Abortion/ Adoption: Wanted
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Melissa OhdenMelissa Ohden was fourteen when she learned that she was an abortion survivor. In her memoir, You Carried Me, she describes her decade-long search to find and forgive her biological parents. Her personal story of love and redemption cuts through the debates surrounding a divisive issue to touch our common humanity. It highlights the complexity of the abortion issue and invites more understanding and compassion for every woman impacted by abortion. Melissa Ohden founded the Abortion Survivors...more
Everyone wants to be wanted. Melissa Ohden shares about the struggle she faced after finding out she had survived an abortion, and how being wanted by her adoptive parents and our Lord made all the difference.
Abortion/ Adoption: Wanted
Dave: Before we get started today, I want to talk about: it’s yearend.
Ann: It is yearend!
Dave: You know, as we’re wrapping up 2021, it’s an important moment in the life of our ministry. This is the moment.
I think it’s exciting, because we get to make yearend gifts. I love making a yearend gift to a ministry that’s made a difference in my life. Hopefully, you’re thinking that’s FamilyLife®. Here’s the exciting news: we’ve had partners with us, who have donated up to $2 million to match whatever we give this year at yearend.
Ann: —which is incredible!
Dave: Oh, it’s absolutely incredible. So whatever you decide to give in the last few weeks of this year is going to be doubled. It’s going to make what we do continue; and so we’re asking you to really prayerfully consider FamilyLife as a place where you give your yearend giving. Here’s how you can do that: you can go to FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY. And again, I hope you and your spouse just sit down and say, “You know, this ministry has made a difference in our lives. We want to make sure it continues to do that in other people's lives. We’re going to write a check today,” or “…make a donation.” Please join us.
Ann: This is really such a great opportunity, so go to FamilyLife.com.
Melissa: It was a cold October night, and the truth came out. The words that my mom ended up speaking/she said, “Missy, your biological mother had an abortion during her pregnancy with you; and you survived it.” The world stopped in that moment of time.
Ann: What did you feel?
Melissa: Everything: anger, resentment, incredible sadness.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife App.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Today, we have a miracle story. We’ve already been interviewing Melissa Ohden, and we’ve been hearing her story, that she survived an abortion. It’s not a story that you hear every day; so if you haven’t heard, go back [and listen]; but we’ll fill you in a little bit.
Dave: Yes, she’s written a book about it called You Carried Me; it’s her memoir.
Dave: —great to have you back.
Ann: Yes, we’re excited to have you back.
Melissa: Thank you! Yes, that’s always an awkward question, when people say, “You’re a published author; what do you write about?”
Melissa: “My story.” They kind of go, “Ohh.”
Ann: —like, “Are you a narcissist?”
Melissa: Right! [Laughter] I just kind of go, “Well, you kind of have to read the book to really understand.” [Laughter]
Dave: Yes; well, I mean, we’ve already talked about this incredible story how your mom was told by your grandmother to abort you. You survived the abortion! And by the way, how many people survive abortions?
Melissa: Statistically, there [are] no clear numbers because, as you can imagine, this is not a super-popular statistic to report out.
Melissa: But I think people also need to know we don’t even have an accurate number of abortions performed on an annual basis. Even back in the early 1980s, Dr. Willard Cates, who was the head of abortion surveillance for the Centers for Disease Control, came out and said, in a watershed article called “The Dreaded Complication,”that they estimated, through the CDC, 400-500 live births a year after failed abortions.
Melissa: I’ve done the math for you.
Melissa: And for 48 years, you get close to 18,000 people, like me, who survived failed abortions.
Ann: That is staggering to me.
Melissa: It is; isn’t it?
Ann: Those numbers are staggering. I’ve never even heard that before. You’re brave enough to tell your story, but I’m thinking that most people have not had the courage to share their stories.
