Unwanted pregnancies cast a shadow over many women’s lives, especially if they end in abortion. Regardless of whether or not a woman is religious, the decision to have a termination can weigh heavily on her conscience for the rest of her life.
The legal time when an abortion can be carried out varies from state to state, but the later a termination is performed the higher the chances are that a foetus will be born alive. Abortions in the third trimester are almost universally illegal for this reason. So when Melissa Ohden’s mom was forced into having an abortion when she was eight months pregnant, the chances of her being born alive were incredibly high. However, the fact that she was not left to die was nothing short of a miracle. After Melissa’s mom’s late-term abortion in 1977, she was placed in a medical waste bin. But sheer chance led to a nurse hearing her crying and realizing that she was still alive. She saved Melissa’s life by rushing her to intensive care. This nurse’s actions went against the words of Melissa’s grandmother who, horrifyingly, was also a nurse at the Missouri hospital. She had told her colleagues to “leave the baby in the room to die.” “I discovered that my birth mother, aged 19, had been forced into the abortion by her own mother, who was an educational nurse at the hospital,” Melissa revealed in an interview with the Mail Online. As a result of the botched saline infusion abortion, Melissa was born suffering from jaundice, respiratory distress and seizures. Doctors expected this to cause problems into her adult life, but it miraculously did not. Whilst Melissa was growing in strength at hospital, she was cared for by a team of nurses. One of these nurses took a shining to her and decided to name her Katie Rose. She gave Melissa love and attention as she slowly grew in strength, knitting her clothes and shoes. At the age of three months, Melissa was adopted by a loving family who renamed her. Linda and Ron Ohden already had one adoptive daughter, Tammy, and believed that they would never be able to have children – although they eventually conceived a son. Melissa’s parents were honest about her and Tammy being adopted, but they did not plan to tell Melissa she had survived an abortion. “Tammy and I fought like sisters typically do,” said Melissa. “It was during one of these explosive arguments, when I was 14, that she 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.
“My world felt like it stopped spinning that night. I felt, angry, scared, ashamed and even guilty for being alive.
“I was drinking heavily to numb the pain. But my parents never realized how much I was hurting because I was so good at hiding it.” Despite the trauma this revelation caused, Melissa earned a place at University of South Dakota to study political science. In another twist of fate, her mom had been a student there too, and her grandmother was a professor there when Melissa was a student. “I didn’t know this at the time of course, but I look back and wonder if we ever unwittingly crossed paths,” Melissa said. When she was 19, Melissa began to search for answers about her birth mother. Initially, it looked like her search was going to be futile, but after moving to Sioux City, where she had been aborted, she found records that revealed who her grandparents were.
“I knew my maternal grandparents’ surname and where they had been employed, so that was a big piece of the puzzle,” Melissa said.
“I was flicking through a nursing college year book when I came across a woman I suspected was my grandmother. I still didn’t know at this stage her full role in what happened.”
Desperate for answers, Melissa wrote to her grandparents. Only her grandfather replied.
“He said my live birth was not the intention the day I was born. 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.”
That year, Melissa requested her medical records and learned the names of her parents. It turned out that she was living in the same city as her biological father, so she naturally reached out to him in a letter. “I have every reason to believe he never knew I was born,” Melissa said. “I simply told him that I was alive, and that I wasn’t angry or bitter. But he never responded.” Still desperate for answers, Melissa searched for her father online six months later and discovered that he had recently passed away.
“His family were aware of my 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.”
With Melissa’s search yielding no answers, she gave up and focused on her own life. By this point, she was married to IT worker Ryan and had two daughters of her own. Then, when she was 36, her biological mother’s cousin emailed her after learning that she’d tried to get in touch with the family. In this email, Melissa discovered that her parents had been childhood sweethearts who had been engaged to marry. Her mom had irregular periods, so she did not know she was pregnant until the third trimester. Melissa’s grandparents, however, did not approve of her mother’s relationship with father and forced her to have a late-term abortion.
“I was told she didn’t want a termination, but my grandparents didn’t approve of the relationship between her and my father.
“That was a huge shock, I’d spent so many years thinking my mother never wanted me.
“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.”
After seventeen years of searching for answers about her past, the cousin finally put Melissa and her mom back in touch.
“I can’t even remember now who emailed who first,” Melissa said, “but I recall we were both so shocked.”
“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.
“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 said, ‘I was robbed of you.’
“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.” After Melissa was reunited with her mom, she discovered that she had two half sisters and has already met one of them. She is planning to meet the other in the near future. She was told that her grandmother passed away some years ago. Determined to help other abortion survivors, Melissa founded the Abortion Survivors Network.
“I have been in touch with 223 abortion survivors, mainly from the US but from all over,” she revealed. “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.”
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