By Melissa Ohden
Editor’s note. Melissa Ohden is the survivor of a “failed” saline abortion in 1977. She speaks all over the world including at the last five National Right to Life Conventions. Melissa will speak at the upcoming convention in Virginia as well.
I’ve always believed that children are a gift, no matter how they’re packaged–planned or “unplanned,” adopted or biological, healthy or impacted by disabilities or issues of health or development. Yet as I ducked into my taxi outside the Dirksen Senate Building on March 15th after testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee for the hearing on “Late Term Abortion: Protecting Infants Born Alive and Capable of Feeling Pain,” I came to a startling revelation.
Our daughter, Ava, who is now 19 months old, (seriously, how is she this old already?!) was a gift to our family. Not just for our own sheer enjoyment and love, but because her life is yet another powerful witness to how life should be protected and respected.
What she has experienced, what we have experienced alongside her, refutes a common argument about why abortion, and late-term abortion in particular, should not be “restricted,” in the words of pro-choice activists and legislators.
It’s a rather uncomfortable situation, to say the least, to sit in a room with legislators and activists who state, right in front of you, that the “procedure” meant to end your life is ‘important and necessary’ for women. And to be told that providing medical care to children like you who survived a “failed” abortion, “is complicated,” and “should be left to the discretion of the doctor [aka, the abortionist], the woman, and her family.”
Yet here I find myself, in hearing after hearing these days, bearing the brunt of those verbal blows and realizing just how important it is that I put a face to abortion in our world. What a gift it was this week to put a face to what late-term abortion looks like–me– and to challenge the Senate Judiciary Committee to consider whether they will protect our most vulnerable and ensure that children (like me) are provided proper and timely medical care.
The greatest gift for me, though, was sharing a little about our daughter’s life in that hearing. I didn’t intend to share anything about her but I felt driven to share our Ava’s story as a direct contrast to the narrative of abortion being a difficult but loving decision made to spare a child from suffering, a theme that we heard echoed throughout this hearing, and that we hear echoed throughout our culture of death.
I can remember how it felt to be faced with the fears that our child might struggle or suffer. I remember what it’s like to feel afraid. And I remember what it’s like to give birth to child, believed to be healthy, only to have her whisked away to the NICU.
As I shared in Tuesday’s hearing, by the time she was five months old, Ava had undergone two surgeries, had developed a complication from one of them which kept her in the hospital for a month, and she later had a feeding tube for a number of months while she recovered from all of this.
Although our sweet Ava is strong in health today, we know that there are likely some continued issues that she will face throughout her life. We are prepared for that and we have every reason to believe that she will go on to live a “normal,” life, I say that in quotes, because I’m not sure what normal really means–it’s pretty subjective in my opinion, but it’s a typical statement and concern about children like me and Ava who face health issues in infancy.
No matter what the future holds for our amazing daughter, I know this: that she was given to us to shine a light on how beautiful every life is, no matter how it’s packaged, no matter how it forces us as parents to face our worst fears and feelings of inadequacy for not being able to protect our children from difficulty or suffering.
What an amazing revelation I had as I climbed into the cab the other day. Just as I was made who I am for such a time is this, so was our darling daughter.
And as I reflect upon this reality, I’ve come to realize that I’ve heard this sentiment shared many times before by parents of children with special needs, complex medical issues, and those who have experienced the death of their child.
There is purpose in our children’s lives, no matter how brief their time with us may be.
I may be the woman who can put a face to what a failed abortion looks like. But Ava is the child who can put a face to what love and hope, in the face of difficulties and obstacles, looks like.
What a blessed woman and mother I am!