Melissa: And many people don’t even know their story, to be perfectly honest. A lot of families keep it a secret, wanting to protect that survivor. I have an organization called The Abortion Survivors’ Network. We heal, and empower, and equip survivors and families, who’ve experienced failed abortions, knowing that, whether somebody ever shares their story publicly or not, they deserve to be supported.
Melissa: They deserve to know they’re not alone.
In our work, we’ve now connected with over 400 abortion survivors. Our survivors range in age from infants—so we have babies, where we’re in communication with their families to support them—because families wrestle with these questions of: “What do we tell them?” “When do we tell them?” “How do we tell them?”
I was talking to a mom earlier this week at another event; and I knew of her, but I got to hug her for the first time. Her son is four after her abortion failed to end his life. I got to say to her, “Your life matters; his life matters. And we’re here for you when you have the hard days, where he’s struggling with something:”—maybe he gets sick/he has a cold; those moms automatically start to go the place, where they say, “Did that decision I made, all those years ago, to have that abortion; is that that [result]?”—“Did this have an impact?”
I got to hug her and say: “You know, on the days that are hard, we’re here for you. And as he grows up, and he grapples with his identity—and who God created him to be, and how this world and an abortion impacted that identity—we’re going to be here for him too.”
Dave: Well, it’s amazing what you’re doing now.
Take us back—because where we left off yesterday was—you were not even named “Melissa” yet; you were still in the hospital, still unnamed.
Ann: The nurses are caring for you/loving you, but you haven’t been adopted at this point.
Dave: So tell us what happened next.
Ann: Yes; because I feel like we want to hear this, as we’re talking about identity and these people who are suffering; because they’re asking the question: “Who am I?” You struggled with that, so take us back to: “How did you become adopted?”
Melissa: Yes; “Who am I?” I am Ron and Linda’s daughter, my adoptive parents. My mom and dad first met me when I was still in the NICU, full of tubes and wires. I was still fighting for my life in many ways. My parents often say the moment they laid eyes on me, they fell radically in love with me. My mom thought I was the most beautiful baby she had ever seen. In their eyes, I was; I mean, they saw who God made me to be.
Ann: Didn’t your mom see you—and she looked you in the eyes—and she said, “You are mine”?
Melissa: Yes; [emotion in voice] gosh, I’m 44; and that makes me emotional.
Dave: We all want to be wanted.
Melissa: We do!
Ann: Yes; why does that make you feel emotional?
Melissa: Because that is/that is that just deep yearning we all have—
Melissa: —to be that deeply loved. Honestly, my parents did such a phenomenal job of raising me with unconditional love—man, even when I was being the most difficult teenager I ever could have been—you know, when my mom looks back on it, she goes, “Oh, Miss, you weren’t bad.” “Oh, but Mom! I was! [Laughter] I mean, I know I was!”
But you know what? She loved me so well in the midst of that, that it almost blunted her being able to see that! [Laughter]
Melissa: You know, that’s how much they loved me.
Ann: —which is amazing that they adopted you, because they still didn’t probably know if there would be any side-effects; you had all these tubes in you.
Ann: It took a while for you to be able to come home.
Melissa: Right; the doctors thought I would face any number of disabilities. Honestly, my parents didn’t really have a penny to their name; they were farmers. They ended up losing their farm.
Ann: Not able to have their own children?
Melissa: Right; my parents were foster parents initially. [They] struggled with infertility for over 15 years, so they adopted my older sister from the Department of Human Services. [They] adopted me; I was essentially a special-needs adoption, because of the prognosis about my life. My parents didn’t hesitate; they knew that they were called to be my parents.
I grew up in a pretty normal home. We went without a lot of things—you know?—I knew, compared to other people. My parents fought really hard to provide for us and give us what they did.
Ann: What was their faith like?
Melissa: My parents were people of strong faith. But you know, it’s really interesting for me—my parents are very quiet—but I can remember all the things we used to do at our church: the going swimming together, the picnics. That was the fabric of our lives! That was our community.
