Monday, October 9, 2017

Melissa Ohden's memoir of searching for the truth about her existence in YOU CARRIED ME . . .

Chris Rice Cooper 

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Analysis by Chris Rice Cooper
Melissa Ohden’s
You Carried Me
a daughter’s memoir
“Pain Too Deep To Recollect!”

Pain has an element of blank;
It cannot recollect
When it began, or if it there were
A day when it was not.

It has no future but itself,
Its infinite realms contain
Its past, enlightened to perceive
No period of pain

--Emily Dickinson

In May of 2017 Plough Publishing House published You Carried Me a daughter’s memoir by Melissa Ohden below left with cover photo by Jude Mooney below right and jacket design by Emily Alexander.

On August 24, 1977 Melissa was born at 2 pounds and 14.5 ounces at St. Luke’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Iowa.  The baby had jaundice, respiratory distress and seizures and after three weeks was transferred to the University Hospital in Iowa.
       In late October the baby was now five pounds and was adopted by Christian farming couple Ron and Linda Cross who already had an adopted daughter Tammy age 4.  The couple was thrilled to have another daughter into their farmhouse in Curlew, Iowa where she was surrounded by church-going parents, numerous relatives and animals.

       They named me Melissa Ann, after a friend who had become a quadriplegic after an accident. They admired her strength and her tenaciousness fight for life.  They hoped for the same qualities in me.     
 And there would be tough times – in 1982 Melissa left in 1983  the Cross family lost the farm and had to move to Storm Lake where Ron worked at a meatpacking plant and Linda worked as a bookkeeper. 
       But there were miraculous times – such as in 1984 when Linda got pregnant.  Ron and Linda revealed the news to Melissa on her seventh birthday and she viewed Linda’s pregnancy as a birthday present.  And when her brother Dustin was born she described her life as a big sister as pure bliss.
She naturally became interested in her birth parents and her parents allowed her to see the adoption papers. She learned that both of her parents were college students, athletic, gifted. 
       The next seven years were financially difficult ones for the family but Missy was thriving and found herself drawn to the intellectual and artistic world.  She satisfied this hunger by checking out books from the Storm Lake Public Library.Above right
       When she was in the seventh grade the Cross Family moved into their very first home they owned.    They continued to make sure that their children attended the United Methodist Church and reared them in Biblical values.
It came as a surprise when in September of 1991 Tammy revealed she was pregnant and her parents offered their support of helping her carry the baby and raising it or giving it up for adoption; but abortion was something they could not support. 
Tammy chose to carry the baby with plans to keep it and it was while her sister was fully pregnant that Missy and her sister got into a heated argument.  Tammy in her anger revealed a secret about Missy’s parentage; a secret their parents only revealed to Tammy to discourage her from having an abortion.  Later that same evening Missy above left at age 15 and her mother sat on the living room sofa.

Mom’s voice was soft and low as she took my hands in hers.  “We never meant to keep this from you . . . We should have told you when we told Tammy, but there was just no easy way . . . We love you, honey, we’ll always love you. . .” She paused and took a deep breath.  “Missy, your birth mother had an abortion during her pregnancy with you and you survived.”
I sat for a moment in utter disbelief – how was this even possible?  And then I fell into my mom’s arms and sobbed.

This knowledge literally threw her into an all- consuming crisis:  by the time she was 15 she was living a double life; anorexia, bulimia, alcohol (she would hide bottles of vodka in her bedroom closet and underneath the backseat of her red Chevy Beretta);  and sex (though she was responsible enough to use contraceptives).  Above right attributed to Christal Rice Cooper.

Bulimia, alcohol, sex – these were my unholy trinity of coping mechanisms. They dulled, but didn’t deaden, my torment.   That all this suffering was hidden from everyone who knew me seemed to be the point – I was singularly chosen for misery; I was different, broken, unworthy. Alone.

 She also developed chronic nightmares where she was afraid to fall asleep.   To prevent herself from going to sleep she would read poetry and write her own poetry only to rip the pages to shreds. left her senior year in high school.

I couldn't bear to keep tangible evidence of my anguish and confusion.

The one healthy thing she did was to speak the truth about being an abortion survivor, which she did right away in front of her English class, which proved to be therapeutic; but her real freedom did not come into being until she finally submitted completely to the Trinity God.

At long last my heart and mind turned to the One from whom I could not hide my inner life and my secret sins – the One who alone had the power to set me free.
I began to cling to Jesus in prayer, and as I did, I felt the guilt and shame and self-loathing that had defined me for so long begin to slip away. Right Jesus Painting attributed to Christal Rice Cooper. 
       She found solace in other people’s stories such as Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom;  Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and particularly Alice Walker’s own personal story of having her own abortion while in college and writing poetry to deal with her own pain;  and Lois Lowry’s The Giver which helped Ohden understand that “the ability to feel pain and suffer is part of what makes us human beings able to give and receive love." 

By the time she graduated from high school in May of 1996 left she knew she would go to college and envisioned a career in politics and law perhaps working in DC. But  God had other plans – plans that far exceeded her expectations, plans that included the deep-seated secrets behind her biological parents relationship,  her conception and what exactly happened that made her an abortion survivor.

The secrets would almost take a full decade to unveil and would lead to devastating truths, criminal violations, grief for the dead, praise for the living, and the reunions that would reveal God’s ordained purpose and love in her life. 

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