When Melissa Ohden was 14 years old, she learned a shocking secret — her life was anything but ordinary.
Ohden, now 39, discovered that as a baby in the late ’70s, she had actually been aborted by her 19-year-old birth mother through a 5-day long saline abortion. This type of abortion is rarely performed today because it carries a high rate of complications, including failure.
Ohden’s birth mother was thought to be only 20 weeks pregnant, but after the baby was delivered, still alive, the doctors estimated her to be closer to 31 weeks. The medical experts on her case predicted that she would not live for very long and that if she did survive, she would have severe disabilities due to the respiratory and liver damage she had incurred, along with seizures she displayed.
Remarkably, however, she survived.
Ohden was transferred to a larger hospital with more intensive neonatal care when she was 21 days old, where she remained until she was about three months old. She required oxygen and monitoring and a feeding tube, but incredibly, did not require anything more than most premature babies. She was adopted right before she turned three months old and grew up in a loving and caring family, without any physical problems as a result of the abortion procedure.
It wasn’t until her older sister had an unplanned pregnancy that her parents decided to disclose the truth about Ohden’s birth. Although Ohden explains that while she had always known that she had been adopted, finding out the truth about her birth was devastating.
“I was initially angry when I found out about my survival, but I struggled more with self-hate than I did hating my birth mother or anyone else involved in the situation,” she tells Babble.
Ohden began searching for her birth parents at the age of 19 and wasn’t able to locate them until she found her own medical records at the age of 30. When she finally did locate them, she was shocked to discover that she was actually living in the same city as her birth father. She sent him a letter letting him know that she was alive and well and that she held no bitterness or anger towards him. She didn’t receive a response back, and he died only six months after she contacted him. And although she never connected with him, his family did find her letter, leading Ohden to develop a relationship with her paternal grandfather and great aunt.
Tracking down her birth mother proved to be more difficult. Initially only able to find her maternal grandparents, her grandfather responded that they would not be able to pass on the message to her birth mother that she was alive and hoping to reconnect.
“I had to find peace in that, which I did, and really gave up any hope of hearing from her,” explains Ohden. But everything changed in 2013, when a cousin contacted Ohden and she finally found a way to get in touch with her birth mother, who, it turns out, was coerced into the abortion and had no idea that Ohden had survived.
What happened next in her journey is detailed in Ohden’s upcoming book, You Carried Me: A Daughter’s Memoir, that will be released in January. Today Ohden is a writer, speaker, and social worker who lives in Kansas City along with her husband, Ryan, and their two daughters, Olivia, 8, and Ava, 2. Ohden has faced tremendous obstacles in her life since that fateful beginning, including a devastating miscarriage of her only son, her second daughter being born with medical challenges, and, ironically, giving birth in the very hospital where her own life almost ended.
“It’s like something out of a movie, right?!” Ohden notes.
But she says that her experiences, especially with the special needs of Ava, have helped her entire family grow close together. “[She] not only taught me a lot about life, parenting, [and] the plight of many families whose children face health issues, but also allowed me to become a mother and woman that is stronger and more capable than I ever knew I could be. I’m grateful for that,” she says.
Ohden travels around the world telling her story and working with her non-profit, the Abortion Survivors Network, which connects individuals like her, who often feel ashamed and embarrassed about their past. It was at one of her speeches that Ohden got a special surprise from one dinner attendee, Michelle Lehr, 59, who was actually one of the volunteers who had cared for her while she was a baby in the NICU.
Lehr had looked up Ohden when she was in town and was overjoyed to have the chance to see her again. “I recognized her immediately and without question,” Lehr says. “I had gazed at her so hard that day 35 years prior, that I could not forget her face.”
Ohden and Lehr quickly picked up the bond they had forged all those years ago and Ohden found some peace and healing in knowing that her beginning had made a difference in someone’s life. “It meant the world to me to know that I was not forgotten,” explains Ohden. Lehr has once again become a source of support in Ohden’s life, helping her through her daughter’s health challenges. “It’s amazing to see how our lives connected not only 39 years ago, but now remain interconnected for life,” she says.
And although the journey has not been easy and at times “very painful,” Ohden says that her anger over what happened to her as been replaced by forgiveness and that she is grateful to have forged a relationship with her birth mother.
“We love one another and plan to be a part of each other’s lives,” she explains. “She knows that she can not replace my mom [and that] her motherhood to me was stolen, essentially, but she is thankful to my parents for how they raised me and knows that she has a special place in my heart and in my life. Now, we have a new beginning together.”