Note: Melissa Ohden, a pro-life activist and speaker, is the survivor of a failed saline infusion abortion in 1977. You can find out more about here story at her website here.

October 6, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – “Oh, that second one changes EVERYTHING!” Funny how, in the blink of an eye, everything changes.  Your family of three is suddenly a family of four, awaiting the move of child #2 from the womb to the outside world.  Your external focus on the goings-on of the world are now turned more internally towards your developing child and your changing, albeit happily, family.  And suddenly, those same folks who were wondering out loud for the last 3 ½ years since your first child was born about when you were going to give her a sibling, are the same folks who are suddenly lamenting to you about the difficulties they believe you will experience by having a second child. 


As a pro-life speaker and advocate, as an abortion survivor, I live my work every day.  I will never wake up one morning and suddenly forget about the fact that my life was supposed to end all in the name of someone else’s choice.  I will never be able to hold my children and not consider that they would never have existed if my biological mother’s abortion had succeeded in ending my life.  I will never not feel the calling to save and transform lives.  I will never underestimate the power of words, of the language that we use when we talk about children, about pregnancy and adoption, and how impactful those words really are.

During my pregnancy with Olivia, I was just so thrilled to be pregnant that I didn’t think much about the words that I used to describe her arrival into this world.  “We’re expecting! We’re having a baby!” Ryan and I would gush to anyone who would listen.  Now that we are pregnant with our second child, these words just don’t sit well with me when I talk about our family.  Maybe they do with some people, and I’m okay with that.  I’m not passing judgment, but simply making an observation about our family and the language of the culture that we live in today that fails, by and large, to acknowledge that life begins and deserves to be protected from the moment of conception.  Language is powerful and even insidious.  We aren’t “expecting.”  We aren’t having.  We have.  We are.  We are the parents of a child who just happens to be growing in my womb right now in preparation for entering the bigger world in May of 2012. 

When Ryan and I decided to get a t-shirt for Olivia that she could wear to proudly announce to our family and friends that she’s a big sister, I poured and poured over the shirts available.  “I’m going to be a big sister!” most of the shirts exclaimed.  I disappointedly looked at them.  Olivia’s not going to be a big sister, she is a big sister, I lamented.  There wasn’t going to be some magical time during my pregnancy or at the time of birth that suddenly her brother or sister was going to become her sibling—they already are siblings.  The fact that one of my children is growing inside of me right now while the other comes sneaking into our bed every night for a snuggle doesn’t change the fact of the matter.  Ryan and I are the parents of two children.  Olivia is a big sister.  Our second child exists, and we are anxiously awaiting seeing him or her face to face for the first time.  We were lucky to find just the right shirt for us that reflects our sentiments, as you will see in Olivia’s picture above.  (The radiant smile and twirling baton are just our daughter’s extra panache). 

How many times throughout any given day, though, do we use words like “expecting” and “going to be a big sister” to describe our life circumstances?  Certainly, I understand for the sake of brevity that these words are used (trust me, I’ve spent more time during this pregnancy explaining why we use the words that we do to unsuspecting individuals), but for someone like me, who as an aborted child whom miraculously lived, these words are a slippery slope in a culture of death.  It is no wonder to me that we are still fighting the description of children like me as a ‘blob of tissue,’ ‘clump of cells,’ or ‘product of conception,’ when, even as pro-lifers, the words that we use, the descriptions that we make about children are borderline questionable in terms of their respect for human life.

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The first time that I excitedly told a fellow pro-life colleague that I was pregnant with our second child, instead of embracing me in a warm hug like I’d expected, they instead slapped me on the back and laughed heartily.  “Oh, that second one changes EVERYTHING! I’ll be praying for your patience and energy!”  Now, it’s hard to put to paper what the tone of that individual’s words were like, but I can tell you that the tone was ominous and the laugh was far too loud and long for my liking.  Maybe if they would have tempered their comments with “but really, we’re so happy for your family,” I would feel differently about the situation.  And maybe if I wouldn’t have kept receiving comments like that from friends and colleagues that I love and respect, I wouldn’t have thought anything of it.  But those same individuals who have been anxiously waiting for us to have another child are the same individuals who described a second child in such a matter.  Yes, I was disappointed by this behavior, but even more so, it left me thinking:  If people spoke to me, knowing my experiences and profession, in such a manner, how did they talk to others? And even more so, even though I had a wealth of knowledge and experience when it came to pregnancy, children, adoption and abortion, most people don’t have that kind of base to draw from.  How do the words that we use affect them? Do the words we use, however innocently, add to the culture of death and disrespect of human life from the moment of conception?

When I presented at the Real Choices Australia conference in Sydney, Australia, last May, I had prepared an in-depth Powerpoint marked by statistics and experiences of the adoption triad when it came to adoption.  I was prepared to lead a discussion about why so many young women tell me that they would much rather end the life of their children by abortion instead of making an adoption plan for them because of their perception that they couldn’t “give up” their child.  But as the knowledgable, professional pro-lifers from the diverse areas of pregnancy centers, right to life organizations, foster care and adoption agencies, and the field of education engaged in conversation with me and one another throughout the days of the conference, I knew there was something much more important that I needed to do.  I needed to focus their attention on the words that they were using to discuss the adoption process, adoptees, and birthparents.  “They gave them up.  They were given up,” were the predominant themes, as they are in so many places, even in our own organizations, even in our own houses, today.  This very week alone, at a Pregnancy Center banquet in Nebraska and an educational lecture at Ohio University, I have heard the words “given up” more times than I could count, even after I brought up the issue.

Although, as an adoptee, I can understand the feeling that one was “given up,” and I can only assume how painful it must be to make an adoption plan for your child and let them go from your arms, from your care, in the grand scheme of things, as adoptees, we were given life, and as birthparents, they gave us life.  That is a beautiful gift!  And as a speaker and advocate who travels and speaks to people around the world on a frequent basis, I can tell you that our words are so incredibly powerful when it comes to speaking about adoption.  No one wants to be perceived as a bad mother or a bad father, someone who “gave up” their child.  Sadly, so many women share with me that they aborted their child to avoid the judgment and condemnation of those around them.  Although each woman ultimately has a choice, I believe we have a responsibility to use language that strengthens and supports people, that highlights the love and selflessness that comes with adoption.

Like so many, I read with great sadness, about the passing of Steve Jobs today, the Founder and Ex-CEO of Apple.  And like many, I didn’t know before reading the article that Steve was an adoptee.  Here’s a short quote from the ABC website regarding his life and his passing: “But that personal life – he was given up at birth for adoption, had an illegitimate child …” What interesting language that was used to describe his adoption, and his fathering of a child out of wedlock! Are those words that are lifting up an amazing man whose gifts to our world are legendary?  Are those words lifting up the woman who gave life to an extraordinarily brilliant man and made an adoption plan for him? Are those words lifting up his child who is now mourning the loss of their father?

Language is powerful indeed.  One word can communicate so much.  One’s tone can reflect a negative or a positive connotation that is deftly picked up by the ears of those that are in crisis or in need.  Every child is a blessing.  Adoption is a gift to everyone in the adoption triad.  How very different those phrases sound, then ‘Oh, that second child!” and “given up.”  Yes, it often takes some time to retrain the way we speak to reflect our true thoughts and values, but I believe it’s worth it.  In just two short months, my 2nd child has given me the ability to not just think, but talk about their important life and role in our family in a manner that better reflects my belief about the importance of every human life from the moment of conception. 

Just one simple word you speak today could make the difference in building someone up or tearing someone down.  Just one simple word you speak today could make the difference in the life or death of a child.  I pray that your words breathe life into all of those you come into contact with.