Abortion/ Adoption: Forgiveness
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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
Forgiving those who hurt us is one of the hardest but greatest things we will ever do. Melissa Ohden relates the challenges she faced forgiving those, who oversaw her abortion, and tells the beautiful reunion story with her biological mother.
Abortion/ Adoption: Forgiveness
Dave: As we’ve said, many times here, probably the biggest journey of my life was choosing to forgive my dad.
Ann: I feel like I’ve seen more transformation in you since you’ve forgiven your dad. You were angry before, but there is something that happened when you released that; that I feel like you became the man that God created you to be.
Dave: But that decision was a long journey.
Dave: It still a continuing decision. You don’t just make it and then it’s over. It literally, like you said, it transformed my life.
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.
Dave: Probably the biggest journey of my life was choosing to forgive my dad.
Ann: And there was something that was holding you back.
Dave: Yes; and in some ways, you’d think, “I could never do this; I’ve been hurt too bad.”
Ann: “And he doesn’t deserve to be forgiven.”
Dave: Yes, exactly; and yet, everybody has a story.
Dave: I think almost everybody has to forgive someone at some point.
Today, we’ve got back in the studio with us a woman that’s had an incredible journey. You’re life is a miracle, and the journey toward forgiveness that we’re going to get to hear today is a powerful story.
Melissa Ohden, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Melissa: Thank you.
Dave: We’re glad to have you back. This is day three with you, walking through your life story that’s also in your book, You Carried Me. Just to remind our listeners: if you missed any of the last two days, go back and listen to Part One/Part Two, because today’s building on what we’ve heard.
We are literally looking at a woman, who [went through] an abortion as a little baby, that nobody wanted; and you survived. It’s an incredible story. Again, you’ve got to go listen to how it happened.
We’ve heard even all the way up to your teenage years, where you start to find out the rest of the story. Walk us into now your journey of trying to find your identity. How did you crawl out of that to get to a place, where you now are a mom with two little girls, and you are an advocate for life around the world? I mean, you are a powerful spokeswoman for that.
That didn’t start today; it started way back. Take us back to teenage years and how you stepped into where you are today.
Ann: Yes, at 16 years old, you’re asking the question: “Who am I?”
Melissa: Yes; and I think we all ask ourselves that question, even if we’re—
Ann: Yes, exactly.
Melissa: —44; we’re still going [asking curiously], “Now, who am I?” [Laughter]
I think that’s where the answer rests and our identity comes in Christ. I know that’s an easy thing to say, and it’s a whole other thing to live. But when you figure that out, that’s where the joy comes and the purpose—and then: “Nothing is going to sway me,” “Nothing that the world has to say to persecute me or shame me,”—those things don’t stick.
Ann: Walk us back to that teenaged girl, when you still didn’t know who you are. What were the lies you were hearing in your own head?
- that I didn’t matter;
- that no one would ever want to hear my story;
- that I shouldn’t share my story; because this was something to be ashamed of, and it might hurt other people/might make them angry; it’s controversial.
- I had fear of other people knowing who I was and judging me.
Ann: Yet, it’s not anything you did; but you still had that fear.
Melissa: Oh, yes.
Dave: So did you try to keep it quiet; I mean, not let people know?
Melissa: By and large; I talked about it a little bit. I went to a public school, and they allowed me to talk about abortion. I will never forget, I left a chair open in the classroom for students to see: “This is what this means. When we talk about abortion, it means that this chair would have always been empty; and you never would have known me.”
We do matter, even when we may not feel like it somedays.
Ann: It’s such a lie of the enemy of our soul; isn’t it? I think that most of us—maybe Dave hasn’t—but I have, like: “Your life doesn’t matter,” “You don’t matter,” “You don’t have any gifts,”—especially if we’ve had any kind of trauma: sexual abuse; maybe you’ve been divorced; maybe you’ve had physical abuse or any kind of abuse; or a situation of trauma—and even if you haven’t, we still ask that question: “Who am I?” “Am I worth anything?”
God, you’re saying, is continually speaking that out of saying, “You do matter.”
Melissa: Yes; it’s so tough; isn’t it?—especially in our world today. The rest of the world wants to tell us: “You know, you need to be this,” “…that,” and “…the other thing.” Scroll on Instagram®/jump on Facebook®; and they’re going to show you who you should be and where your worth comes from.