Ann: That’s really good for parents to hear, because I think so many are wondering right now: “Does church matter? Can’t I just watch online?” You know, “Isn’t that enough?” And you’re saying, “No, that was the foundation of my life and really necessary.”
Melissa: Yes; it gives me chills just to even talk about it, because that’s how important it was to our family and to my identity. I was raised in, you know, that very faith-filled home. You know, my parents very implicitly taught my sister and I—and then, ultimately, my little brother—my brother came along after 15 years of infertility.
Melissa: He’s their biological child; he was the odd man out. [Laughter] If he’s listening: “You’re still a little bit the odd man out today, buddy.” [Laughter] He’d tell you that, having two sisters.
But you know, our parents raised us with the values, not only about faith and love, but also about forgiveness. I never really understood that until I found out the story of my survival, and then it all really made sense.
Dave: Yes, how old were you?
Melissa: I was 14. I grew up, knowing I was adopted; I look very different than my family! It’s okay.
Ann: When did you first start thinking, “Who are my bio-parents?” Do you remember wondering?
Melissa: I think it was really my teenage years; it really lend themselves to that—
Melissa: —the: “Who am I?” “Where did I come from?” “Where am I going?”
Melissa: “How does all this fit together?” Some of that yearning really just existed, I think, in that space.
But then, when I was 14, my older sister faced an unplanned pregnancy; she hadn’t graduated from high school yet. You know, our culture, out in the world today, would tell people that you have a choice to make: “You have a right that you can exercise”; so she grappled with what decision she was going to make about her pregnancy. When our parents found out that she was considering every option, which we know is code word for other things, they told her the story of my survival.
Melissa: It had been spoken about amongst adults in the family, but it had never worked its way down to us as children. They told her my story, hoping that she would choose life for her son; and she did.
Dave: Did you know the story before her?
Melissa: I didn’t.
Melissa: And before they could get to me with it, she started—
Ann: She told you?
Melissa: Yes; she didn’t tell me everything. We were arguing one night—I mean, you’re parents, just like I am—I know/worst-case scenario—
Melissa: —she said to me, “You know, at least, my biological parents wanted me.”
Melissa: I was thinking, “Okay, we’re raised on equal footing here.
Melissa: “We’re equally loved; we were equally placed for adoption.”
When I turned to say something back to her that night about what an absurd statement that was, the look on her face really was pain. I thought, “Oh, this is not your ordinary argument.”
Ann: “There is something deeper.”
Melissa: Yes; so the mood switched very quickly. She asked me to sit our parents down and for them to tell me the rest of my story. It was a cold October night. I can’t even tell you where my dad was that night; I just think this is the way it was supposed to be. My mom got home from work late, and we sat down.
I was explaining the argument, really expecting to get in trouble.
Melissa: And then the truth came out. You know, the words that my mom ended up speaking/she said, “Missy, your biological mother had an abortion during her pregnancy with you; and you survived it.” The world stopped in that moment of time.
Ann: What did you feel?
Melissa: Everything: anger, resentment, incredible sadness, shame. The weight of the shame is—
Melissa: —because we live in a world that says that, what happened to me, is just a simple right for someone to exercise; that it’s a choice that people make. And you know, for the last 30 years that I’ve known my story, it’s just continued to snowball, to the point that it’s something that you fight for [emotion in voice]: that it’s healthcare—you fill in the blank—“My life didn’t matter.”
Melissa: That’s what I felt.
Melissa: And of course, my parents didn’t know all of the background to Ruth’s story and what led to that abortion. Part of it is, you have to go through that process; and you have to wrestle with who God made you to be. I think we all have to wrestle with that hard stuff of love and forgiveness, even in the midst of the most painful circumstances that happen in our lives.
Melissa: My wrestling started that night: with the world, and with myself, and with God.
Ann: What did that look like?
