of a lack of clean water, or a bowl or porridge.

Some solutions cost a LOT; others are quite simple.

Mar. 26 2016 05:11 PM
Ian Stoffberg from Cape Town, South Africa

Thought this is going to be a soppy sad affair, but I was so sucked in and emotionally committed to this narrative. My daughter of < 800 grams is now 20 years old which is probably why this hit me so hard. The peaks and lows of this story are what makes Radiolab's editing & construction of an event so compelling. Kudo's to everybody involved. Hearing the Juniper's voice is a cathartic moment, but you're still scared. The reading of the names at the end was a fantastic gift.

Mar. 26 2016 02:14 AM
Rob S. from 94502

I'm a father of boy and girl twins born at 25 weeks, 2 days back in 2008. My kids spent their first 4.5 months in the NICU. Among the long list of health challenges (heart surgery, lung issues, retinopathy, etc...), my son suffered a serious grade 3 brain hemorrhage (there were some doctors that rated it a grade 4, which is as bad as is gets). Those were dark times for my wife and I, and listening to the show really brought it all back. We also were very fortunate to live in a location with an outstanding NICU with a very high survival rate for very premature babies (babies born at less than 28 weeks). My kids are 7 now, and despite a lot of ups and downs early on, they are both doing remarkably well.

From time to time, we run across people that want to conflate our situation with the abortion issue. Frankly, I really see the matters as completely different and I get really uncomfortable with politicizing the situation that we faced. We weren't thinking in terms of legal viability, but we were certainly thinking about the statistics. We happened to be at a hospital with an exceptional ICU (one of the best in the country), and my wife's labor progressed so quickly that we had very little time to contemplate any other alternatives. We were shell shocked and just putting one foot in front of the other for the first few days. In the end, we made the right choices, but - not unlike Juniper's parents - it was really our kids' progress that was driving the ship. There were many really bad moments in the NICU but our kids kept rebounding and improving.

"Viability" - whatever the hell that actually means - was beside the point. Parents facing early births are confronted with extremely difficult choices. Despite the improved outcomes, many preemies still face horrible medical ordeals, disabilities, or even eventual death. I don't fault any parent faced with that choice to choose a different option.

Mar. 25 2016 11:04 PM
Richard from Berkeley

Until now, I have not been moved to comment on Radiolab, although I have been listening weekly for the last couple of years. As a fairly new parent, when I heard Tom French going through the litany of thoughts racing through a parent's mind and then come to the horrible thought of Juniper going from one box to another, I instantly stopped picking up my daughter's books from the ground. I paused, sensing the tremendous dread that his voice communicated. At that moment I realized how deeply those kind of thoughts lurk in the darkest corners of a parent's mind, waiting to escape, take hold, and force a parent into thinking deeply about what matters the most.

Thank you for broadcasting such an amazing episode.

Mar. 25 2016 05:15 PM
Chiara Pride

I'm an 18 year old who loves Radiolab. I was born at 24 weeks. I have cerebral palsy, but I'll also be going to college in the fall to study Public Health.This story was really personal and really well done.

Mar. 25 2016 01:50 PM
scarfacedeb from Saint -Petersburg, russia

I''ve listened to this story for the first time, and I was so afraid that it would have a bad ending.
I'm so relieved now.

The ending credits have brought tears to my eyes.

Thank you, radiolab.

Mar. 25 2016 07:45 AM
Nicole Murray from Brooklyn

I just did a lot of research on how the supreme court looks at Aniston laws. From roe v wade up to 1992, abortions were completely legal and had to be virtually free from state interference up through the second trimester (27 weeks). Only in the third could a state even regulate abortions or ban because at that point the fetus is viable.

Then in 1992, justice Sandra Day OConner, in her non medical opinion, decided that viability could be attained as early a the first trimester, so the trimester framework was abandoned and replaced with a viability framework. Now, states can legally require pregnant women to undergo invasive, stressful, and dangerous viability tests, even if she's been pregnant only 12 weeks. If the physician finds there is a possibility of a possibility of viability, the state can ban her abortion.

Just fyi.

Mar. 25 2016 07:38 AM
Travis from CO

I am very happy for Kelley and Tom, and of course for Juniper! It's a touching story. I understand that many people are compelled to have their own children, and would never dream of interfering with anyone's individual right to choose to do so. That being said, it certainly gives me pause when hearing about potential parents persisting through such difficulties, knowing that there are 108,000-115,000 (depending on agency estimations) children available for adoption today, with an average age of 8 years old. In addition, 1% of the nearly 4 million babies born annually (3,999,386 reported in 2010) are given up for adoption—that's almost 4,000 newborns for adoption per year. Given those numbers, I can't help but pause when hearing about such tribulations when one is impelled to have a baby and think, "this may be a physiological/pathophysiological 'reminder' that there are adoptable children and newborns who could provide such brilliant light to couples in this darkness." Like I said, I am not one to judge anyone for personal desires (it's your life, not mine), but I think (and hope) that some fraction of couples out there who may be having such troubles might consider the above statistics, the less rosy outcomes and concerns expressed by GB from MN and other commenters, the positive societal impacts of successful adoption, AND the incredible difference one could make in the life of an adopted child. Compared to your own genetic progeny, I promise they can provide just as much love and light to your life.

Mar. 24 2016 11:16 PM
Heather from Texas

Just having an ugly cry about this episode. Absolutely a top 3 of Radiolab. Phenomenal.

