Abortion survivor tells story of birth

Monday, March 28, 2011
Melissa Ohden mesmerizes a crowd of more than 100 Sunday afternoon, detailing how she found out that she had survived a saline infusion abortion attempt in 1977 and how God has drawn her to stages across the United States, Canada and Australia to tell the story.

A recent episode of "The Middle" focused on the birth day stories of the three fictional "Heck" children, Axel, Sue and Brick. There wasn't anything particularly remarkable about Axel's birth, or Sue's, but Brick discovered that he had "the best birth day story ever!" when his parents admitted that they had initially taken the wrong baby home after posing as a wealthy couple using the hospital's premier birthing room.

The made-for-TV story line however, cannot compete with Melissa Ohden's birth day story; a story she first heard at 14.

Up until then, she had been thrilled to know that she had been adopted when she was two months old. Her birth day story to that point started when her adoptive parents visited her in the hospital where they immediately fell in love with the tiny premature baby girl.

"My adoptive mom told me that as soon as she held my head in the palm of her hand, she knew I was going to make it," Ohden told an audience of more than 100 Sunday afternoon at the Knights of Columbus Hall. They eventually brought Melissa home where she and her older sister, also adopted, enjoyed their unique status as "chosen" children.

The two sisters were so enchanted with the idea of having been chosen that they were dismayed when their parents informed them that they were going to have another baby, when Melissa was 7.

"Adoption was such a normal part of our lives," Ohden said, "we were shocked when they told us that our mom was pregnant."

Another pregnancy, that of Melissa's older sister, while she was still a teenager, compelled Melissa's parents to tell her sister the details of Melissa's birth in an effort to influence her decision on whether or not to abort the baby. A later argument between the sisters sent Melissa running to her mother for the truth.

The story seems to come straight from a screen writer's pen -- after all, abortion is a permanent solution. Or is it?

The medical record reads, "This baby was born prematurely to a 19-year-old unmarried mother. According to the mother's hospital record, her last menstrual period was May 1, 1977, however, she reportedly stated that she had had no period in March or April. She was estimated to be 18 weeks pregnant. On Aug. 24, Saline infusion for an abortion was done but was unsuccessful. On Aug. 27, Pitocin drip was started. It was also repeated on Aug. 28. Her bag of water broke about 6:30 p.m. Pitocin drip was continued on the 29th. The baby was delivered spontaneously in bed by a nurse."

Saline infusion abortions involve the injection of a strong salt solution into the amniotic sac. The baby swallows the solution and is poisoned by it. It also acts as a corrosive, burning off the outer layer of skin. It usually takes somewhat over an hour for the baby to die and within 24 hours spontaneous labor will develop and the mother will deliver a dead or dying baby. Saline infusion is no longer used in abortions, Ohden said, "Not because they are so horrific, but because too many of us survived." She named at least three other survivors, one a twin whose twin succumbed to the procedure. She knows there are at least eight survivors of Saline infusion abortion. "I am the only one who doesn't have any long term health problems."

"I was devastated by the story," she admitted. "For the first time in my life, I was angry with my biological parents. I never imagined that they would have even considered abortion."

As time went by, Melissa's anger turned to a profound sadness. "How awful would it be, to think that abortion is the only option?" she wondered.

Fear soon followed sadness and Melissa was convinced that there was something wrong with her. "I was embarrassed, I was ashamed -- the thought comes that if you're unplanned, you're unloved, unwanted."

"I didn't know in my heart who I was anymore," she confessed. Having been raised by a strong pro-life family, she was compelled to think long and hard about the abortion issue.

"Eventually, I realized, that if I thought abortion was OK in cases of incest or rape, that I would have to believe that any abortion, whatever the justification, is OK," she said. Ultimately, she came to understand and still believes that "God has a plan for every child -- and the birthing process can be a redeeming part of a woman's life, even victims of rape or incest."

All of these emotions weighed heavily on the young woman and she struggled with God. "It was like he was telling me 'I saved your life for a reason' and I responded, 'yeah thanks, now leave me alone.'"

She was afraid of what God was asking her to do. "There have been 53 million abortions during the past 38 years," she said. "I thought God had saved the wrong one."

While she was in college, the confusion only intensified. "I shared my story," she said, only to be told "just because that happened to you, it doesn't mean you have to be prolife." An admired psychology professor accused her to her face, "What an awful lie. How can you say such a thing? How could your parents tell you such a lie?"

Odhen knew if she was going to make a difference, if she was going to tell her story, she would have to first do two things: find her biological parents and get her medical records. When she found the medical records 10 years later, she was astonished to discover that the names of her biological parents had not been erased and she had both in her hands at the same time.

"I sent a letter of forgiveness and reconciliation to my biological father's office," she said. "I never heard from him. It was like being rejected all over again."

She contacted her maternal grandparents and within three days received a letter from her maternal grandfather who wrote, "I've been waiting for 30 years for this day to come."

There has been no heartfelt reunion with her birth parents, however. Her maternal grandfather said that he couldn't pass on her message of forgiveness to her mother because they had become estranged and her father died just eight months after she sent his letter.

His family did reach out to Melissa, however, after finding her letter in his desk drawer at his office. She has met a great-aunt and her grandfather. Her father had never told anyone about her.

All the way throughout the process Ohden, "discovered that it is possible to forgive, over and over again.

"I've discovered that we don't need to protect people from the truth," she added.

"God wants people to see that abortion touches everyone's life," Ohden said. "It's not about me. It's never been about me. It's about what the Lord has done, is doing and will do, in my life and in yours."

Ohden began her public ministry in 2007. Her story is detailed in an upcoming documentary titled, "A Voice for Life -- the Melissa Ohden Story" due for release in May. She is married to Ryan. They have a 3-year-old daughter, Olivia who was born April 24, 2008 at St. Luke's Hospital in Sioux City, Iowa, the same hospital where her mother submitted to the Saline infusion abortion attempt.

"That hospital has been redeemed in my heart." Ohden said. "It is no longer the place where I was almost killed, it's where my Olivia was born."

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