Six-month-old Joseph Landeros has gorgeous, dark saucer-shaped eyes, a little button nose and a smile that lights up his chubby face.Joseph01Mareza Landeros, her son Joseph, Dan Miller (coordinator for 40 Days for Life) and Mareza’s mother Irma Landeros stand outside the Affiliated Medical Services clinic on Farwell Avenue in Milwaukee on Thursday, March 29. About 13 months ago, Miller met Mareza for the first time as she was entering the clinic planning to have an abortion. (Catholic Herald photo by Ernie Mastroianni)

He’s a stunning baby, but one of the most cherished photos that his mom, 19-year-old Mareza Landeros, keeps in a frame near her bed doesn’t show his black hair or flawless olive skin and toothless grin. Rather, it’s a fuzzy image of Joseph taken some 13 months ago.

It’s a bit blurry, but you can see his tiny head, arms and body on the ultrasound as he grew inside Mareza.

That was actually the second image of Joseph that Mareza had taken that February day in 2011, and it’s the one that convinced her that Joseph was a person, a life waiting to be born, instead of a blob of tissue that she had planned on aborting.

Mareza has the first image taken of Joseph, too, the one from earlier in the day on Feb. 24, 2011, the one taken during her initial consult in preparation for the abortion at Affiliated Medical Services on Farwell Avenue in Milwaukee.

That one is even fuzzier and is taken at a wider angle. Here it’s more difficult to see Joseph and he looks more like the mass of cells that Mareza thought he was at this 10-week stage of her pregnancy.

‘Miserable’ day outside clinic

Desperate and unexpectedly pregnant last February, Mareza, a high school senior, went to Affiliated Medical Services with Joseph’s father, with plans to abort the pregnancy.

As she walked toward the doorway of the clinic, she passed the man who would change her life and ultimately save Joseph’s life.

At 6 feet, 7 inches tall, Dan Miller, a member of SS. Peter and Paul Parish, Milwaukee, is an imposing figure who was hard to miss. He remembers being miserable that day.

“I was having a horrible day. It was cold outside, it was four days before my birthday, I was wondering why I was even down here. Nobody was listening to me,” said Miller, who as coordinator of the 40 Days for Life program spends some 1,500 hours a year standing outside the abortion clinic as a witness for life. Miller, 46, told your Catholic Herald he said a quick prayer to God, asking him to provide him with the right words to say to the young women entering the clinic. Soon after, he spotted Mareza on her way in with her boyfriend.

As she walked past him, Miller said to Mareza, “God bless you both,” but then quickly corrected himself, saying to her, “No wait, God bless all three of you.”

Miller internally chided himself, “You really messed that one up, Dan,” as he heard one of the clinic workers, mock him, saying, “No one sneezed, Dan.”

USEscans110-B2-CopyWords haunt her

Mareza continued into the clinic, met with counselors and had that first ultrasound taken, a requirement before she could schedule her second appointment for the abortion.

Yet, the words Miller had uttered to her on the sidewalk echoed in her head.

“Those words were with her for the rest of her visit and he was right. There is another person here,” explained Irma Landeros of her daughter’s reaction to Miller’s comment.USEsscans110-B2-CopyMareza Landeros had two ultrasounds performed on her on Feb. 24, 2011 when she was about 10 weeks pregnant. The first, performed at Affiliated Medical Services, Milwaukee, an abortion clinic, is at top. Its wide angle image makes it difficult to distinguish features of the unborn baby. Later the same day, the second image was taken at the Women’s Care Center, located across the street. Its more focused image shows distinctive features and limbs of the unborn child.

Mareza left the clinic, dropped her boyfriend off at his home, but remained haunted by the words. Looking at the pamphlet Miller had handed her on her way out of the clinic, she returned to Farwell Avenue, and this time, entered the building across from the abortion clinic, the Women’s Care Center, a center that opened in 2010 offering pregnant women help during pregnancy and beyond.

For the second time that day, Mareza had an ultrasound, and this time, with the closer image, could see the tiny features of her son.

News is initially devastating

The visit convinced her she could not go through with the abortion. But telling her mother she was pregnant was a different story.

Irma remembers that moment vividly. She was in the kitchen preparing dinner when Mareza said, “Mami, I need to tell you something.”

Irma anticipated her daughter’s news, thinking she was perhaps going to tell her she was to be married – to another young man that Mareza had been seeing and one Irma genuinely liked.

Instead, however, Mareza showed her the image on the ultrasound and said she was pregnant.

The news devastated Irma who dreamed of a church wedding for her only daughter. Through anger, disbelief and tears, Mareza showed her mother the two ultrasound images and said that even though the baby was only 10 weeks along, he had a heartbeat of 175.

In spite of her disappointment, Irma was upset to think her daughter had even considered abortion.

“I never thought about abortion much,” admitted Irma. “My family is Catholic and we do not believe in abortion.”

She said she herself never considered it an option even though her life with her children’s father was complicated because of his drug and alcohol use and legal troubles.

More info

Watch two videos that Mareza Landeros has recorded to support pro-life efforts:

For information on 40 Days for Life

For information on
Women’s Care Center

Return visit is surprising

Miller’s sidewalk encounter with Mareza was quick and like so many others that he’s had with pregnant young women, he rarely knows what happens to them. He was surprised when a car pulled up outside the clinic two weeks later, and a girl stuck her head out the window.