Mar. 24 2016 02:59 PM
GB from Minnesota

I'm very happy for this couple and stories like this are wonderful to hear. However, as someone who works with families of disabled children (many who were born very premature), I feel like this story gives false hope to many and feeds the pro-life movement's arguments against abortion. It's exactly stories like this ("that one child made it!") that are fueling more and more parents and doctors to push the boundaries and keep pre-term children alive against all odds. But the reality of the measures needed to keep these children alive (which you do touch on in the show), and the reality of the outcomes for these children (which you do not cover in the show), are much less rosy than this episode paints. It's true that the line can be grey, and these are important conversations to have, but I would have preferred a frank conversation about the statistics and outcomes for most of these children.
Most people don't see these children, and they'd prefer to cling to the images of "spunky" pre-term babies fighting for their lives and winning that fight. This, however, is not the happy story for most children and their families. I feel that their stories need to be told, too.

Mar. 24 2016 02:59 PM

Thank you for the update. Hearing Juniper's beautiful little voice brought tears to my eyes.

Mar. 24 2016 01:56 PM

So when a baby can be viable after just a few weeks thanks to increasingly better medical care, who wil pay for those poor families who go through the same medical problems but could in no way afford the 500,000 dollars in healthcare such NICU care costs. Especially when working at Walmart or McDonalds in a part time status so that the company doesn't have to offer insurance?!?!

Or the people who are raped or forced into sexual acts. Congrats, you get to keep the kid bc viability is earlier and earlier and the ant-abortion folks have determined you can't terminate.

Mar. 24 2016 01:14 PM
Thomas from Pensacola

This made me cry so much.

Mar. 23 2016 06:55 PM

I first listened to this story when I was pregnant with my first child, who is obviously the same age as Juniper now. It was so moving for me then, and even more so now! I'm sitting here listening while pregnant with my third child, and had to really struggle not to cry (I'm at work). Thank you so much for this update. Go Juniper!!

Mar. 23 2016 04:33 PM

Yes LC, that would be horrible if babies could survive like Juniper. An absolute travesty. Do you not hear yourself? Yes, it would be "horrifying" if life were permitted to continue. I do not have extremely strong feelings on the abortion issue, but it seems to me that when someone literally ends a life, there should be just a bit more thought than just "wanting" an abortion. How cold can a person be?

Mar. 23 2016 01:45 PM
Rob from Philadelphia

Such a beautiful story. My wife and I had our daughter at 24 weeks and 1 day. She weighed 7 oz. We felt the same emotional pain they did when in the NICU. Know one can tell us everything is going to be okay. The waiting was horrible.

After 142 days in the NICU, she brought her home and today, she's 15 months old and heathy.

What a miracle in our lives she is.

Mar. 23 2016 01:31 PM
Sarava from Portland, OR

Thanks for making me cry into my bagel. Such lucky parents.

Mar. 23 2016 12:58 PM
kristee humphrey from Austin

Yay, Juniper! I am so moved at this moment i am speechless. I did listen to this when it first aired and I was just as moved the first time. The update is wonderful to hear. Keep up the good work Juniper and family. I am cheering for you, as are so many others. I wish my boys could meet you! I will carry you in my heart today!

Thanks, Radiolab!

Mar. 23 2016 12:36 PM
Johan from Sweden

Our son was born when he was estimated to be 21 weeks and 5 days and had a weight of 498 grams. His twin brother did not make it and died after 12 hours. Thanks to the excellent healthcare (Which are free for kids) of the best Swedish hospitals they, can now save more than half of the babies that born week 22. Or survivor is now soon 6 years and have no disabilities.

But you are still in most cases allowed to do abortions up to week 22 for whatever reasons which I think is very strange.

Mar. 23 2016 11:24 AM

I've listened to this story before, and felt quite moved. But this time, when the question of viability came up and Dr. Nita Farahany suggested that someday in the future, a fetus may be considered viable "at the beginning," my heart dropped. Anti-abortion activists are already so rabid -- and states like Indiana are set to pass ever-more-restrictive abortion bans -- I can only imagine how horrifying things will become for women in the future who need or want an abortion. I can only hope that birth control technology will improve as well, and comprehensive sex-ed become the standard.

Mar. 23 2016 09:23 AM
Carolyn from Canada

Speaking as a parent who has been in this difficult situation, yes, we absolutely need magic. We need hope more than anything in the midst of the unknown. Having stories like these as something to hold onto during all of the uncertainty is like having a life jacket when you are riding in a dingy over 10 foot waves. It doesn't stop the storm, but it wraps you in a safe hug and keeps you afloat. So, thank you, Radiolab. This was a beautiful piece.

Mar. 23 2016 08:40 AM
Dani R from London

Is Radiolab about magic now? what about pictures of a brain damaged kid screaming in pain, not being able to talk or even swallow and bumping his head repeatedly against the chair? what about magic and instinct then?... I really don't what you are trying to get to beyond listens by pulling emotional strings. Parents in that terrible and difficult situation don't need magic, they need doctors.

Mar. 23 2016 08:04 AM

Anyone who has given any thought (or has yet to) to the pro-life vs pro-choice debate needs to hear this story. When are we morally obligated to protect a human life? When it reaches a certain level of development or independence? When we think it has a good chance of surviving our attempts to save it? When we think it will live a happy life? When it's convenient? I say when it begins to exist. But make up your own mind.

Mar. 23 2016 05:34 AM

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