When pro-life advocate Maria Maldonado offered to help a couple walking into a Little Rock, Arkansas abortion facility nine years ago, she had no idea how big of a commitment she was about to make.
But it did not matter. The family needed help, and the sacrifices that Maldonado and others would make over the next nine years were all worth it.
Because of a little girl named Nelly Mendoza-Rivera.
The Arkansas Catholic, the newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock, highlighted Nelly’s story this month and the pro-life advocates who have supported her and her family through the years.
Nelly died on Nov. 7 at the age of 9 after suffering from numerous medical problems, according to the report. Her mother, Rosalba Mendoza-Martinez, said she has no regrets about choosing life for Nelly because the little girl’s life was full of meaning.
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“No, I would not have chosen abortion because I have learned so much from Nelly,” Mendoza-Martinez said through a translator. “Nelly put up with a lot of pain and everything through the surgeries, but she was given a special gift to withstand all of that pain she had when she was in the hospital. She was seen by so many people as a child that overcame all these big mountains in her life.”
Back in 2012, Mendoza-Martinez and her husband, Carlos Rivera, were told that Nelly had numerous health problems and likely would die before birth, according to the report.
At her doctor’s recommendation, Mendoza-Martinez said they went to the Little Rock abortion facility when she was 21-weeks pregnant.
Outside, Maldonado, a former director of Arkansas Pregnancy Resource Center, and other pro-life sidewalk counselors were offering help to mothers and fathers choose life for their babies. Maldonado said she called out to the couple in Spanish and they approached her to talk.
Nelly’s mother shared that she really did not want an abortion but her doctor recommended it, and her father told Maldonado that he believed their daughter was “a child of God,” the report continues.
Maldonado’s encouragement made all the difference, and the couple chose life for their daughter.
“What changed my mind was the amount of people that were outside of the abortion clinic, and they were praying and telling me, ‘Listen, we have the means to find you someone else that can look at you,’” Mendoza-Martinez said.
Pro-lifers helped the family find a life-affirming Catholic doctor, and began donating money for their gas, food, shelter, baby supplies and more, the report states. In total, Maldonado said about 50 pro-lifers were involved in helping Nelly and her family.
Nelly was born on June 19, 2012 with many special needs. According to the report, her organs were underdeveloped and she had scoliosis, among other problems.
During Nelly’s lengthy hospital stay, pro-lifers continued to encourage and support the family in whatever ways they could. Maldonado even drove to the hospital to feed and spend time with Nelly so her parents could take care of her older brother, the report states.
“She had her little eyes that were always smiling,” Maldonado told the newspaper. “… How can they even think about ending a life like this? Even if she only came into the world and smiled and giggled.”
Nelly brought the family joy, but her life and theirs also became more difficult because of all her medical needs. She suffered a stroke when she was about a year old and never learned to walk or talk; she also ate through a feeding tube, according to the report.
Then, in 2016, her father died, leaving Mendoza-Martinez a widow with two children to care for. Again, local pro-lifers were there to help her and her family.
“Throughout the years the Catholic pro-life community has been helping me through the whole time with food, gifts, things that I could not buy, paying my rent when I was about to to be evicted,” she said. “Coming, and sending me cards to let me know they’re thinking about me. They were there with me through the thick and thin, bad times, good times. … And I know I’m not the only one they’re helping. They help women all over.”
When Nelly died in November, Maldonado and others helped arrange for her cremation and funeral and pay the expenses, according to the report.
Maldonado said Nelly touched so many people’s lives during her short time on earth. “Nelly will live. She lives in the hearts of all the lives she touched,” she said.
For Maldonado, serving families like Nelly’s is a privilege.
“It’s a very gratifying and humbling job you can do for God to be his tool and be submissive on what you say because he is the only one who knows what’s in the womb of that woman,” she said.
It’s also something that pro-life advocates are called to do – and are doing across the world.
“The thing about all of this is for people to understand it takes a lot of people to help someone who was at the point of ending a life,” Maldonado said. “If we’re not there for them, the other people on the other side all they do is say, ‘They’re not going to have anymore pain, you’re not going to have to worry about this.’ … They miss having a relationship with the child in their own womb and something they can give to the world.”