“One decision, one moment, can have such a detrimental effect on so many people, living and dead, born and yet to be conceived.” ~Melissa Ohden
"But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God." (Acts 20:24)
Abortion is a decision that has a detrimental effect on many across generations. In August of 1977, my biological mother entered St. Luke’s Hospital in Sioux City, Iowa, to undergo a saline infusion abortion. Little did she know that this one decision, and this one moment in time—would have a far-reaching effect on so many peoples’ lives.
A saline infusion abortion involves the injection of a toxic salt solution into the amniotic fluid surrounding the pre-born child in the womb. The salt solution intends to scald the child to die from the outside in. Suppose you ever look up ‘saline infusion for abortion’ or read about children like me who are aborted by saline infusion. In that case, you will find that we are called the “red-skinned” or “candy-apple” babies because it turns the child’s skin red as it burns it, peels it, and moves internally into the body to burn up the organs.
After the toxic salt solution was delivered into the amniotic fluid that surrounded me, I was bathed in the poisonous salt solution for approximately five days. Truly, this solution should have burned me to death while I was in my biological mother’s womb, and she should have given birth to a dead child. Instead, on the fifth day of the abortion procedure, labor was successfully induced, and she gave birth to a live child—me!
Over the years, I have been told that it was initially known that I had been unsuccessfully aborted. It has been said that after I was delivered spontaneously at the hospital, I was believed to be dead. I was even left for dead and placed along the bedside table. Nevertheless, by the grace of God, a nurse was tending to my mother, noticed that I was making grunting noises and small movements. The doctors and nurses then started to provide the medical care I needed to sustain my fragile life.
Medical documents indicate that my mother thought that she was approximately 18 to 22 weeks pregnant with me when she attempted to abort me. The fact that I survived and that I weighed 2 pounds, 14 ounces, indicates that she was at least six to seven months pregnant. One of the first documentations in my medical records states that I looked like I was “approximately 31 weeks gestation.”
Despite my miraculous survival, the doctors did not believe that I would live very long, and if I did live—I probably would be disabled. After I survived the failed abortion attempt, I suffered from numerous medical problems, including jaundice, severe respiratory problems, and seizures. I had to undergo multiple blood transfusions. I was too weak to suck from a bottle, so I was fed intravenously through my head for an extended period of time. My future was bleak, but I was alive! Most people would never guess by looking at me today that I suffered what I did as an infant. Today, I am the picture of health. Miraculously, I am healthier than most. I have no long-term physical consequences because of the abortion procedure and my premature birth; I am one of the blessed ones.
After I survived the failed abortion attempt, my biological parents made a courageous and loving decision. I am forever grateful to them for ultimately giving me life despite the initial attempt to end my life. I am even more thankful that they made an adoption plan after I survived. I often hear people say that it is wrong to ask a woman to carry a child to term and make an adoption plan if they feel like they don’t want to or can’t parent them. I understand the well-intentioned place in people’s hearts this comes from. However, I am a living testament to the selfless beauty and love of an adoption plan, and I have seen firsthand how adoption is a choice that EVERYONE can live with. To some—abortion appears to be a solution to the problem. Still, I have seen throughout my life that abortion is not the solution, and it is not a choice that women can live with the rest of their lives without physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual consequences. As hard as it must be to make an adoption plan for a child, it is ultimately a beautiful gift for many—the child, the biological parents, and the adoptive family.
My adoptive parents first met me when I was still in the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit in Iowa City, Iowa, not long after I was born. Despite the poor prognosis that the doctors had for my life, my adoptive parents did not hesitate for a second to come to visit me. My adoptive parents share that the first time they laid eyes on me, lying there in the incubator, they thought I was the most beautiful baby they had ever seen and fell in love with me. That always makes me smile because looking at baby pictures of myself, I know that I wasn’t what most people think is a beautiful baby. I was tiny, my head was shaved, I had IV ports in my head, I was in an incubator most of the time, but my adoptive parents were able to look through all of that and see the inherent beauty of God in me.
I was blessed to go home to my adoptive family within two short months of surviving the failed abortion attempt. I went home to them before I was probably even supposed to be born! I know that the love of my adoptive parents and the nurses and doctors who cared for me helped me not only survive but also thrive. Over the years, I have remained in contact with one particular nurse who cared for me in Iowa City. Mary shared how she helped name me when I didn’t yet have a name, how she and others knitted me clothing, and how they nurtured me and believed in me during those months that I was in their care. Growing up, I always seemingly knew that I was adopted. I grew up in a home where adoption was just a normal part of our lives. My older sister is also adopted (from another family), and our parents had always let us know how special and loved we are. After almost fifteen years of trying, our adoptive parents finally had a biological child of their own. Just as I’ve been told that there is no medical reason I have survived the failed saline infusion abortion, our parents had been told throughout those fifteen years that there was no medical reason to be found for why they couldn’t conceive. We know that it was simply God’s plan for them to be available to be our parents.