“Hey, remember me?” she called to Miller, thanking him and telling him that her baby is alive because he was there that day. Miller asked to see the baby, and Mareza responded, “I can’t; he hasn’t been born yet.”

“It really was fantastic,” said Miller of her return visit, “because you never really expect anyone to actually come back and say, ‘Here is my baby and he’s here because of you.’”

He was even more surprised when seven months later, he received a call from the Women’s Care Center asking him to come to the center.

Not knowing what to expect, he was stunned to meet Mareza, holding 3-week old Joseph, and Irma.

The meeting was filled with thank-yous for saving Joseph’s life, hugs and many tears. Somewhere along the way, Miller asked the family if they had plans to baptize the baby.

Godparents to 4

Although Catholic, the Landeros family had not been regular Mass attendees.

Yet, without missing a beat, Irma blurted out, “Dan, will you be the godfather?”

Admitting that she didn’t know Miller, Irma said her request was an act of faith.

“Me seeing this man out there trying to save lives, he must have a beautiful heart, he must be a good human being, and, of course, he cares for people,” said Irma, explaining her impulsive request, adding that she also asked if he’d be godfather to her three sons, who had never been baptized: Fabian, 11; Jaime, 9; and Cristan, 8.

The four were baptized at SS. Peter and Paul Parish, Milwaukee, on Dec. 18, 2011, with Miller and his wife, Janine, as godparents.

letter2112-BInspired by his sister’s pregnancy and the birth of his nephew, Joseph Landeros, 8-year-old Cristan Sepulveda has become a strong pro-life advocate. His mother, Irma Landeros and older sister, Mareza Landeros, often find notes around the house, written by Cristan advocating for life.Being godfather to the young men is a role Miller takes seriously. He attends Mass with the family each Sunday at SS. Peter and Paul and meets with them at their home for Bible study. The three older boys will make their first Communion this spring.

“They are a great joy to be around,” said Miller of the boys. “They are very respectful. Irma’s done such a great job with the kids; they are very joyful, very eager to learn about God.”

Family sidewalk counsels

The family has also become involved with sidewalk counseling outside Affiliated Medical Services, and young Cristan has created his own handmade brochures that he hands to young women entering the center, pleading with them not to choose abortion.

Mareza is a tenacious sidewalk counselor who has recorded several “saves,” according to Miller,

“I’m a big guy and can be kind of intimidating from the outside looking in, but Mareza is completely different. She is approachable, smiles all the time and her message is always positive,” said Miller, explaining that Mareza brings Joseph with her when she stands outside the abortion clinic. “She lets them know she was thinking about abortion, but ‘look at my son.’ He’s beautiful and will show them the baby. I know that touches people’s hearts.”

Life as young mother is challenging

Joseph has been a blessing to the Landeros family, but that doesn’t mean life is easy for Mareza.

She’s in her second semester at Milwaukee Area Technical College and puts in approximately 40 hours a week waitressing at La Fuente Restaurant.

“It’s very, very, very hard,” said Mareza, describing her days when she gets up at 6 a.m., sometimes before if Joseph wakes early. She washes and fixes bottles before heading off to work and school. Her days are long and she has little to no time for a social life.

Joseph has taken over half of Mareza’s small bedroom. His clothes fill half of her closet and a crib is tucked along the wall at the foot of her bed. His music even plays on her stereo half the time, she said holding up a lullabye CD.

Yet even though it’s hard, she knows she made the right decision.

“My son motivates me, knowing that if I would have done the abortion and informed myself after, I would have hated myself,” she said.

And Mareza has goals and dreams for her son. She and Irma are saving to take the family to Disney when Joseph is 5; and a big blue piggy bank sits on a table in Mareza’s room. Picking it up, she said, she hopes to have $10,000 saved for him for college in 10 years.

Irma also works fulltime and they rely on her sister to care for Joseph during the day.

“My mom helps out a lot,” admitted Mareza, and “it feels overwhelming but I will never regret the choice I made.”

Committed to pro-life

So convicted that she’s made the right decision, Mareza, who a year ago was contemplating abortion, has plastered the back of her car with pro-life messages such as, “Abortion stops a beating heart,” and “Adoption not abortion.” She’s also created You Tube videos telling her story in an effort to raise awareness and funding for pro-life ventures.

Irma looks upon her grandson as a wake-up call from God.

“I’ve been Catholic my whole life, but I was basically away from the church for a long time. I was working two jobs, raising my kids with one income and we did not take time on Sundays for Mass,” she explained. “But when this happened, something more stronger pulled me back on track. God said he’s putting us back on track.”

Holding Joseph in her arms, she said the baby has brought an immense amount of joy to her life.

“This baby could be medical waste somewhere. Where would he be? It’s hard to even think of that. But even though I was not ready to be a grandma so soon, him being here brings a lot of joy. My kids are so in love with him.

“It’s hard. I’m not saying it’s easy, but there’s a lot of joy, too,” said Irma, adding that why God changed her plans for her daughter, only he knows. “Maybe it’s to help me get my faith back on track.”

Joseph has also renewed Miller’s faith.

“Some days I’ll come home on top of the world, and other days I wonder why I even do it,” he said of his presence outside the clinic. “But all I have to do is take one look at little baby Joseph and it all becomes crystal clear. There are 166 children in the world just like him because of what we’ve done down here. It really is special.”