Melissa: It looked like putting on a good face to the world. I’m historically a people-pleaser; I’ll just own it. I certainly have been transformed from that, but I didn’t want to cause my parents any undue burden. I wanted to be the good girl—I was very responsible; I got straight A’s; I participated in all my extracurricular activities; I was high-achieving—that’s who I am, but that was also my cover.
Ann: I am just sitting here imagining this 14-year-old girl in her bed, finding out that she was aborted and lived. You said your world stopped; and you said, “My life doesn’t matter,”—
Ann: —like to be alone in your bed, wrestling with that.
Honestly, I think there are a lot of people, who wrestle with that: “My life doesn’t matter.”
Ann: You feel like you’re alone.
Ann: And even in your adoption, your sister was adopted—but still, your story was so unique—and you were probably filled with incredible—
Melissa: —guilt for surviving; I mean, you name it: guilt for being “perfectly healthy.” You know, I don’t suffer from disabilities as a result of that failed abortion.
Ann: —which is miraculous!
Ann: And so this 14-year-old decides to: cover it up, become the pleaser, become the good girl.
Ann: And yet, what was going on inside?
Melissa: I didn’t want to be who God created me to be. I wanted to run away from the truth about my life. I wanted to distance myself from all of the emotions that I felt; so developed an eating disorder, trying to control something!
Melissa: And I think we all can relate to that.
Melissa: You know, when something has been outside of our control, we attempt to regain control. It’s always such a false sense of control, but we do it. I developed an eating disorder; struggled with alcohol abuse. I engaged in so many unhealthy relationships—all of those little pieces—to see how they would make me feel better or make me blend in; right? I stuck out like a sore thumb!
Ann: So you were running away from your pain through alcohol, through an eating disorder, through probably promiscuity.
Melissa: Yes, absolutely! Never thinking about the fact that, you know, all of those things were putting me at more risk.
Ann: And where was God in that situation/in that stage of your life?
Melissa: There; but I wanted to run away from Him, because I felt so ashamed.
Ann: —that you weren’t worthy of God?
Melissa: Yes, and the choices that I was making. I think we go through that; don’t we?—where, even if we get through the first hurdle in life, then we engage in some of those poor coping mechanisms; right? We sin; and we go, “Oh, man! Now, He really isn’t going to love me.” And He was still there.
You know, I can’t even tell you the first day that I looked up and went, “Alright, Lord; I’m so over this!” Because it’s like knocking your head against a brick wall and thinking: “Maybe this time it’s going to be different,” “Maybe this time it’s not going to hurt as much.” [Emotion in voice] But I can remember thinking, “He wants more for me than I want for myself.” And that’s an okay spot to begin in, I think, to say, “You know what? The Lord wants something for me that I can’t even grasp for myself right now.”
And at the age of 14—right?—you’re kind of thinking, “I don’t even know what this looks like at this point, but I want to feel better.” And I always knew that God made me feel better. So it was kind of one step at a time/one day at a time; right? “For today, I’m going to try to do one thing better; I’m going to turn to Him.”
For me, really, the biggest key that unlocked that door was forgiving my biological parents. I can still remember—I walked with my Walkman, back when that was a thing—you know?
Dave: Oh, yes!
Melissa: I’d go for these walks; I would be praying and going, “Lord, help me to forgive them, because I can’t stay like this! [Emotion in voice] I can’t be angry; I don’t want to be resentful.”
Dave: Okay, we have to go there next time.
I don’t know how old you are at this point. How old are you at this point?
Melissa: Still young; I mean, 16-ish.
Dave: Wow! You’re still a teenager.
Ann: Well, I wanted Melissa to talk to those people/our listeners, who maybe are feeling that: “My life doesn’t matter,” “I feel so lost and unseen,” “I’m alone.”
Ann: Or maybe there are parents/their kids are expressing that. Speak to them.
Melissa: Yes; you are not alone, whatever it is you’re going through. Trust me; I know how lonely every experience can feel. But there is always, first of all, somebody in the world who can understand you. They may not be exactly in your shoes, but you are definitely not alone.
