Friday 29 October 2010

In 1977 Melissa Ohden survived a failed saline infusion abortion and was born after approximately six months gestation. Despite the initial concerns about her future, she has not only survived but thrived. With the love and support of her adoptive parents, Melissa began searching for the truth about the abortion attempt and for her biological family in 1997. Despite the many obstacles that she encountered along the way, Melissa found her maternal grandparents and her biological father in 2007. Although her biological father passed away in January of 2008, Melissa was later contacted by his parents, after they found the letter that she had sent him prior to his passing away. She has now established relationships with many of her biological father’s relatives.

Melissa has a Master’s Degree in Social Work and is the founder and director of For Olivia’s Sake, an organisation which seeks to peacefully raise awareness of the intergenerational impact of abortion on men, women, children, families and communities.
She lives in the USA with her husband and young daughter and was in Melbourne in September as part of a three-week Australian tour, during which she shared her incredible story with over 2,000 people. Melissa recently spoke to
Kairos about her message of hope and healing.

By Fiona Power

How would you describe yourself and your life?

I always joke that I “never signed up for this”  – providing a voice to the tens of millions of children whose lives have been ended by abortion, their parents and family members, and ultimately our communities who are grieving from abortion, but I am so grateful to God for doing so.

Although it was laid upon my heart over 19 years ago that I was saved for this very purpose, for this mission, I never could have imagined that my life would be so amazing.  Each and every day I have the opportunity to share my message of hope and healing with others, and I get to see and hear from those who are impacted by my story.  Every day brings new experiences and opportunities.  From all of this, I continue to grow and evolve as a woman, wife and mother and faithful servant of God.  I wake up every day excited to see what he’s going to do next in my life and how I will be called to serve him.

You were recently in Australia on a speaking tour. Can you describe how that came about?

I was contacted on Facebook by a pro-life advocate in Australia, who shared information with me about an organisation called Life Network Australia.  I put a comment on their page.  One of the co-founders, Sonja Couroupis, contacted me.  Within a week tickets were purchased and plans were underway.  It was a huge leap of faith for Life Network Australia, and for me.

The Internet has allowed for great opportunities for like-minded people to connect and change the world, but it takes a strong faith and trust to embark on such a journey together, when you really don’t know much about each other.  I had a great sense of peace about it all, though, and knew that the Lord had formulated this plan and that he had great things in store for this tour.

What do you speak about?

My ministry is multi-faceted.  It’s first of all about putting a face to abortion and giving a voice to my unborn brothers and sisters who were aborted and have no voice.  We can read statistics, we can hear about how abortion ends the lives of 90,000 children in Australia and 1.4 million children in the US each year, but until you truly come face to face with a survivor of a failed abortion attempt like me, you really can’t comprehend abortion and its’ devastation.  I get emails from people every day who say, “They told me that the child I was aborting was just a blob of tissue … I never knew that children could survive abortions … I used to believe in ‘choice’, but after seeing you I know that ‘choice’ is really death for children.”

How do people respond to your story?

So many people share their responses and even their own personal experiences of abortion with me. The responses in Australia I think surprised even the pro-life groups that sponsored me. The overwhelming response is surprise and shock over the truth about abortion;  that children like me do survive, and every day there are children like me who do live, but are sadly left to die or are even killed. People are shocked and horrified to discover this.

People are always so gracious and kind. They always thank me for my courage in speaking out, and I always let them know that they are my true heroes.  It is people like them who fight this fight in the front lines day in and day out, and are saving lives.

People appreciate my ability to forgive, and can really relate to what I have gone through, even though my experience is certainly unique. They are grateful to have finally been told by someone that it’s okay to say that they are hurting from abortion, too, and they can have a voice, also.

I struggled for many years with feeling ashamed and embarrassed by who I am, even though I know my life is such a beautiful gift, and the Lord had an amazing plan for me.  But when we live in the world that we do, that continues to state that I was just a ‘choice,’ that somehow children like me who are aborted are unwanted, unloved, unworthy, we have no rights, it takes a toll on you emotionally and spiritually. It took me many years to heal from the pain, and many years to tap into the courage that the Lord gave me and speak up.

Because if not me, then who? The children who have suffered at the hands of abortion deserve a voice, and if the Lord saved me to give them a voice, then I absolutely had to overcome my own feelings and fears and come forward.  I can’t wait to meet my fellow brothers and sisters in Heaven someday and rejoice in the fact that they had a voice here on earth.

