I am the Father of Five Children…

…One is in heaven, and this is the story of the child who we named Francis.

In 2008, we were living in a suburb in Chicago. We had just bought our first home, and were settling into life as a young family, raising our two boys, ages 5 and 2. In December, we learned that my wife was pregnant for the third time, and we rushed to tell friends and family, who joined us in expectant celebration for the new arrival.

There was another blessing to be thankful for at Christmastime, and we received a few gifts — mostly clothes — for the baby. The boys joined us in awaiting their new sibling, and my wife and I began discussing names and where the baby would sleep when we brought her home from the hospital.

For a little while, my wife kept saying that she “felt different”, that something about this pregnancy wasn’t the same as the others. She couldn’t describe it beyond repeating, “I just feel different.” 

Then, in early February 2009, my wife went to an OB appointment, and the doctor couldn’t find any heartbeat. It should have been possible to hear the heartbeat, and my wife was extremely distressed and anxious, even though the OB assured her that it was probably just the baby’s position, and that they would probably hear it at the next appointment.

Within a day or so of that doctor visit, my wife began to experience cramping and the other symptoms consistent with a miscarriage. She went back to the doctor, and an ultrasound confirmed it. We mourned. We began to pray for guidance on how to explain this to the boys. We knew that we would need to call the same friends and family who had joined us in our happiness in excitement, and who would now share in our loss and grief.

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Back home, the cramping intensified, and we called the doctor who encouraged my wife to go to the ER, where if necessary the doctors could perform a procedure to remove anything remaining in her womb. We hesitated and it wasn’t long — just a matter of hours — before the miscarriage took place at home, and my dear, lovely wife, the sweet mother of my children, emerged from the bathroom to tell me that we had lost the baby, but that we had not lost the remains, and through her weeping she asked if I wanted to see.

Between me and my wife, I am the squeamish one who loses composure at the sight of blood. But I still wanted to see, and this is what I saw.

A tiny, entirely recognizable shape of a human baby. Maybe an inch or two in length, I could see a tiny head with little dots for eyes, and a little place for her nose and mouth, connected to a small frame which had limbs — two short arms, with the smallest places for fingers, and two little legs, with the precious feet and toes of a child of God.

I saw a human baby who, while exceedingly small, could not be mistaken for anything else.

It was then that I realized that if we had gone to the hospital, I most likely would have never seen this child, because she would not have been recognized as one by the hospital staff. No one would have stopped to show us what we lost. When a woman miscarries in the hospital and a D&C is performed, the contents of the womb are treated as medical waste, and there is a great deal of resistance to releasing this “material” back to the parents. I learned this because I called the hospital and asked them, which is part of the reason we hesitated to go.

Providence was at work in allowing my wife to miscarry at home, because God showed us exactly what she had been carrying, and it was the furthest thing in the world from medical waste. It was a pre-born, developing child, who we and our family began to love from the very moment that we learned of her existence. She did not deserve to be thrown out as garbage.

After the miscarriage, we did exactly what we as faithful Catholics felt that we were obliged to do: we arranged for a Christian burial of our child. I contacted a friend at the Archdiocese of Chicago, who put us in touch with the director of Queen of Heaven Catholic Cemetery. The cemetery furnished us with a suitable container for the baby, and a plot for her in the area of the cemetery set aside for preemies and infants. The cemetery provided these things virtually without charging us.

When we visited the cemetery to bury Francis, the director, a caring and gentle priest nearing retirement, met us at one of the chapels with one or two members of staff, and led our family in prayer for the soul of Francis. He gave each of our boys a rosary to keep as a remembrance of their lost sibling.

The most lasting image, even more than the sight of our tiny little baby, was the sight of our sons gathered around Francis’ little final resting place, where they stood at attention and prayed with Fatherreciting the prayers we had begun to teach them: Our Father who art in Heaven… Hail Mary, full of grace… My two little boys, so young, so inexperienced, were themselves sad for the loss and yet praying out of love for Francis. They understood the significance of this event, so well that they needed no further explanation. They lost one of their number and would see her again in Heaven.

This tiny little thing was nothing of the sort. Francis was (and is) a person, who changed our lives, who guided us to remembrance not just of a sad moment in our life, but also of the fact of her very existence, an existence that had merit and meaning not because we acknowledged it, but because God sent her to us to show us something about what human dignity is: that no person — no matter how small, no matter how young, no matter how vulnerable — no person is any less than another in the eyes of God. The life of every human being exists for a reason, sometimes only known to God Himself.

As much as I would have preferred to see Francis born, so that she could grow from an infant into an adult, I am aware of the blessing that she was to our family. I will never forget the earnest prayers of her brothers, who by their witness recognized the same thing as her Creator. And were it not for Providence, we would not have welcomed a healthy baby boy at the very end of that same year.

So yes, we are a pro-life family, Deo gratias, not through some supernatural belief, but through an entirely natural and explicable phenomena: my wife and I saw our little daughter (or son) after she died, and while she was tiny, she was a human being whose short life impacted those of us who already loved her.

The supernatural part is how such a human, who literally lived and died her entire life in utero, could change the world so much. Because with God’s help, she did, and she continues to do so.

Dear precious baby Francis, pray for us!

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4 thoughts on “I am the Father of Five Children…

  1. Even though I’m so saddened by the grief you had to endure during that time, I am completely overwhelmed by your generosity and selflessness in sharing this truly intimate and touching story of Francis, may our Lord Father God of light always bless you….

  2. Pingback: March for Life Evening Edition - BigPulpit.com

  3. I just read this story after going through three spontaneous miscarriages and..although different in many regards, your story resonates so much with mine and your testimony has revealed profound love for Our Creator. Thank you for sharing the life and blessings of Little Francis and May the Lord, Our Father, always reveals Himself to you and Bless you and your loved ones.

  4. A very heartwarming story. I recently read a very similar story turned into a book:
    “Chiara Corbella Petrillo”
    A Witness to Joy

    By Simone Troisi & Christiana Paccini,

    At Amazon in paperback and Kindle.
    I believe the power of this book is so overwhelming that it would give great pause to anyone contemplating an abortion and reinforces the notion that perspective is everything. ENJOY!!

    Before reading this book watch on YouTube:
    “Chiara Corbella 2009 –
    English Subtitles”
    19:07

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