A voice for the voiceless
by Sherrie Norris
Ohden was the keynote speaker for the annual fundraising event for Hope Pregnancy Center of Boone, held at the Meadowbrook Inn in Blowing Rock, Oct. 17 and 18. Ohden shared her story to approximately 350 people gathered in support of the center's ministry.
"It is only by the grace of God that I am alive today," she said, adding that only because of that same grace was she able to forgive her biological family for what happened 36 years ago.
"I am alive today despite the fact that my mother had a saline abortion to end her pregnancy while carrying me," Ohden said.
Ohden decided, several years ago, to use her experience to spread the truth about abortion and its affects on everyone involved.
"It's something that God has called me to do," she said, "And, I am here tonight to make sure that women know they have choices."
A Miraculous Beginning
Melissa's story began in 1977 in Sioux City, Iowa, she said, where her mother, a 19-year-old unwed college student, discovered her pregnancy and, as Melissa later learned, was forced by her mother to have an abortion.
"A prominent nurse in the community owed my biological grandmother a favor and orchestrated the abortion," Ohden said. "At the time, the doctors thought my mother was about 18 weeks pregnant. They began the saline abortion, which normally takes three days, but it lasted five days."
Years later, Ohden obtained her medical records and learned the details surrounding her birth.
Following the procedure, Ohden said, "Two nurses realized that I was alive and stood up for what was right -- they began to administer medical care that saved my life."
"Her biological mother "was farther along" than she or the doctors thought," Ohden said. "She was actually at about 31 weeks (six months) gestation; I weighed two pounds and 14 ounces."
Melissa experienced respiratory problems and jaundice and required extensive hospitalization in the beginning, but she suffered no permanent medical problems.
"The doctors thought if I lived, I would be disabled," she said. "There is no medical reason why I survived," she said.
Answering a call from social services about "a little girl fighting for her life," an Iowa couple never hesitated to take her into their home, she said. "They loved me into life."
Ohden grew up aware of her adoption, but only began to learn the details of her birth at 14.
Her older sister, who had also been adopted, became pregnant while in high school. "Our parents told her about my birth, to help her understand why abortion was not an option," Ohden said. "We were in an argument one day when she told me that at least her parents had wanted her."Ohden said she didn't understand.
"When I asked my mother what she had meant by that comment, I found out," she said. "It was 22 years ago on an October evening, much like this. I never fathomed it. I was devastated. It changed my life forever. It changed our family and our world together. It was like I was living someone else's life. I struggled with strong sense of guilt."
Acceptance did not come easily or quickly. "But, I didn't stay angry. God made it very clear to me that He had given me a wonderful life and a family who loved me," she said. "But, I felt sadness, especially for my biological parents, who had missed the blessing of raising a daughter."
Ohden said, " I know that God writes straight with crooked lines and that with His grace, I could forgive. I didn't understand my purpose, but God told me that I would go forward and tell people what He had done."
Searching For Answers
When Ohden was 19, she began searching for her biological parents.
"It took me 10 years to obtain my medical records," she said. "Someone wasn't too smart in the fact that they had not marked out the names of my biological parents."
Through Internet searches, she discovered that her biological father was living in Sioux City, Iowa.
"I prayed for two months before I sent him a letter at his office," she said. "Six years later, I was still waiting for a reply."
She later learned that her father had been near death when he received her letter. "His parents found the letter after his death and contacted me."
She never located her biological mother, but she found her mother's parents. "I sent a letter to that same grandmother who arranged the abortion," she said. "I hoped she would reach out to me."
Three days later, she received a reply from her maternal grandfather, "admitting to the abortion," she said, "and telling me about my biological family. They had never told anyone before and I don't blame them."
Her mother had married and was estranged from her parents.
Ohden is married and has a little girl, Olivia, 5 who was born at St. Luke's in Sioux City -- "the same place where my life was intended to end," she said. She and her family enjoy a close relationship now with her biological (paternal) grandfather.
With a master's degree in social work, Ohden has worked in the fields of substance abuse, mental health, domestic violence/sexual assault counseling, and child welfare.
She also began traveling across the country telling her story. She became a college outreach speaker with Feminists for Life, and is the founder and director of an organization called "For Olivia's Sake," designed to raise awareness of the "ripple effect," she described, that abortion has on men, women, children, families, and communities.
"If the abortion had been successful and had ended my life," Ohden said, "Olivia would never have existed."
In 2012, Ohden founded The Abortion Survivors Network, http://www.theabortionsurvivors.com, after recognizing the number of abortion survivors and how most felt alone in their role -- and after recognizing the need to educate others about what she called "the reality of failed abortions and abortion survivors."
Ohden has been featured on television and radio programs including The 700 Club, EWTN's Life on the Rock and Defending Life, Fox News, Facing Life Head On, Focus on the Family, American Family Radio, the Mike Huckabee show and others. Her life and ministry is featured in the award winning pro-life documentary, A Voice for Life.
Ohden's life story is much more than one of survival, she said. "It is about the beauty of God's grace in our lives, about the power of love, about the hope for joy and healing in the midst of grief and loss -- and about the transformational power of forgiveness and in answering God's call for your life."
Ohden said she believes that her life was saved for a reason. "I am proud to say that I am a survivor -- and a voice for the voiceless."