Melissa Ohden grew up knowing she, like her older sister, was adopted. It wasn’t an issue. “I never questioned that I was loved,” Ohden said. “My brother is a biological child to my mom and dad, but we grew up on equal footing, equally loved.”
Still, there was a secret her parents were keeping from her: She had survived an abortion procedure.
“They were really afraid of how my knowing would change my life,” said Ohden, who will be giving a Day For Life presentation in Modesto on Oct. 15. “I was 14 when I learned – it was a fluke. My older sister had an unplanned pregnancy as a high school student when I was 14. She was looking at every potential option, and (the girls’ parents) told her my survival story.”
Later, when the girls were having an argument, Melissa’s sister let on that there was more to Melissa’s story than she knew.
Melissa went to her parents and learned the truth. “So, to be 14, I was devastated to learn that I’d survived an abortion,” Kansas City, Mo.-based Ohden said in a telephone interview this week. “Being a teen, a time in life when you’re trying to figure out who you are, I went through a very difficult process of trying to find out who I was. I felt very alone, very different. It was a really painful time.”
My faith is a huge component of it. Really, the fact that I survived an abortion is a small part. It’s almost mind-blowing for people, the amazing things that have happened to me. ... I gave birth to my oldest daughter in the same hospital where my life was supposed to end. I didn’t plan on that. I worked for the same adoption agency that my parents used. I discovered I ended up moving to the same city where my biological father was living.
Melissa Ohden, on the presentation she’ll give in Modesto
Since that August 1977 day at St. Luke’s Hospital in Sioux City, Iowa, when she was delivered alive, through that painful teenage time of discovery, and into adulthood, Ohden has accomplished triumph upon triumph. Today, she is a wife, mother of children ages 8 and 2, author, social worker with a master’s degree and founder of the Abortion Survivors Network.
First, her survival.
Ohden’s 19-year-old biological mother underwent a saline infusion abortion, which involves injecting a toxic salt solution into the amniotic fluid in the womb. The toxic solution is meant to “scald the child to death, from the outside in,” Ohden has said.
But at about seven months gestation, and after five days soaking in that solution, she was born not only alive, but unburned, she said. “It was really miraculous. … Doctors have pored over my medical files, and it does not make sense to a lot of people, but it makes sense faithwise.”
Investigating the circumstances of her birth, Ohden learned that her maternal grandmother, a nurse, was present in the hospital room and wanted the 2-pound, 14-ounce baby killed. But another nurse rushed Melissa into the hospital nursery, where she was saved.
As a preemie infant, she had severe respiratory and liver problems, Ohden said. Her adoptive parents, who took her home from the hospital when she was 3 months old, were told she would suffer multiple disabilities – none of which came to pass. “Even one of the things they did at the hospital – they put the wrong drops in my eyes, and what they put in should have blinded me. … There were a lot of questions of what the future would hold, and my parents knew that, but that didn’t cause them hesitation, and I’m grateful.”
Fast forward to 1 year old, Melissa said she had caught up developmentally and weighed 20 pounds. By the time she was 5, doctors gave her a clean bill of health.
Melissa Ohden’s memoir, “You Carried Me,” will be released Jan. 9. It can be pre-ordered on Amazon.com.
Learning her survival story set Ohden on a couple of paths – one that led to her social work and the founding of the Abortion Survivors Network, the other that led to finding her biological family.
Through the network, which she founded in 2012, Ohden has been in contact with more than 200 other abortion survivors. Most lived through the saline infusion procedure, which once was common but has since been replaced with “much more effective methods,” meaning far fewer survivors, she said.
“The most important piece for me is we support other survivors,” Ohden said of the network’s services. “I felt for years of my life like I must be alone. When I started speaking publicly, I would invariably get emails from people saying things like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I thought I was the only one.’ There’s a lot of strength from knowing you’re not alone.”
As for the other path, after a 10-year search, Ohden in 2007 discovered the identities of her biological parents. Her father has died, but this summer, she met her birth mother.
For 30 years, her mother lived thinking that she’d aborted her child. She never was told Melissa survived. “She spent her life regretting that she didn’t run away to protect me,” Ohden said. “But she didn’t have that option. She suffered emotionally and mentally. …
“At then at the end, it’s a beautiful story: She knows I’m alive and that I love her and that part of reason I share my story is so that people can have a different story than mine.”
After being shielded from Ohden’s story for “a long time,” her 8-year-old daughter now has a some understanding of it. “What she does know if even though her mommy’s life was supposed to end … because I’m alive, she’s alive. She talks about it quite a bit.
“At 5, she said, ‘If your life had ended, I would never have gone to kindergarten, I wouldn’t have had pizza, I would never have gotten a hug from my daddy. Kids are very smart, so she understands better than a lot of people the depth of decisions that are made in this life.”
Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327
What: Day for Life Conference
When: Oct. 15, 9:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Where: St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Father O’Hare Hall, 1813 Oakdale Road
Info: Free conference will follow an 8 a.m. Mass and 8:45 a.m. free breakfast. A freewill offering will be taken for the Modesto Pregnancy Center. Ohden is the keynote speaker. Other speakers are Chrissy Aguiar, executive director of the Modesto Pregnancy Center, and Michael Nader, religious liberty scholar, author and attorney. To learn more, call 209-551-4973 or visit www.stjmod.com/day-for-life.html.