By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald Commentary
Linda and Jimmy Guillet, who were married in 1983 at Christ the King Church in Gretna, had tried for seven years to become pregnant.
“That’s a very difficult, emotional roller coaster to be on when you’re not able to have a baby and everyone around you in your age group is able to,” Linda recalled. “They call you all the time with their announcements,”
Finally, in January 1991, Linda and Jimmy were overwhelmed by the birth of their first child, Andrew.
After Andrew was born, the Guillets confided to then-New Orleans Auxiliary Bishop Robert Muench, who had been a chaplain at Brother Martin High School, where Jimmy was a member of the Class of 1980, that they would love to have another child “to even things up.”
Bishop Muench promised to pray for them. Then, in early 1993, Bishop Muench got a call out of the blue from Linda.
“She told me, ‘You can stop praying. I’m pregnant – with quintuplets,’” Bishop Muench recalled. “I said, ‘What?’ And she said, ‘Three girls and two boys.’ So, I said, ‘Well, you just asked me to pray to even it up, and now it’s even – three boys and three girls! Be careful what you pray for.’”
The assembly line of love kicked into fifth gear on Nov. 28, 1993, when Linda gave birth to quintuplets – undersized and screaming. She got a big assist, of course, from Jimmy, who was along for the ride as well as in for the ride of his life.
The Guillet quints – Allison, Christopher, Emily, Brooke and Brett – were tiny, ranging in weight on the precise, neonatal scale from 2 pounds, 9 ounces (Brett) to 2 pounds, 15.5 ounces (Christopher).
One thing the Guillets will never forget early on in the pregnancy is hearing from their doctor about an option for “selective reduction” – eliminating a couple of embryos in the womb in the interest of the health of the others.
“It took about 30 seconds to make that decision,” Jimmy said. “We were Catholic, and to us, that was not correct. When people ask me about ‘selective reduction,’ I say, ‘I’ll line them up. I’ll put all five in a row, and you tell me which one shouldn’t be here, and you tell me why.’ They told us that all they do is insert a needle in the womb, and the one’s that closest is the one that’s chosen. They wanted us to go down to three. We made the right decision.”
“That made me proud of his education and his faith,” Bishop Muench said.
Twenty-five years later, the love fest has been more than worth it. Oldest son Andrew – born nearly three years before the quints – served as “the big brother” when the Guillet family would roll up in the parking lot for a rare dinner out.
“When they were younger, we knew every restaurant that had ‘Free Kids Night,’ so I would see what was free on Wednesdays and what was free on Thursdays,” Linda said. “I’m sure now they’ve changed the rules to two children per parent or adult. I’m sure that came about because of us.”
Jimmy worked for many years at Conoco Phillips oil refinery in Belle Chasse, but his job also required him to spend a month at a time in the oil fields of Alaska, Singapore and China. The 28 days on followed by 28 days off were a mixed blessing, but when there are eight mouths to feed, he had to make it work.
“My daddy worked in the oil fields, and I grew up in the oil fields,” Jimmy said. “You treat the time home as precious as you treat the time away. You know why you are with your oil-field family. Then, when you were home, there were a lot of things we were able to do as a family because I had the time off. I could go to school if there was something going on. People would always ask me, ‘Do you ever work?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m leaving for China in two days.’ During football games, I was the one in the front row yelling.”
The Guillets said whenever they did go out to eat as a family, they got the once-over from other patrons as they were escorted to their table.
“You could see the people around us saying, ‘Oh, this is going to be a great experience,’” Jimmy said. “But our children were so well-behaved – to the point that when people were leaving the restaurant, they complimented us.”
Guillet children – all six of them – remain close. The three girls are married, and now there are six grandchildren. Everyone has a Christmas stocking – cheaper by the dozen and a half.
“I told Jimmy next year we’re going to have to have a bigger fireplace,” Linda said.
If you are keeping score, Andrew is in school; Allison is a photographer; Christopher works for Lowe’s and is recently engaged; Emily is a paralegal; Brooke lives with her Air Force husband in Wyoming; and Brett is studying mass communications.
When the kids got older, Linda returned to school to become a nurse. Before she was ever a mother, she was treated for Hodgkin’s disease, and the drugs damaged her heart valves, requiring a double-valve replacement last year. She now has a pacemaker and is hoping one day she will get back to not feeling short of breath.
But, she would not change a moment.
“We do have a strong Catholic faith,” Linda said. “People tell you, ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way,’ and we’ve always managed to get through. We were blessed. We did have a very good life.”
In the midst of rearing their quintuplets – and six children – Linda discovered a piece of parental decision-making she would like to pass on, free of charge.
“I can tell you, most of my friends can describe going out to eat with us and one of our children throwing up on the table,” she said. “That was usually because I was trying to force them to eat one green bean – to at least try it. I gave that up after a while. It wasn’t worth that scenario. I finally told the kids, ‘When you’re an adult, you can eat healthy.’”
Never sweat the small stuff, even a small green bean.
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.