Just as I had always known that I was adopted, I also knew I was born prematurely. It never was an issue of concern to me, as I knew many other people who were born prematurely. However, it wasn’t until I was 14 years old that I found out the truth about my life. I wasn’t just born prematurely and adopted, but I had survived a failed abortion attempt that was meant to end my life.
Just as God had His hand on my life while I was in my biological mother’s womb, I believe He planned for me to find out the truth about my survival in the manner in which I did. The Lord may not have intended for my older sister to become pregnant while she was still in high school. Still, He indeed used that experience to help all of us in our family truly understand the preciousness of every human life. My sister’s pregnancy enabled the truth to come out, as our parents felt driven to share with her the story of my survival so that she could fully understand God’s plan for every life, and recognize the beautiful importance of her giving life to her child. I can’t imagine what it was like for her to find out the truth about my life before I did. Still, I am forever grateful that she encouraged me to ask our parents for the truth about it. She is even more thankful that she fully embraced motherhood and is the mother of four amazing children today.
Sometimes, people ask me if I’m somehow angry with my adoptive parents because they didn’t share the truth about my life sooner or without my sister’s intervention. To answer it honestly, no, I am not angry with them. I can’t imagine what it was like for them all of those years to know the truth and how much it would hurt me if I found out. As a parent, I can understand how they felt the need to protect me. Honestly, there was probably no other way that my adoptive parents would have told me the truth, knowing how much it could devastate me, except through the working hand of God in our lives.
It devastated me the night that my sister encouraged me to seek answers from our parents. I will never forget the look on my mother’s face when I shared the discussion that my sister and I had. It was a look of such anguish. I will also never forget the words that she spoke that changed our lives forever: “We just always thought you knew—There is no easy way to tell you this—we never meant to keep it from you—we love you, and we’ll always love you, Missy.” (That is what my family and close friends call me.) “Your biological mother had an abortion during her fifth month of pregnancy, and you survived it.”
Looking back on that night, I can’t even put into words how hurt I was. For years, I had felt so special and loved. My biological parents had given me life and made an adoption plan for me; then, suddenly, I found out I had survived a lethal attempt on my life. I was devastated! I had never before even fathomed that my biological parents would have considered aborting me. For the first time in my life, I was angry with them. At 14, I couldn’t comprehend how they could have done that to me, their child. However, as mad as I was that night, my anger quickly washed away into great sadness for them because they somehow felt or were put into the position that abortion was the only option for them. Despite their decision to end my life, I love my biological parents and their families unconditionally. Jesus Christ died for them just as He died for me, and we are all sinners. I am no better or worse than they are in the Lord’s eyes, and it is not my role to judge or condemn them.
People often ask how I felt when I found out that I am an abortion survivor. Truly, I felt every feeling that’s possible to feel. I was angry. I was sad. I was scared of who I was and what this meant for my life. I felt so different and alone. I felt embarrassed and ashamed to be an aborted child. Yet, at the same time, I felt the intense love of God, the understanding that He saved me from certain death and had a plan for my life, and that I was special and wanted by Him and my adoptive family.
Although, I was blessed with the love and support of God, my adoptive family, my friends, my church, and school, I struggled on the inside with tumultuous feelings about who I was and what the world said about children like me. I only had to turn on the TV or radio and open the newspaper (this was before the Internet came along) to see what the predominant culture says about abortion. The prevailing culture says, “It’s just a clump of tissue—it’s just a blob of cells—it’s not a child—it’s a choice—children who are aborted would otherwise be a drain on society—you can get rid of that one; another one will come along again when you’re ready to be a parent.” These statements weighed heavily upon my heart and by the time I went away to college, I had learned through experience to stop talking publicly about being an abortion survivor. The hurt and ridicule were just too much for me to bear at the time.
For many years, I was silenced by shame and guilt. I felt guilty for a long time that I survived when so many have not. Over 53 million children have lost their lives to abortion, and I am one of just a handful of survivors around the world and in the U.S. alone in the past 48 years. However, I knew that God intended for me to learn through my time of silent suffering and teach me how everyone is affected by abortion. Abortion silences many in our world particularly women who have had abortions and men who have played a role in the decision. I know God intended for others to learn by my experience(s) and that we must not be silenced by speaking up and speaking out for those who are rendered voiceless by abortion.