No; no one is ever going to find their identity in those pages.
Ann: How did you find your identity?
Melissa: Knowing that God made me who He made me to be, and He doesn’t make mistakes. He knew who I was before I ever came into existence; there’s so much peace to be found in that.
Dave: It’s interesting—in your book, on Page 80, at the end of Chapter 7—you write about discovering you were looking in the wrong place for your identity. Give the listener a little backstory, because you reach out to your biological grandparents—right?—to try and find your [birth] mom.
Melissa: Yes, yes.
Dave: Connect the dots, because it’s pretty amazing how you discover your history.
Melissa: Go from being this really struggling, unsure of my identity—trying to slap on identity—kind of teenager to forgiving my biological parents for the first time. That’s my journey, too; it’s not a one-time event. You don’t just get to show up and go, “Cool; we’re good.” [Laughter] No!
Forgiveness is a daily decision that I make in the world that we live in and finding out more about my experience. Everything I learn, I forgive again; and it may not be immediate. You have to work through those emotions that come up—the anger/the resentment—whatever it is. For me, though, it was really seeing their humanity. And knowing I fall short in the eyes of God every single day; and yet, He loves me.
Dave: Boy, you talk about grace. For you to be able to say that: “seeing their humanity,”—your mom tries to abort you. Your grandmother is in the room; she’s the nurse in the room. I mean, you talk about that—that’s so horrific to think: “That’s my mom and my grandmother, and I have to choose to forgive them.”
Ann: It’s the gospel.
Dave: It is; God forgave you, and you’re going to forgive them.
Melissa: Yes, and our world has it all mixed up,—
Dave: What do you mean?
Melissa: —saying that some people deserve to be forgiven and some people don’t.
That changed my life and put me on that trajectory to look for my biological parents: started looking for them when I was about 19. It took me until I was nearly 30 to find them, so I spent 10 years piecing it together. I actually found out who my maternal grandparents were right before I obtained my medical records. I found my medical records, finally, in 2007. In those medical record, they included my birth parents’ names; that’s how I learned my birth mother’s name was Ruth. [I] had found her parents.
I started this next phase of my mission, which was to find Ruth and my biological father, Elliot. I learned that I was living in the same city that Eliot was living in. I moved there in my ten years of searching.
Ann: What did that feel like?—like your dad could have been down another street. [Laughter]
Melissa: It’s so surreal.
Dave: This isn’t the city next door; this another state; right?
Melissa: Well, it was/so I grew up in a little town in Iowa; and I moved to Sioux City, Iowa, a couple of hours away.
Melissa: I used to go there, growing up. But I never could even bring myself to go past the hospital there, because it induced that much dread within me.
I knew God was calling me to move to Sioux City to finish my master’s degree. I was going, “Yes, okay; I’m not going to be there that long,”—lived there for about ten years; find out Elliot lives there; started to learn a little bit about him and knew he had a family; but didn’t know if he had ever told anybody about me.
Ann: He never married your birth mom.
Melissa: He didn’t.
Ann: And they were engaged.
Melissa: They were.
Ann: They had been dating four years.
Melissa: They were. That story, now that I know it, is very heart-breaking for me. The relationship ended. They only spoke on the phone, I believe, one time after the abortion had taken place; and that was because Ruth was told she had to sell her engagement ring in order to pay for the abortion that she didn’t want.
Dave: Who told her to sell it?
Melissa: Her parents.
Ann: Talk about trauma for Ruth and betrayal.
Ann: She lost everything.
Melissa: She did.
This was a complicated journey to walk out. I sent Elliot a letter to his office, just letting him know that I knew the truth—that I’m alive and well—that I was pretty sure he was my biological father. I don’t think there was any mistake; I look exactly like him. And let him know I would be waiting if he ever wanted to communicate; and sadly, I never heard back from him. He passed away six months after I sent him that letter; I learned that from Google®-ing his name on the internet.
But about that same time, in 2007, I did find Ruth’s parents and sent them a similar letter, asking for them to pass along messages to her. My grandfather replied to my letter almost immediately.
Ann: He did.
