After 36 years, Melissa Ohden, who was supposed to have been aborted in a hospital on August 29, 1977, finally met the mother who had been forced to terminate the pregnancy and who never knew that her little girl had survived.
The story begins in 1977 at Saint Luke’s Hospital in Sioux City, Iowa, where Melissa’s mother was taken to abort the child she had conceived with her high school sweetheart, of whom her parents did not approve. Doctors estimated that she was about 20 weeks along but because her mother had infrequent periods to begin with, she was actually closer to 31 weeks. The abortion took place over a five day period when she was injected with a saline solution that was meant to kill the baby before delivery.
But it didn’t work.
Unknown to either the doctors or her mother, Melissa survived. A nurse discovered her after hearing weak cries coming from a room where medical waste was stored. She was suffering from jaundice, respiratory distress and seizures. The nurse rushed her to neonatal care where doctors were unsure she would even survive. If she did, they suspected she would have vision problems, hearing loss, and developmental delays.
Melissa not only survived but thrived and was eventually transferred to another hospital where she lived in the care of nurses for three months until a loving couple named Linda and Ron Ohden adopted her.
Even though the Ohdens were honest with Melissa and raised her knowing that she, and her older sister, Tammy, were adopted, it took a long time for her to discover what really happened on the day of her birth – that she was actually supposed to have been aborted.
These details began to emerge after a spat she had one day with her sister, who blurted out, “At least my parents wanted me!”
“I ran to my adoptive parents who eventually told me the devastating truth – that I had survived a botched abortion. They had never intended for me to know,” Melissa said. “My world felt like it stopped spinning that night. I felt, angry, scared, ashamed and even guilty for being alive.”
She spent much of her teenage years “in great emotional pain,” she told the Mail., and turned to sex and alcohol.
Eventually, she pulled herself together and headed off to the University of South Dakota, not knowing until much later that her biological mother had attended the same university.
The desire to meet her birth mother began to grow and by the age of 19, she was actively searching for some leads. Unfortunately, her adopted parents didn’t know much but she eventually managed to track down her grandparents. She sent them a letter, but only her grandfather wrote back. Her grandmother, who she later learned had arranged for the abortion and was adamant that Melissa be aborted, did not respond.
Her grandfather told her that no one intended her to live. “He also made it clear I wouldn’t find my birth mother through them because they were estranged from her. It was evident their relationship with my mother was never the same after my birth. I couldn’t put my finger on it but I knew then something sinister had gone on,” Melissa said.
The same year, she had a big break in her search when she requested medical records from the hospital. The administrators had forgotten to block out her parents’ name. Her father was living in the same city and she immediately reached out to him.
“I have every reason to believe he never knew I was born. I simply told him that I was alive, and that I wasn’t angry or bitter. But he never responded.”
She found out months later that he had died. She found the name of his brother in the obituary and made contact with him and learned that they were aware of her existence.
”They had come across my letter to him when they were clearing out his office after his death. They told me he once said ‘I have done something I’m so ashamed of but I can never say what’. Knowing what I know now, I take that to mean that my mother was being forced to have an abortion and he did nothing to stop it. Perhaps he felt too much shame to respond to me, I will never really know.”
Melissa was a 36 years old married mother of two daughters when her biological mother’s cousin suddenly sent her an email. She explained that she knew Melissa had been in touch with the family and explained what she knew – that her parents were college students who were engaged to be married when she became pregnant. Her grandparents never approved of the union and even though her mother did not want to terminate the pregnancy, her grandparents insisted.
“That was a huge shock, I’d spent so many years thinking my mother never wanted me,” Melissa said. “My grandmother arranged for the saline abortion within days of finding out about the pregnancy. My heart ached for my mother for having gone through that. I also discovered my mother’s sister visited her in the hospital during the five-day infusion and tried to get her out of there, but the staff said it was too late.”
Her mother had been heavily sedated during the procedure and had no idea that her daughter had survived the abortion.
Finally, after 17 years of searching, the cousin put Melissa in touch with her mother.
“I can’t even remember now who emailed who first, but I recall we were both so shocked,” she explained. “My mother had no idea I was alive… can you imagine? We chatted for three years before we met. I think we were both scared of rejection. Then I bit the bullet and suggested we meet. Her reply was enthusiastic,” Melissa recalled.
“When we finally met in May last year, I could see her in the distance getting nearer and part of me wanted to run away. It was scary. Then we hugged and both cried. I said, ‘It’s been a long time.’ She told me, ‘I was robbed of you.’ Then it felt really natural.
“She carries a lot of guilt and lives with many regrets but I told her I don’t blame her at all. I have only forgiveness in my heart, for my father too and even for my grandmother.”
Melissa is in regular contact with her mother and also discovered that she has two half-sisters, one of whom she has met and the other she plans to meet soon.
After a career in social work, Melissa is now a motivational speaker as well as an author, and she founded the Abortion Survivors Network to support others in the same position.
“I have been in touch with 223 abortion survivors, mainly from the US but from all over,” she told the Mail. “It has devastated lives. Through my Catholic faith I have learnt to forgive. It doesn’t make what happened okay, but it releases you from the pain. We are all human and we all make mistakes.”
About her own life, she says, “It’s been a long and painful journey from shame and anger to faith and forgiveness. But I refuse to be poisoned by bitterness – that’s no way to live.”
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