Abortion survivor tells her story to Visitation House gathering
By Tanya Connor | The Catholic Free Press
WORCESTER – The abortionist owed the nurse a favor. The nurse asked him to abort her grandchild. He injected her 19-year-old daughter with a saline solution. The procedure calls for inducing labor after 72 hours to expel a dead fetus. But this unborn child soaked in the toxic solution for five days, with an unexpected result.
That baby, now a 39-year-old woman named Melissa Ohden, told her story April 26 at Visitation House’s 12th Annual Benefit Dinner. The dinner and silent auction, at St. George Orthodox Cathedral hall, drew about 500 people and raised $60,000 for Visitation House, a home for pregnant women in crisis and their babies, said Eve Lindquist, executive director.
Before opening the dinner with a blessing, Bishop McManus told how Mrs. Lindquist brought two of Visitation House’s blessings to a recent meeting of priests. Nana, a former resident and current staff member, and her baby, Jewell, attended a presbyteral council meeting. After hearing their story, the priests unanimously affirmed the home’s ministry and their support for it. Nana was featured in a video shown at the dinner, telling how sidewalk counselors dissuaded her from having an abortion. Visitation House helped her and, she said, “Now I can have my bundle of joy every day.”
Thomas Hardy, recipient of the Ruth V.K. Pakaluk Award, showed a video of that late pro-life advocate, with whom he and others worked to form Visitation House. In the video, as part of a debate, Mrs. Pakaluk read an eyewitness’ account of an abortionist tearing apart an unborn child and naming the body parts. Mrs. Pakaluk argued that being pro-choice means saying that’s OK under some circumstances.
Mrs. Ohden used her story to illustrate how abortion affects people. She said that her biological mother got pregnant in college. Today’s culture talks about “choice,” but many women are coerced into having an abortion, Mrs. Ohden said. She said her grandmother forced a saline infusion abortion on her mother. When she was born alive, her grandmother demanded that she be left to die. “I’m not angry,” she said. “I love her.… I think loving people is the solution.”
“I’m a sinner myself,” she told The Catholic Free Press afterwards. “That’s how I can love and forgive my grandmother and the abortionist. But we have to be willing to recognize that (sinfulness) in ourselves.” She said people think abortions happen only in someone else’s family or church. She told listeners that when she was born at 2 pounds, 14 ounces, a nurse defied orders and rushed her to the neonatal intensive care unit. She was expected to die or have physical, emotional and mental problems. “I’m standing here tonight perfectly healthy,” she said. “I question God … ‘Why me? Why was I spared?’” She said she wants every child to have the love her adoptive parents showed her. They took her home less than three months after the attempted abortion, and raised her in the Methodist faith, teaching her to know Jesus. Now she’s Catholic.
Her parents also adopted another girl. When her sister became pregnant in high school, their parents revealed how Melissa’s life began, trying to dissuade her from abortion. (Now Mrs. Ohden has a nephew in the military.) She said her parents didn’t intend for her to learn her story, but her sister suggested she ask them about it. She was 14, and struggled with shame and guilt for surviving.
At 19, she started looking for her biological parents but couldn’t find out who they were. Ten years later she finally got her own medical records – which included their names. She prayed and contacted her father, but didn’t hear back. Later she learned he had died, but her letter was found in his desk drawer. Despite suffering over his son’s death, her grandfather answered her letter and came into her life, she said.
Her other grandfather said her message wouldn’t be passed on to her mother; the parents were estranged from their daughter. Eventually, however, she was connected with her mother, who, for more than 30 years, believed her baby died from the abortion. “She questioned, ‘How could I love her?’” Mrs. Ohden said. They spent years building trust. About a year ago they met face-to-face for the first time, she said, to audience applause. Mrs. Ohden asked: “How many women would give anything” for that experience?
Mrs. Ohden said she was a social worker for years. But, yielding to God, she arrived at her present vocation as a writer, speaker and activist, she said. She works with survivors of attempted abortions; she knows of 211 of them.
She told listeners that nine years ago that day her daughter Olivia was born in the same hospital in Iowa where she herself survived the attempted abortion.“On behalf of the children who could never say ‘Thank you,’ I thank you,” Mrs. Ohden concluded, receiving a standing ovation.
Asked afterwards about being away on her daughter’s birthday, Mrs. Ohden told The Catholic Free Press that her husband, Ryan, and Olivia know her vocation is “our sacrifice.” (A younger daughter, Ave, 2 1/2, doesn’t yet know it.) When Olivia was 5 she said, “Mommy, I just wish other people knew abortion was wrong so you didn’t have to keep leaving to tell them that,” Mrs. Ohden recalled. The next day, Olivia, pad and pen in hand, told her she was writing a speech. She explained: “If we both do it, it’ll get done quicker.”
Reprinted with Permission from Catholic Free Press