Melissa: He did; he admitted that my live birth was not the intention; I think that was a pretty courageous thing for him to say.
Melissa: Sadly, he shared secrets about abortion that we know to be true for most women. He said Ruth had never told anybody about her abortion, and he said that they didn’t have any kind of relationship/they were completely estranged.
I couldn’t put my finger on it years ago. They named off some things that had happened in the family; and I thought, “Umm, I don’t think that’s it”; we know what it is.
Dave: “This is it.”
Melissa: Yes, now we know what that is. It’s a forced abortion—
Ann: —that their daughter didn’t want, but they forced her to have it.
Melissa: Yes, with a child who survived, that they kept a secret for over 30 years. That has a way of putting a wedge in a relationship.
Dave: Oh, yes.
Ann: I would say.
Melissa: That’s how I ultimately found them—but I didn’t have any contact with Ruth until 2013—so had some contact with her family on 2007. Finally, loosened my grip on my career, and the plan that I had for my life, and really surrendered and said, “God, if You are calling me to share Your story, I will go.” I did; I gave it all up. Some people thought I was absolutely crazy; I had a safe, comfortable life. [Laughter]
I went out, and I started speaking publically. God has blessed us, and expanded His vision for my life, and given me so much purpose. But in the midst of that, He brought me to Ruth. We moved from Iowa to Kansas City in 2013. One of her family members reached out to me then, because I had shared it publically that we were moving. They said, “We think there’s some things you need to know.” That’s how I learned the abortion was forced; that my grandmother was responsible for so much; and that Ruth did not know, for over 30 years, that I had survived.
The family knew; they kept it a secret. I know, sometimes/people listening must think, “How could you not know?” I know families with a lot of secrets, and there are some that you don’t tell. I would say this ranks pretty high on the list; because once you start unpacking the lies, where does it end?
But man, my biological family could have been so different if they could have faced that initial—
Ann: Yes, look what happened as a result: the family was torn apart. They were thinking this will protect the family; and yet, it tore them apart.
Melissa: Yes; I think a lot of people can relate to that.
Ann and Dave: Yes.
Ann: Then how did you meet your mom?
Melissa: We started to email and pass along letters, and I sent her photos. We had some really difficult conversations, because she questioned how God could ever love her; she questioned how I could ever forgive any of them.
Ann: Go back a little bit. Did your mom ever tell you how she found out that you lived?
Melissa: Yes, one of her family members saw me on a television show. That was, initially, really, really hard for me; because I had sought to find them for so long, because I wanted to avoid that. I wanted them to hear from me first. But there was no way I could have controlled the fact that they kept the secrets that they did.
She was so scared/Ruth was so scared—scared of me/scared that people in the pro-life movement would love me but not love her—so we had to walk that out for a number of years and got to know one another. We’re so much alike in so many ways; I mean, talk about stubborn. [Laughter] Ruth if you’re listening, you know/you know you are; and it’s okay.
Ann: And you’re saying you are too. [Laughter]
Melissa: Yes, we know it 120 percent.
But that was a joy to just try to start living life together.
Ann: The first time that you met her—
Dave: —at the zoo; huh? [Laugher]
Melissa: —at the Kansas City Zoo.
Ann: Talk about that.
Melissa: I reached out: we would text and send emails and stuff on a, sometimes, daily basis/weekly basis. But I really thought we were all trying to avoid being the first one to ask meeting, face to face. So I thought, “Man, I’m just going to throw it out there.”
I sent my half-sister an email; because she lives in Kansas City, which is also where Ruth lives. That is why her family reached out to me when they did to share those secrets and, also, say, “Hey, by the way, you now live in the city that your birth mother lives in.”
Melissa: I moved from the city, where my birth father lived, to the city where my birth mother lives.
Dave: That’s unbelievable.
Melissa: We met, face to face, at the zoo; because I reached out and said, “I’m just going to say I’m ready to meet. I hope this isn’t awkward for you guys. You can tell me, ‘No,’ if you don’t want to meet.” The response back was: “Yes, yes, yes; we’ve been waiting.”
