Kelly Breaux of Louisiana has experienced a mother’s worst nightmare: the loss of a child, not once, not twice, but three times. Now she and her husband are reaching out to other families experiencing the loss of a child — from those in the womb all the way to adulthood. Breaux spoke to Live Action News about losing her children: Talon Antoine, Emma Grace, and Christian Ryan.
After several years of fertility and multiple failed rounds of fertility treatments, Breaux and her husband Ryan learned early in 2005 that they were expecting twins. At her 17-week ultrasound, they learned that their baby girl Emma had markers for either Trisomy 18, considered a life-limiting genetic condition, or Trisomy 21, better known as Down syndrome. Their baby boy Talon appeared completely healthy.
Breaux went into preterm labor and delivered the twins via emergency C-section at 28 weeks. Several days into their neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) stay, they learned that, while Emma was completely healthy, Talon had Down Syndrome. Within days, he contracted an infection that took his life. After eighty-five days in the NICU, Emma went home on oxygen, ten medications a day, and specialized formula. While she was overall healthy, at three years old, she needed surgery to lengthen her right leg, which had not developed properly due to complications from a blood clot. The week before the planned surgery, the whole family went to Disney. The night after the surgery, Emma started spiking fevers and seizing. The family later learned that she had H1N1, also known as swine flu. The couple’s medical nightmare lasted seven weeks, ending in the worst possible way. On September 10th, 2009, Emma died. The loss of both of their twins, along with a miscarriage of baby Christian at 11 weeks gestation several years later in 2012, sank the parents into unfathomable grief and a major crisis of faith. Kelly explained, “Surviving the death of your child is the hardest thing a person will ever endure. Trying to do it without God is impossible.”
While the Breauxes are grateful for their beautiful 11-year-old Estelle, healing from the loss of Talon, Emma, and Christian has been an ongoing process. In her forthcoming book, “Hiding in the Upper Room: How the Catholic Sacraments Healed Me from Child Loss,” Breaux describes how six years after Emma’s death, still stuck in a place of great unresolved pain, a close friend also lost a child, due to a drunk driver. Over time, Breaux “noticed that I was grieving differently from [her friend] and at first I thought it may have been because our children’s deaths came about from such different circumstances. Then the truth came to me. I was grieving from a place where Christ wasn’t present. [She] was sharing her grief with Christ. You can’t give what you don’t have. My heart wanted to help, but first I needed to help myself. I wanted to love her through her loss, but I realized that it had to come from a place of healing. You cannot love in an authentic way unless you have encountered Christ….. I didn’t need to wait until I was healed to help [her] but I needed to know where to find that healing. It wasn’t enough to know of God; I needed to know that He was my Father. I needed to have a personal relationship with Him.”
Developing that personal relationship meant a gradual deepening of her Catholic faith, including a return to Mass after several years of not attending due to flashbacks of her children’s funerals at the church. She began attending a women’s prayer group started by several close friends and she attended a women’s conference which motivated her to return to the sacraments, which she called “tools to enable the healing of your hurting heart because they impart on you the graces you need to endure.” A three-day retreat called Cursillo, meaning “little course in Christianity” changed her life. She said, “It was on that weekend that I accepted the invitation to walk with the Holy Spirit by visiting the sacraments multiple times, and it seemed each one broke down a wall that I’d constructed around my heart. It wasn’t until then that I was able to be totally free, totally and recklessly in love with Christ.”
Since then, Breaux and her husband have founded Red Bird Ministries, a Catholic grief support non-profit ministry helping those who have lost a loved one, especially a child from pregnancy through adulthood. “When you lose a child, she explained, “many people will want to offer their support, but unless they’ve experienced child loss themselves, they may not know what to say. If you don’t know what else to say to a grieving parent, say ‘I love you and I’m praying for you.'”
She acknowledged that grieving families may feel, as she did, “Sometimes people avoid us, and not because they don’t love us. I think it is because we are everyone’s worst nightmare. Bad things can happen to good people.”
Emma and Talon’s deaths really drove home “the fragility of life,” and the miscarriage of Christian taught her that women become mothers when they become pregnant, not when the baby is born. Breaux is saddened that a culture that values abortion trivializes the natural mourning a mother feels after a miscarriage or stillbirth. Through Red Bird Ministries’ healing retreats and support groups, she and her husband are striving to provide a path of accompaniment that acknowledges the actual pain that child loss entails, and points individuals and couples to the possibility of hope, healing, and wholeness.
Editor’s Note, 4/12/20: This article originally stated the couple had multiple rounds of IVF. This was incorrect.
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