Another piece of my ministry is educating the public about the intergenerational impact of abortion.  For far too long, we’ve heard the same arguments that abortion is about a woman’s right to choose. First of all, the research and women’s own stories tell us that many women really don’t have much of a choice when it comes to abortion …. they are coerced into having abortions, they are not supported by partners, family, their doctors, their workplace, they feel unprepared financially, emotionally …

But what has been overlooked by many for a long time now is that abortion isn’t just about a woman and her child. It’s about men, it’s about grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins – entire families and ultimately communities who are impacted by abortion.  Not only do we all grieve the loss of the children who have been aborted, but our lives are forever touched and changed by that grief, by guilt, fear, shame, suffering, silence.  Everywhere I go, I hear from men who feel either one of two things – guilt from their role in coercing a woman to abort her child, or simply not offering support to her to choose life, or sadness over the loss of their child, and the fact that they had no say at all in what would happen to their child’s life. I hear from grandparents who grieve the loss of the grandchildren they never had the chance to know and love. Siblings often struggle with a mix of sadness and guilt – the, ‘why them and not me’? I don’t want to underscore the struggles of women. My heart aches at the reality that women in our world are put in the position that they are, but the reality is that everyone is hurt by abortion to a certain degree, and everyone needs to have a chance to heal from the pain that abortion causes.

My family is living testament to the intergenerational impact of abortion. If that abortion attempt had succeeded in ending my life, then my daughter, Olivia, would have never entered this world.  My husband would have never had a wife.  My adoptive parents would have never had a daughter.  My brother and sister would have never had a sibling. And now my biological family would never have had me in their life.  The list could go on and on.  Abortion truly has a ripple effect. No one remains untouched.

The other piece of my ministry that is woven into this message that I give is hope, love, forgiveness, and healing. So many people in our world today are hurting from abortion. Being able to come face to face with a child who was aborted by miraculously survived and has freely forgiven her own parents for the decision to end her life transforms those who are guilt-ridden. I don’t know how many times a woman has contacted me to apologise for aborting their child. They need not apologise to me, but I always thank them for that, on behalf of their own child. I always tell post-abortive men and women that I am here as their spiritual child. I am willing to be that child for everyone.

Very well-intentioned people have sometimes questioned whether my biological parents’ lives would have been better off if I had just died.  I always say I’m rather biased, since my life is the one that was supposed to end, but I truly believe that their lives are better off knowing that their child lived. Tens of millions of parents aren’t as lucky. They know the fate of their children. Just last night, I was speaking at an event and a woman held my face in her hands and said, “Oh, how I wish you were mine! What I wouldn’t give for life of my aborted child to have been spared!”

As I shared earlier, I struggled with myself for many years, but as much as I struggled, I am grateful for it, because I learned so much about pain and loss, grief, shame and guilt, the silence that surrounds abortion and enchains so many.  And I know that the Lord intended me to walk on that journey so that I could know what others experience. If I can forgive my parents, than others can forgive those who have had abortions. They need to first forgive themselves.

What’s led you to seek to make a difference in this area?
Certainly, I knew at the age of 14, when I found out about the truth of my life, that I wasn’t just adopted, I had survived the abortion attempt meant to end my life, that I would be doing this someday, but I was afraid for a long time; afraid of stepping into the frontlines of the abortion debate, afraid of how others might treat me or react to me, afraid of stepping outside my own safe, comfortable space.  The Lord kept reminding me over the years that although he was at work in my life healing me, it was in preparation for coming forward. I was just waiting to fully heal, and waiting for the sign that it was time, and in 2007, I got the sign that it was time.

I had found an organization in 2006 called Feminists for Life, and I was really drawn to them, because they were feminists who were pro-life, and passionate about advocating for resources and support for women. Not long after I found them, the pieces of my life fit together to complete my healing (I finally received all of my medical records that reflect the saline infusion abortion attempt and the care that I received, I found members of my biological family and was able to reach out to them), and during that same span of just a few short months, Feminists for Life put out a request for speakers to assist them in their College Outreach Program. It was the Lord at work!

Within that short span of months, I also became pregnant with our first child.  Becoming a mother and being a mother motivates me to continue to share my message with the world.   I can deal with the reality that my life was supposed to end , but to know that my beautiful child would have never had life is devastating. I will fight for Olivia and all of the children like her who have never had life because their own parents were aborted until the day that I leave this world. I owe it to her.

My feminist beliefs also motivate me to speak out and make a difference.  I believe in Feminists for Life’s motto that “Women deserve better than abortion.” I deserved better than to be aborted. My biological mother deserved better than to go through that traumatic late term abortion and now carry the secrecy and shame of it with her for the rest of her life. So many times we hear people talk about ‘choice,’ but where was my choice? Where was Olivia’s? Most women really aren’t given a choice.