The first time we met, face to face—and I go back to the zoo regularly—[emotion in voice] we take our kids there. Every time I pass by that spot, it makes me emotional; because it’s God’s spot, where His story of us being restored and reconciled to one another—that’s His place—little can people know [that] when they’re there at the zoo. [Laughter]
But she had texted/my sister had texted me that they were there. Part of me wanted to run away; because I was so scared, even though I knew not to be scared; but it was just hard. So closed the gap—walked up to her—my half-sister, Jennifer, took Ruth’s hands and placed our hands together. Ruth said, “I never got to hold you.” Those are those moments, where you just cannot do it any justice to talk about it; because it’s just so sacred.
But you know that that was God’s plan all along. How many times did people thwart God’s will in her life and mine and, ultimately, God said, “This may not have gone the way I initially planned it to’ but ultimately, we’re going to get back to what My plan was for you.”
Ann: But I love, Melissa, that you had been doing the work of forgiveness. You know that you didn’t look at your mom with condemnation; but you looked at her with grace, knowing that we are all broken. Jesus brings us back together, and redeems us, and holds us together. For you to offer her grace and love was a huge gift.
Melissa: Yes, and that’s the most important part.
My kids know our story, especially my 13 year old; she’s grown up at my feet, speaking before Parliament and Congress. [Laughter] You know, you’ll see her run for Congress someday. You’ll remember our last name, not because of me; but because of her. [Laugher] But they know that more than anything—love and forgiveness are the story lines of our life—not abortion.
My kids know Ruth as another one of their grandparents. They get to see her as frequently as we can. Ruth is the first person to send a text on people’s birthdays; she’s the first one to send a gift; she is just so thoughtful. [Emotion in voice] I think the part that impresses me so much about her is she could just be so angry over so many things.
Ann: Oh, talk about resentment and bitterness—
Dave: Well, you both could,—
Ann: —yes, toward her own mom.
Dave: —especially toward your maternal grandmother and her mother.
Melissa: Yes, and she’s still in that process. If she was here today, she would say, “I know Melissa wants me to know that I need to forgive my parents, but I’m not there yet.”
Dave: Yes, it’s a journey; it takes time.
Dave: The deeper the hurt, sometimes, the longer it takes. Man, you talk about deep hurt.
Melissa: Yes, and I know not every woman gets to experience their child being alive after an abortion. I think we have to acknowledge that Ruth is very aware of that.
Dave: I wanted to ask you: “What do you say to moms—and there’s dads involved as well—who chose abortion and their child is not alive?”
Melissa: “You are just as loved as Ruth is. Your child may not be here on this earth to share that with you, but I am. I think that’s part of my mission”. There is always hope, and there’s healing to be found. There are so many places that offer great healing ministries/support to women and men after an abortion. There are pregnancy centers that offer so many different healing ministries that people can take advantage of.
Ann: I’m wondering, “Would you mind praying just for listeners that are just feeling—it’s such an emotional topic anyway—and I’m wondering if you could just pray for listeners who are struggling?”
Father God, we just thank You for the opportunity to share life-changing experiences, Lord. As painful, as complicated, as messy as they can sometimes appear to be, Lord, we know that You are in the midst of all of those things. That’s where our hope comes, in knowing that You have a purpose and a plan for every life/that there is no circumstance that is too far gone for You.
We pray, Lord, today specifically for the people, who are searching for You, Lord; may they see You, may they feel You, may they trust in You, Lord, even when they can’t see what the next step is going to be.
We pray, Lord, too for those who have been impacted by abortion, no matter what that experience is, Lord. Can You impress upon their hearts that they’re loved, that their life matters, and that there is no such thing as being unwanted, unworthy, or alone in this world, Lord?
We pray, Lord, for all of us together to do Your purposes in this world: to shake off the shackles of shame; to speak the words in truth and love; and be the salt and the light in this world, Lord, that desperately needs it. As we are salt and light, Lord, can we also be Your hands and feet with our actions and with our words? In Jesus’ name we pray; amen.
Ann: Thanks, Melissa.
Bob: If you would like information about how to get in touch with Melissa Ohden, that is on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com. So it’s easy to go there and find out how you can connect with Melissa and her ministry. We also have copies of Melissa’s book, You Carried Me: A Daughter’s Memoir available. You can order that from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get your copy. Again, the title of Melissa Ohden’s book is You Carried Me: A Daughter’s Memoir. Order online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call to order at 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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