And certainly, God never intends for any of us to feel alone—that is the weight of the world that wants to separate us; the enemy that whispers in our ear—so just know: “God is always near, no matter what it is that you’ve gone through.”
Dave: Yes, that’s so beautiful. When you were sharing that story about feeling unwanted, I thought, “You survived an abortion and felt that, obviously. I think we all feel it,—
Ann: Yes; me too.
Dave: —“even those who had loving parents, who from the second we were born just enveloped us with love and said we are special—we still wrestle with: ‘Am I wanted?’ ‘Am I seen?’ ‘Am I really special?’”
You know, as you were saying that, I went to what we all have read—Psalm 139—just to remind myself: “For You formed my inmost parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it well. My frame was not hidden from You when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance. In Your book were written every one of them.” I just—that came to me, again, to remind: “That’s you; that’s me; that’s every soul, ever created by God, is wanted, even though we don’t feel like it.” If there’s a person listening right now, who says, “You don’t know my story; I’m not wanted.” Oh, yes you are! You are precious!
You know, it’s so beautiful to hear you go through that journey, because you were left as unwanted; and yet, you’re the spokesman for: “God’s the One who doesn’t abandon us. He wants us”; right?
Dave: It’s beautiful!
Ann: The thing that I’ll just finish with is this: the thing that I thought of, as you were sharing, was your mom seeing you the first time, saying, “You are mine.” And God says that over us every single day: “You are Mine. I love you.”
Bob: I was reminded today, listening to Melissa Ohden share her story, about the power that shame, and guilt, and anger, and bitterness can have over our lives. Unless we deal with those issues/unless we process that with God and with God’s help, those emotions can control us and ultimately destroy us. But when we confront them in the power of the Holy Spirit, there’s a breakthrough that happens. It’s so important to get the help that you need and be able to press into many of the dark corners of your past/deal with those things.
Melissa talks about her own journey in that direction in her book called You Carried Me: A Daughter’s Memoir. We have her book available in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to get a copy, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Melissa’s book, again, is called You Carried Me. Order your copy from us at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call to order at 1-800-358-6329; 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Well, with Christmas coming this week/New Year’s next week, this is a busy time of year for so many of us. Here at FamilyLife, one of the things we’ve been paying careful attention to is the number of FamilyLife Today listeners we’re hearing from during the month of December. As many of you know, we’ve been talking this month about a matching gift that was made available to us. We’ve been tracking every day, saying, “Do you think we’re going to be able to meet the matching gift? Do you think we’ll be able to take full advantage of that?”
We’ve been encouraged by the progress. And then, something happened recently that kind of moved everything up to a whole new level. We had some friends of the ministry come along and say, “We want to really challenge FamilyLife Today listeners to get behind this ministry.” What they said to us is: “We feel what you’re doing is so important; you need more available to you in the year ahead so you can do more ministry.” Our matching-gift fund has now moved from $1.5 million to $2.3 million, which means the next several days are going to be crucial for us, here at FamilyLife.
We need to hear from every FamilyLife Today listener who can possibly join us and make a yearend donation to support this ministry. When you do, whatever amount you give is going to be matched, dollar for dollar, up to a total of $2.3 million. And when you do, we’re going to send you, as a thank-you gift, a devotional that you can use in the new year from Dane Ortlund:150 devotions from the book of Psalms. The devotional is called In the Lord I Take Refuge. That’s our gift to you when you donate today.
It’s easy to donate; you can do it online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY. We do hope to hear from you, and we hope you’ll pray that we’ll be able to take full advantage of this increased matching-gift amount. So join us in praying for that if you will.
And be sure to be back with us, again, tomorrow when Dave and Ann Wilson will continue the conversation with Melissa Ohden, talking about how vital it is that we don’t allow our circumstances/our past to define us/to determine our identity. It’s up to God to determine our identity. What He says about us is what we have to believe. We’ll hear more about that tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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