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alec vanderboom

Being a convert is an odd thing. On the one hand, it's frustrating innocence -when is that Holy Day of Obligation in August again? Then again, the ability to start your faith anew as an adult is an incredible blessing.

One of the things I'm so proud of as a family, is that we buried our son, Francisco, in a full Catholic mass on July 19, 2006 even though he had only lived for 12 weeks and 6 days in my womb before he died. Burying my son was one of those things, I just had to do as a mother. I had one son who was eighteen months old at the time and I couldn't imagine treating his younger brother any differently at death.

I've got a shaky smile on my face in this picture while my hand is on his tiny coffin (only five inches long) because I was finally successful in my quest. It wasn't easy to let my doctors allow me to have a natural miscarriage, and to get his little body across state lines and into a cemetery without a death certificate. Because Francisco was so little, his body was medically termed "medical waste" and not a still birth. We had no legal right to recover his body for burial, but thankfully, no laws prohibiting his burial either.

For an entire week I fought red tape to have a Catholic funeral and burial for my son. First the doctors demanded a D & C. Then I couldn't be assured of getting his body back from the pathology lab. Then the doctor refused to sign a death certificate, so the funeral director couldn't transport him across state lines. On and on and on. I had read somewhere that a body should be present for a funeral mass "if at all possible." People kept telling me that it didn't matter if we had a service without my son's body. But Francisco hadn't died at sea. His body wasn't lost in the rubble of 9/11. He was simply such a little guy that American law didn't recognize his remains as human. But we did as his family. And my newly adopted church --also respected him as an equal soul.

So out of shear determination I planned a Funeral Mass. I picked out the readings with my priest. I hired the cantor and organist. I sang "All Through the Night" to my son. His father read a favorite Spanish poem. The priest's homily talk about Francisco's equality before God. The young deacon looked carefully at the funeral handout which featured pictures of our happy conception party for Francisco that April. His brother and sister blew bubbles at the grave site and left plastic bath toys at his grave.

It all helped, and then none of it helped. I still hurt. I still couldn't get out of bed for two weeks because my first thought every morning was "I'm not pregnant anymore." I would watch Hannah and Lex race around the sofa and think "there was supposed to be another little boy joining this game."

My family loved me, but they didn't get it. It was just a miscarriage. Why are you taking it this far? My Dad didn't come to the funeral because he didn't think that it was going to be a big deal.

Yet my church family got it. I was a mother with one soul already in heaven. Francisco's little body mattered, and so it was gently laid in a grave. His funeral honored a great spirit, not a tiny or unformed one. One of my thoughts during the Mass was "he's got a big boy funeral at last."

Because he was a real boy to me, having a funeral Mass helped me mark his place. It made my grief more tangible and more intense. At the same time, wrapping myself in the mystery of faith gave me the courage to become pregnant again with another child.

One of the things that the Catholic religion does, is help you focus on the right questions. After Francisco died, my first sad thought was "can I have another child?" It seemed so painful to lose another, that I thought "NO WAY." Then then I remembered that as a Catholic, contraception was out- so even on NFP, we were probably looking at having at least one more in the decade or more left of my fertility. So then the question became "when can I be open to having another child?" At first I thought, "ten years." Then "well, maybe three." "Okay, maybe one year." And the surprising answer for both me and my husband "right now!"

Maria Lois Elizabeth was born on the feast of the Visitation, May 31, 2007. She is a fruit of my faith journey. A blessing to me and the world.