During the first couple of years of silence, I started a journey of faith that has truly transformed me. This journey has enabled me to become the person that the Lord created. I am a woman who God saved to share the gospel of life with the world and shine a light into the darkness of the pain and death caused by abortion. From the moment I learned the truth about my life as a survivor, I knew that the Lord had saved my life to testify to the truth about abortion and His redeeming grace. However, I spent many years living in fear of what He was asking me to do. I could hear Him saying, “Melissa, it’s time. It’s time to come forward and share your story with the world”. Although I knew that I needed to do it and someday would, I spent many years questioning God on how I would be able to fulfill His purpose.
Through His grace I was able to grow in my understanding of Him and heal from the pain that I suffered emotionally and spiritually. By His grace, He has blessed me with the ability to understand others’ pain and help them find healing. After ten years of trying to find my biological parents and obtain my medical records (the two things I knew I needed to do before coming forward with my testimony), I finally succeeded. I have become stronger and bolder than ever, and I was able to find my voice after so many years of silence.
It was certainly bittersweet to obtain my medical records. Although it was affirming to see it written in my records that a “saline infusion for an abortion was done but was unsuccessful,” it was very difficult to read about how my life was supposed to end and how I had to fight to live. Through my birth records, I quickly learned who my biological parents were. Within minutes, I discovered that not only was my biological father alive and well, but we were living in the same city as one another! How great is our God! Even though I knew that Sioux City, Iowa, is where the abortion took place, I could never have fathomed that my biological father would be living there decades later. I had not grown up in Sioux City; I had moved there during my search process to finish my Master’s degree.
After months of praying, I decided to reach out to my biological father. Secretly in my heart, I always hoped that he didn’t play a role in the decision to end my life. In 2007, I sent him a letter to his workplace. In the letter, I told him that I knew the truth about the abortion, I had forgiven him a long time ago, I had led a beautifully blessed life, and we were living in the same city as one another. I also shared with him that if he ever wanted to communicate with me or have a relationship, I would be waiting to hear from him. And wait, I did!
Once again, in my life, I struggled with the pain of feeling rejected and alone when I didn’t hear back from him. God’s grace truly is enough, and His love runs more profound and broader than we could ever imagine, but sometimes things happen in this world that eats away at our self-esteem and self-worth. I am a living testament that nothing but the Lord can overcome that pain and transform it into something beautiful. I quickly turned over my hurt and pain to God, and about a month after I reached out to my biological father, I contacted my biological mother’s parents. Even though I knew who my birth mother was, I could not determine her maiden name or where she lived. However, I was desperate to reach out to her, so I contacted her parents in the hopes that they would share my message of forgiveness with her. Since I had never heard back from my birth father and had met my share of rejection in the world, I never expected to get a response from the letter that I sent to my maternal grandparents. But within just a few short days, I received a letter from my maternal grandfather!
It was a great blessing to receive this letter. I am still thankful that my grandfather was kind enough to respond to it and that he was willing to share so much with me in it. Through the letter, I learned many things about my biological mother’s side of the family and the circumstances leading to my mother’s pregnancy with me. I learned that my mother dated my father throughout her teen years and that they were together for four years before becoming pregnant with me. After the abortion took place, my birth mother went on to marry someone else and had other children. Sadly, I learned that she never told anyone about me, or probably about the abortion. I certainly understand why she kept this a secret. By and large, we live in a society that doesn’t want to talk about abortion. I meet women and men every day who carry the secret of abortion and the pain, shame, and regret of it throughout their lives. It breaks my heart that my biological parents and so many like them suffer the silent pain of abortion for a lifetime and never find healing or forgiveness.
During that same period of time that I was reaching out to my birth family, I finally came forward publicly with my testimony as a survivor. The first time that I spoke was on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., with ‘Feminists for Life of America’. It was an empowering experience for me. All of those years that I had suffered silently, felt ashamed, embarrassed, and guilty were redeemed. I know that I have nothing to be ashamed of or feel guilty about. I am proud to be a survivor and chosen by God to do His work on this earth. Although that first speaking experience was exhilarating, it was also nerve-wracking for me. For some reason, I didn’t feel like myself and chalked it up to bad nerves. HOWEVER, what I was experiencing was a bad case of morning sickness! I was just a few days pregnant with our daughter, Olivia, the very first time that I spoke out about my survival and spoke out against abortion.
It makes me smile every time I reflect on my first time speaking because I know that it was another excellent example of the Lord moving in our lives. For years, I desperately wanted to be a mother. The Lord blessed my husband and me with a child when I became fully obedient to Him in answering His call for my life—it was at this time that it became so clear that I was doing exactly what He intended for me to do. The Lord continues to bless Ryan and me abundantly in our lives, and I genuinely believe that our faith and obedience to the Lord continues to bring us favor.