Obviously, my faith also drives me to make a difference in the lives of men, women, children and families. When we look at what Jesus did for us, for me to make this small sacrifice in my life – to open my life up to the world, to be sometimes judged or scorned by others who disagree with me about abortion, to be pulled away from my family often so that I can minister to others – my sacrifice is truly insignificant.  And I can’t wait to someday meet the Lord and have him say, ‘Good job, my daughter’.

What do you hope people take away from your talk?

As much as my story can be seen as one of profound sadness, it is really one of great joy. I survived! I’ve led a blessed life, I have been loved much and I give much love in return, and now I am a mother, myself. That is true joy. I want people to walk away from hearing me thinking, ‘Wow, everyone deserves life. Everyone deserves that kind of joy’.

I want people to take away from the experience that the unborn children whose lives are ended by abortion every day are just like me. They are me, and I am them. I hope people leave motivated to continue to fight for the unborn and to improve the lives of women so that abortion isn’t seen as the only ‘choice’ available to them. I hope that people can put themselves in my shoes and the shoes of those whose lives are ended by abortion.  It’s easy to talk about abortion as a right or a choice when you aren’t the one who was aborted.

I want people to be encouraged by what the Lord has done in my life. I want people to move out of their comfort zone and do whatever it is the Lord has asked them to do in this world. I want them to leave their time with me feeling loved, forgiven, and accepted for who they are, no matter what they have done, no matter what choices they’ve made.

Has there been any change in public opinion in the USA on this topic in recent years?

Public opinion has shifted in recent years on abortion.  I think there are a number of factors that have influenced this: First of all, my generation, the generation that was first being aborted after Roe v. Wade is growing older. We have always known of this life with abortion, and we live each day recognising how many we have lost as a result.

I believe that the shift into the third wave of feminism (as opposed to the second wave that supported and pushed abortion as a right of women), which actually embraces the pro-life beliefs of the first wave of feminists, has had a strong impact. We are seeing much more of a pro-woman/pro-child approach, which certainly addresses the issues of abortion and how it is an injustice to both women and children.  I’m not Catholic (yet), but I believe that Pope Jonn Paul II’s work had a profound impact on pro-woman/pro-child issues.

I believe that that strength of the American people to speak out and stand up for what they believe is right is of central influence, also. We have a huge network of pro-life organisations and individuals who work together to end abortion and improve lives. Whether Protestant, Catholic, or secular, groups come together for the greater cause. The use of technology, such as social networking has had an incredible impact on the life movement – you are able to connect, share stories, do webcasts, so many things that further the cause. We have SO MANY groups who come together.  It’s about working together for the greater good, despite our differences.

What would you say to a woman considering abortion, or in an unplanned pregnancy?

As hard as what you are experiencing right now must be, there are so many people out in the world who love you and want to help you.  There are resources and supports available that you may not even know exist but can help you.  Abortion may seem like a quick solution to the problem that you are facing, but the relief is short-lived.  The pain and complications of abortion last a lifetime.

You may not think that you have enough to do this, but you do. You are stronger than you think, and you can make a choice that gives your child life, and you can feel good about for the rest of your life.

What words of encouragement might you have for those who have experienced an abortion and are looking for healing?

I first of all would say, I forgive you.  Just as I have forgiven my own biological parents for the decision that was made to end my life, I forgive you.  You need to forgive yourself, to ask the Lord for forgiveness.  One of my favorite quotes is: “True faith is realising that I am useful to God not in spite of my scars but because of them.” The Lord takes us as we are,he loves us in spite of ourselves -we just have to let him.

You do not need to be silenced by the abortion. Shame and guilt, regret, they silence people from sharing their truth, their pain, from lifting their burdens.  My biological father passed away from this world carrying the secrecy and shame of the abortion with him.  Men and women alike deserve so much better than that.  As fellow Christians, I believe we need to do a better job of loving people and not judging them for what they did or didn’t do.  Our own judgmental attitudes can prevent people from coming forward and finding healing.

Everyone heals differently and in their own time. You need not compare yourself with someone else or think you need to go about healing in the same way that they did. Do what feels right to you.  Do it in your own time. Go slowly. Let yourself walk through the pain.  It is not easy, but the Lord is always right there with you.

There are many great groups and tools available to help people heal after abortion.  Reading books like Melinda Tankard Reist’s Giving Sorrow Words is a useful tool. Attending post-abortive groups at Pregnancy Resource Centers or bible studies like Forgiven and Set Free are helpful.  Attending Rachel’s Vineyard retreats transform people’s lives.

Melissa Ohden will return to Australia as a keynote speaker at the 2011 Real Choices conference, 13- 15 May, in Sydney.

For more information about Melissa Ohden

For support, alternatives to abortion and resources in Melbourne, contact Marcia Riordan at the Archdiocese of Melbourne’s Life, Marriage and Family office, (03) 9287 5587

Photo supplied by Melissa Ohden