On a summer’s day in 1977, a young woman was brought into hospital for a late-term abortion procedure. Her uterus was infused with saline solution intended to burn the baby girl inside and out, ensuring that she was born dead. But in spite of the abortionist’s best efforts, baby Melissa was born alive, miraculously surviving the savage attack on her life. The nurses noticed that she was breathing and – unlike so many babies who survive abortion – Melissa Ohden, named Katie Rose by her saviours, received the medical care necessary to aid her survival. Remarkably, her ordeal left her with no permanent injuries or developmental delays and Melissa was adopted as a baby into a loving and supportive family.
Melissa Ohden’s name will be familiar to some readers as a speaker for Feminists for Life of America. I first came across her story while watching video footage of various Feminists for Life talks, but though virtually all the FFL speakers I listened to were very impressive and articulate, there was something about Melissa’s testimony that really stood out. How could a person come to terms with discovering that they had survived a deliberate and violent attack on their life when they were at their most helpless? Worse, how was it possible to forgive that assault when the person who ordered it was the woman who should have been most protective?
Melissa’s memoir goes a long way to answering these questions, revealing the moment she discovered the truth – blurted out at her during an argument with her adopted sister – and charting the long battle she faced to discover the full facts of her mother’s abortion and to reconnect with those involved.
Almost as interesting is the untold story of Melissa Ohden’s journey into the pro-life movement and later the Catholic Church, starting with an unexpected encounter outside a Planned Parenthood facility when Melissa found herself being called to action by a man praying there. Her discovery that “there was no place in the feminist fold” for women like her who are both pro-life and passionately in favor of women’s rights, will strike a chord with any woman who has ever been ejected or shunned at feminist meetings for believing in the need to protect innocent life. The disgraceful hate campaign Melissa endured on social media and in the press following her appearance on a TV advert, exposes the vicious nature of the anti-life agenda when faced with an individual who challenges abortion’s compassionate image.
As a book, it is an easy read which can be comfortably fitted into a single evening. But I cannot emphasize enough the power of the message it offers, especially to women who are struggling with regret following abortion. The need to forgive and be forgiven is central to the narrative, as is the suffering inflicted upon vulnerable women who are given no alternative to abortion at their time of crisis. One of the most heart-breaking twists to Melissa’s story is her discovery of the terrible circumstances surrounding her birth mother’s failed abortion attempt, but as Melissa writes about her mother: “We were on the same side. Through me, her story could be told.”
Melissa Ohden’s book is many things: a testament to human resilience, a message of healing and forgiveness, an insight into the extraordinary journey of a pro-life campaigner, but perhaps even more than that, it is a loving tribute to Melissa’s heroic adoptive parents and to the thousands of adoptive couples who welcome children into their lives every year.
You Carried Me: A Daughter’s Memoir
by Melissa Ohden
Plough Publishing House, 2017
Hardcover, 160 pages