I delved into pro-life advocacy and speaking during my pregnancy with Olivia. I started to speak mainly on college campuses across the U.S. and Canada, sharing my testimony and encouraging campuses to take a closer look at their environment to see if they were friendly to men and women who are pregnant or parenting. And although my pregnancy with Olivia filled me with the greatest joy imaginable, some days were difficult for me because I was made infinitely aware that my own biological mother had experienced those same changes in her body during her pregnancy with me. She still made the decision to abort me.
Throughout the past couple of years, I had learned that my birth mother really didn’t have a choice when it came to the decision to abort me. Research indicates that over 60% of women report being coerced into having an abortion. My biological mother fits these statistics. From what I’ve learned in recent years, it was likely one of her parents—my own grandparents who decided for her. It deeply saddens me that we live in a world where abortion is seen as the solution to the problems women face and that so many people call abortion a “choice,” even when both the statistics and experiences of many women reflect that most of them don’t have a choice when it comes to abortion.
Unbeknownst to me, my biological father passed away suddenly early in 2008. I wasn’t even aware of his passing for a couple of months. I just happened to come across my father’s obituary online one night when I “Googled” his name on the Internet. I was devastated to discover that he had passed away. Despite my deep faith in the Lord, I questioned Him a lot that night. How could He let this happen? I had been looking for him all of those years, and then after I found him, he was quickly taken from me. I couldn’t understand, but I promptly was given peace about it as I heard the Lord reminding me that He is the creator of all things, and He had a plan—a plan greater than I ever could imagine.
In the culmination of these events, I gave birth to Olivia. On April 26, 2008, she was born at St. Luke’s Hospital in Sioux City, Iowa—the very same hospital where my life was supposed to end 41 years ago. God is so good! Through His grace, the hospital that held such terrible memories for me now holds the most beautiful memories of our lives.
A couple of weeks after Olivia was born, I first heard from my biological father’s family. Little did I know that when they cleaned out his office after he passed away, they found the letter that I had sent him tucked away in his top desk drawer. I had not heard from him all of those months; I wondered if he received the letter and if he did if he believed that I was his daughter. His family believes that because he had read and kept the letter, he knew he was my father and that someday he would do something about it.
As devastating as it was to lose my father so suddenly and then to find out the secret he had kept all of those years, his family ultimately reached out to me around the time Olivia was born. I was blessed to meet my great aunt, grandfather, and cousin. I even had the opportunity to speak to my grandmother on the phone and to my father’s wife through email. Since then, I have continued building a solid relationship with my great aunt and grandfather. Both have met my adoptive family, and we get together as often as our schedules allow.
Sadly, these are the only two solid relationships that I have with my biological father’s family despite living in the same community as a number of them. I understand the depth of the other family members’ grief, the complexity of our lives considering the circumstances, and the shame and pain that the abortion should have ended my life caused them. It saddens me that so many families, like mine, are forever changed by abortion. Relationships become strained, secrets are hidden, and the pain and shame last for decades. I see these circumstances in families around the world through my work. I understand how our culture of death silences people who are hurting from abortion, but it’s time we break the silence and heal. I refuse to be silenced by abortion anymore, and I encourage others to step forward and break free from the chains that bind them.
I am often asked if I wish the circumstances of my life were different. Of course, I wish that my life and well-being wouldn’t have been threatened by abortion; however, I’m deeply grateful for the journey I have walked through. I am a survivor! I have experienced more than my fair share of pain and struggles, but I have become a wiser, more compassionate, and more obedient woman. I was fearful of what would happen if I stepped out of the shadows to be a light in this world for years. I desire to reveal the truth of the Lord, and the devastation of abortion can no longer silence me. I know that I don’t need to be ashamed of who I am. I am not a burden—I am a blessing. I am not simply a child who was aborted, but a woman who was fearfully and wonderfully made.
No matter who my birth family is and how they may have felt about me early on in my life, I will always know who my Heavenly Father is and that He has great plans for me.
“For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord…” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Melissa is the Founder & Director of The Abortion Survivors Network
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More About Melissa
Melissa is a frequent contributor to pro-life and conservative news outlets and a regular guest on radio and television programs around the world including Fox News, Focus on the Family, Hannity, The Eric Metaxas Show, Huckabee, and more. Although Melissa’s heart is for providing help and hope to all affected by abortion, she also strives to humanize the unborn through activism. She has testified before Congressional committees numerous times, as well as lobbied, and even met President Trump in the Oval Office in 2019. Fulfilling the purpose that she believes God set out for her when He saved her from the certain death of the abortion attempt, Melissa is truly a voice for the voiceless.