In August of 1977, my birth mother, as a 19-year-old college student, had a saline infusion abortion forced upon her against her will by her mother, my maternal grandmother.
The saline infusion abortion was the most common abortion procedure performed at the time, which involved injecting a toxic salt solution into the amniotic fluid surrounding me in the womb. The intent of that toxic salt solution was to poison and scald me to death. Typically, that procedure lasts about 72 hours—the child soaks in that toxic solution until their life is effectively ended by it, and then premature labor is induced, expelling the deceased child from the womb. My medical records indicate that I didn’t soak in that saline solution for just three days, but five, while they tried numerous times to induce my birth mother’s labor.
Her labor was finally successfully induced on the fifth day, and I was delivered in the final step of that abortion procedure at St, Luke’s Hospital in Sioux City, Iowa. However, instead of being delivered as a successful abortion—a deceased child—I was miraculously born alive.
I weighed a little less than three pounds, which indicated to the medical professionals that my birth mother was much further along in her pregnancy than the 18-20 weeks pregnant that was estimated in medical records. In fact, a neonatologist remarked that he estimated me to be about 31 weeks gestational age.
Whether the abortionist simply estimated wrong the gestation based on my birth mother’s self-reporting, or he was lying in order to proceed with the abortion, we’ll probably never know. What we do know is that when I was delivered alive that day, there was argument about whether I would be provided medical care. My adoptive parents were told that I was “laid aside,” and that nurses intervened to save my life.
I was contacted by a nurse two years ago now who was able to elaborate on this. She had read my book that had just been published, and knew that I was the baby that she remembered from St. Luke’s. She shared how she was working in the NICU that day when a tall, blond nurse rushed me in.
Despite the miracle of my survival, my prognosis was initially very guarded. I suffered from severe respiratory and liver problems, seizures . . . the doctors actually thought I had a fatal heart defect initially because of the amount of distress that my body was under. They indicated they didn’t know how long I might live, and if I continued to live, that I would suffer from multiple disabilities. Yet here I am today, perfectly healthy.
No matter what the doctors told them about what my life was going to look like, my adoptive parents didn’t hesitate to open their hearts and home to me, and I have no doubt their love and encouragement to forgive has made me who I am. Although I grew up knowing I was adopted, I didn’t learn of my survival until I was 14 through a complete accident. It was incredibly traumatic to have my mom speak the words, “Missy, your biological mother had an abortion during her pregnancy with you and you survived it.”
Although I knew God had a plan for me, I initially struggled with the truth about what had happened to me. I didn’t want to be this person who had survived an abortion. Of course, now, I can’t imagine being anyone else other than who God made me to be.
By the time I went away to college, though, I had been able to heal, to forgive, and I set out on a journey to find my biological parents and obtain my medical records. Through my work with survivors, I now know most survivors will have no record of what they survived, but back then, all I knew was that they would be an important piece of my life puzzle.
It took me over ten years to find my birth parents and medical records. It was in 2007 that I actually accomplished both tasks, when I received my medical records that accidentally forgot to black out my birth parents names in them. You can see copies my medical records in videos where I’ve testified before Congress, social media posts, my book. In them they include statements like, “a saline infusion for an abortion was done, but was unsuccessful.” In another area, my records list out a complication of pregnancy as a “saline infusion.”
As hard as it was to read those records, finding my birth parents names in them brought me great joy, understandably. When I started searching for my birth parents, I learned I was living in the same city as my birthfather. Sadly, he never responded to a letter that I sent him, as he passed away in early 2008, about six months after I sent it to him.
It took many years to finally have contact with my birth mother. I corresponded with my maternal grandfather in 2007, but was told that the messages I was asking them to pass along to her would not, indeed, be passed, because they were estranged. In 2013, my birth mother’s cousin bravely reached out to me. That’s how I learned that greatest, yet lost painful truths about my survival—that the abortion was forced upon her, that my grandmother was responsible for that and the demand to leave me to die, and that my birth mother didn’t know for over thirty years that I had even survived.
She lived her life with incredible regret for, in her words, “not running away” from her family to save me. No woman should live with that kind of suffering. We spent a few years communicating by mail and email, building walls of trust and love with another before we met face to face for the first time almost three years ago now. Meeting her was indescribable. What I can say, though, is that it was a sacred, God-ordained moment. And she is now a huge part of my life. When we moved to Kansas City six years ago, what we didn’t know is that she lives here, along with one of my half-sisters.
We are blessed to have been brought together. We are blessed by my survival. And as we celebrate this, we also have to recognize that my experience is one that many children don’t have the opportunity to live.
Truly, it’s my faith that has sustained me. It’s the grace of God that allowed to me to survive, to forgive, to love those who intended to harm me. It’s the power of the Holy Spirit that guides me to do the work that I do for life.
It’s not easy to live in a world where abortion is lauded as a woman’s right, that it’s the epitome of empowerment, but I’ve healed from my pain and found a purpose though that, becoming an activist and working with survivors around the world.
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Melissa wrote a book about her experiences.
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