A teenager walked into a hospital scared, confused and unsure that she was making the right choice. Her mother, a nurse, had pushed her to have an abortion rather than deliver the baby growing inside of her.
Doctors performed an initial procedure, then waited five days for the teen to deliver her stillborn baby. Her mother, the nurse, oversaw the delivery and demanded that the baby’s body was properly disposed of. The other nurses subsequently followed her directions.
But suddenly everything about the procedure changed. As the medical team finished cleaning up the delivery room and the body left behind by the procedure, two nurses heard an unmistakable, albeit feeble, noise: crying. And the source of the sound came as a shock to everyone.
It was August of 1977 when a 19-year-old college student made her way to a hospital in Sioux City, Iowa. The unwed teen sought to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, despite the fact that she was almost eight months along. Her mother, a nurse, had forced her into making the decision.
In today’s U.S., however, this type of procedure would be extremely hard to come by. Susan Wysocki, a nurse practitioner and board member of the American Sexual Health Association, explained why to Women’s Health in August 2017. In most cases, a woman can only have a late-term abortion if her health is in danger or if “she finds out that there is a serious abnormality with the fetus,” Wysocki said.
But there is no evidence that the teen who sought to have her pregnancy terminated in 1977 was anything but healthy. Doctors nonetheless injected saline, a toxic salt solution, into the fluid surrounding her baby in order to end its life.
They then left the teen’s unborn baby to soak in the toxic fluid for five days. At that point, the girl returned to the hospital, where doctors induced the baby’s arrival. Unlike the scenes of unbridled joy they typically experienced in the delivery room, though, they prepared to deliver a dead child.
At first, they believed that their efforts to terminate the pregnancy had been successful. The teenager’s mother – the nurse who’d pressured her daughter into undergoing the procedure – delivered the lifeless baby, her grandchild. She quickly realized, however, that the newborn was clinging to life.
But that, of course, was not the intended outcome. Especially not for the woman who’d forced her daughter into making the decision to terminate her pregnancy. So, she demanded that the baby be left to die even after discovering that it was alive.
Her orders would not be followed, though. Somehow, two other nurses happened to hear the baby making noises, struggling to breathe, feebly attempting to cry. And, in contrast, these nurses refused to stand idly by and watch a child die.
The two nurses, along with the rest of the medical team, decided that they had to save the child. They consequently rushed the baby, a girl, to the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit. She would not have an easy road to recovery, though. She weighed less than 3 pounds, in fact, and suffered from seizures, jaundice and respiratory problems.
Even if she did make it through, however, doctors suspected that the child would never lead a normal, healthy life. They instead foresaw her suffering from multiple, life-long disabilities. In the meantime, though, her birth parents still drew up an adoption plan, just in case their daughter survived.
And while the baby fought for her life in intensive care, a pair of potential adoptive parents came to see her. Doctors forewarned them of all that she would be up against in life if she survived. Yet despite this, they peered into the incubator where she slept and instantly fell in love with her.
With the support of her new family surrounding her, the baby’s prognosis began to slowly improve. She eventually went home without any of the disabilities that the doctors had been concerned she would have. Instead, the baby, named Melissa Ohden, would go on to live the life of a typical child.
In fact, it wasn’t until she was 14 that she found out about everything that had happened to her as a baby. A teenage Ohden subsequently struggled to cope with the thought that she had been aborted. She turned to alcohol, sex and bulimia in order to regain a sense of control. “To be 14 years old, it absolutely devastated my life. I didn’t want anybody else to know how much I was hurting,” she later told EWTN.
But rather than letting her life slip away, Ohden made a conscious decision to regain control. Her newfound positive approach was reinforced by the fact that she had been given a second chance already. “I had to be willing to wake up and every day say, ‘You know what? I’m not going to do that today,’” she claimed.
And she did just that. Ohden subsequently penned a memoir about her survival and her struggle to comprehend the odds that she overcame. She was also able to conduct more research into her own past and find out who her birth mother was. Eventually, she even reached out to the woman who once tried to have her aborted.
The results were helpful for both herself and her birth mother, who thought that her baby had died 30 years before the two came into contact. When she was ready, Ohden arranged to meet her biological mother face-to-face in 2016, finding that the encounter elicited more acceptance than anger on her part. “It was everything I could have ever expected and more,” Ohden said.
“To know that she spent over 30 years of her life believing that I had died at the hospital, how she suffered from immense regret and guilt. And then to have the opportunity to know that her child is alive and loves her and has forgiven her and then get to meet face-to-face…” Ohden continued. “Yeah, my excitement was for her probably more than me, but it was life-changing. I will never forget the moment that I saw her … I think the words that came out of my mouth were, ‘It’s been a long time.’”
Now a wife and mother herself, Ohden has built a supportive community of those who have gone through experiences similar to hers by founding the Abortion Survivors Network. “I may have had that abortion attempt performed on me in secret,” she wrote in a piece for Fox News, “I may have been placed for adoption in secret, but I was not meant to remain a secret.”