Monday, April 24, 2017

Book Review: "You Carried Me" by Melissa Ohden

Melissa Ohden
You Carried Me is an autobiographical memoir by Melissa Ohden, who is best known in the pro-life community as a vocal abortion survivor. She was subjected to a saline abortion in 1977, and was born alive, at 31 weeks gestation.

I have met Melissa many times at pro-life conferences, but the book still held surprises for me. Her story is much more complex than a typical banquet speech can cover. While the basics of her story are of course well known, the multitude of ways that being an abortion survivor affects a person over the course of a lifetime never occurred to me. Dealing with pro-choice classmates who ostracize you because your existence makes them uncomfortable; wondering how much to tell prospective boyfriends, and when; horror upon learning that your birth control provider also does abortions; trepidation at giving birth in the same hospital (St. Luke's) where you almost died; random internet trolls, the Washington Post, and even a psychologist denying the truth of your origins—Melissa has faced all of that and much more.

But take note, pro-choice readers: through all of this, Melissa has always been thankful to be alive. The solution to her problems was not a "successful" abortion. It was no abortion.

I can't give away too much, of course, because you really should buy the book. But I will share one passage that impacted me. At this point in the story, Melissa knew a few basic facts about her birth mother, but not yet enough to make contact with her. As she began to share her story in public speaking engagements, post-abortive women came out of the woodwork, hoping to be Melissa's birth mother:
I received an email one day from a woman who wrote that she had an abortion at St. Luke's in 1977. She thought that I might be her child, because she was sure she had heard her baby cry after the abortion procedure. She had read about me in a flier distributed in her church and tracked me down. I had to tell her that I wasn't her child . . .
In the years since, I've received many messages like hers from people who are grieving over a child lost to abortion, often hoping against hope that, like me, their child is alive. One woman was haunted by the memory of an abortion she was coerced into by her mother. She was five months pregnant at the time of the procedure and was convinced that she had heard her baby boy cry before he was taken away. She begged me to help her find him. Another woman wrote to me about being taken to Mexico by her mother at the age of eighteen for a saline abortion of the twin boys she was carrying. She was in labor for twenty-four hours before she delivered her dead babies. "For decades I sobbed every time I recalled what I did" she wrote.
Abortion's devastating effects ripple out to mothers, fathers, family members, and society at large, and Melissa has had a front-row seat. As she puts it: "Each time I spoke, I met people who had been directly hurt by abortion and suffered in silence. I knew how it felt to be marginalized and stifled and disbelieved. It takes tremendous courage for women, and men, to share their abortion experience; each needs to do it in their own time, in a way that feels safe for them. I felt increasingly called to be a voice not for myself, but for others." And Melissa, who is a former social worker, does a masterful job demonstrating how pro-life concerns, women's empowerment, child advocacy, and other causes are forever interconnected.

One final note. Melissa's Christian faith, particularly its emphasis on forgiveness, is a source of strength for her, and that comes through in the memoir. The Christian references in the book might annoy some non-Christian readers, although they are not proselytizing. I encourage you to read You Carried Me anyway. It's a biography, after all, and it's entirely appropriate for a biography to explore the role that religion plays in the subject's life. More important, Melissa has spent most of her adult life in a struggle against those who would silence her. If anyone deserves a platform to tell her story exactly how she wants to tell it, it's Melissa Ohden.

You Carried Me is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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