The story of an abortion survivor is one “that could not be heard, and therefore must not be told.” This was the lesson learned by then-college freshman Melissa Ohden who, in a discussion with new friends about “every kind of abuse, abandonment and human heartache,” found that confiding she was the surviving victim of legal abortion produced an “icy chill” from her listeners. “Abortion on demand was the holy grail of the feminist ideology my classmates adhered to; anything that challenged its essential rightness must be suppressed.”
Ohden, founder of the Abortion Survivors Network (theabortionsurvivors.com) and a popular pro-life speaker (melissaohden.com), includes this observation in her recent book, You Carried Me: A Daughter’s Memoir (Plough Publishing House, $19.99, www.plough.com). She knew she was adopted as far back as she could remember, she writes, in the positive context of being “doubly loved, by the parents who had chosen me as their own and by a mother who had given birth to me and entrusted me to their care.” But when Ohden was 14, a family crisis forced her parents to reveal that the premature, gravely ill baby they had adopted and nursed to health was the tiny survivor of an unsuccessful abortion. The news left her reeling: “In my mind I understood why my parents had not told me the truth—how could a child be expected to understand something like that? But in my heart I felt a deep sense of betrayal. I had been deceived about my own identity . . . the people who had conceived me had also tried to destroy me.” Devastated, Ohden turned to an “unholy trinity of coping mechanisms—bulimia, alcohol and sex.” Forthcoming with her story at first, she soon found it isolated her from her peers, many of whom were making their own reproductive decisions and didn’t want to deal with the harsh reality connected to Ohden’s birth story.
Melissa Ohden’s story could have ended there, in tragedy. Instead, as she neared college age, she pulled away from her destructive behaviors by turning to the things that attracted her most: literature, especially poetry; her Christian faith, which she returned to with anguished fervor; and helping others—she started tutoring disadvantaged children (and would later go into social work). One day she happened to see on television Gianna Jensen—a 14-year-old abortion survivor herself, whose remarkable words gave Ohden new hope for healing: “It’s not that I’m mad at my birth mother at all. I forgive her totally for what she did . . . This is what God has given me, I don’t feel bad about it. I’m just happy.”
Fortunately for the pro-life movement, Ohden was ultimately spurred to action by the hypocrisy of those whose ideology had led to her near-slaughter. As a master’s student in psychology, assigned to write about a “pivotal” moment in her life, she wrote about how the discovery of the truth surrounding her birth had affected her. She earned an A for her “technical analysis,” but the professor’s comments in the margins were “harsh,” including this one: “This must be a lie. Why would your parents tell you such an awful thing?” Ohden was “floored. I’d been silenced again—this time not by my peers but by a professional, someone esteemed in his field.” But then she saw, with “startling clarity,” that she could either acquiesce in the silencing or force people to “face the contradiction that my existence posed to their ideology.”
Ironically, it was her naiveté about Planned Parenthood that shocked her into joining the pro-life movement. As a newly married woman, Ohden regularly went to a Planned Parenthood facility for contraception. She recalls how “mortified” she was to find out, when she was approached by a man praying outside the clinic, that Planned Parenthood did abortions. As he tried to warn her, she blurted out: “I know about abortion . . . my birth mother aborted me and I lived.” The man was amazed. “You should be here,” he told her, pointing to the people praying on the sidewalk, “not there!”
“You should be here, not there” pulsed through my pounding heart as I drove home. Beneath my wounded pride was a more deeply wounded heart. I felt stupid for not knowing Planned Parenthood did abortions. I felt guilty for giving my money to an organization that performs them. And I felt challenged by the words of a man who gave his time to try to save lives like mine. I should be there.
You Carried Me chronicles Ohden’s increasing involvement in pro-life activism as well as her years-long search for her birth parents. She perseveres through wrenching setbacks, such as finding the identity of her birth father only to hear of his death before she had a chance to meet him. She experiences the grief of pregnancy loss when she miscarries her second baby and only son (she and her husband Ryan have two girls). But her long search for her birth mother finally culminates in 2016, with a startling and unexpected twist. And much to the reader’s satisfaction, Ohden is surprised by deep joy after her arduous journey.
You Carried Me was released in January 2017, the same month the virulently pro-abortion Women’s March on Washington urged the public to “Hear Our Voices.” It’s safe to say that Ohden’s voice is not one the March’s organizers want to hear. But while the millions of victims of “successful abortions” are voiceless, Ohden speaks up to save lives—starting with her own! The medical records she obtained indicate that a nurse heard “a spontaneous weak cry” from the baby supposed to be dead; she went against the abortionist’s orders and removed the child to neonatal intensive care. A victim cried out; and though many still respond to Ohden with an icy chill on learning that she is one of only a few human beings who knows what it feels like to be a victim of abortion, she will not be silenced.