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    The Day I Met My Birth Mother

    An abortion survivor recounts her first meeting with her birth mother, who never knew her daughter was alive.

    By Melissa Ohden

    January 18, 2023

    This article is an excerpt from You Carried Me: A Daughter’s Memoir.

    The world’s favorite season is the spring. All things seem possible in May. —Edwin Way Teale

    After a string of rainy and blustery days, the sun emerged from hiding on May 22, 2016 to shine on the kind of spring day that inspires poets to write odes of praise. Olivia and I had an outing planned – we were going to the zoo – and she had been counting down the days with great anticipation.

    As Ava slept blissfully under the watchful and loving gaze of Grandma Terry, Olivia and I scurried around the house getting dressed and packing up the car. Ryan hovered nearby; he had planned to stay home with Ava and his mom, but now was having second thoughts.

    “I would love you to come, Ryan, but don’t feel you have to. I’m okay. I don’t need to be protected,” I assured him.

    “I know that, Missy. I’m not going along to protect you. I just want to be with you and Olivia today.”

    Daddy’s decision to join us made what was already a great adventure for Olivia and me even better. As we settled into the car to begin our trip, my mind went back to the second reading at Mass that morning from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, about how “hope does not disappoint.” What had started as a tiny seed of hope in my heart had now blossomed like the spring flowers all around us. Today was the day I would meet my birth mother.

    We had inched toward this day over weeks and months and years of getting to know each other from afar, through notes, cards, and e-mails. Susan, my mother’s cousin, had been a constant source of encouragement, always nudging us toward one another with love. Jennifer and I had forged a friendship that grew stronger with each text and e-mail.

    The prospect of meeting my birth mother face to face would have frightened me just a few years earlier, but today I only felt gratitude and peace.

    Why had it taken so long? I don’t know the answer, but have come to believe that God’s time is ordered always to our happiness. The prospect of meeting my birth mother face to face would have frightened me just a few years earlier. I would have tied myself in knots: What to say? What to wear? What if it doesn’t go well? What will she think of me? But today I only felt gratitude and peace – a peace born of the many baby steps that had led us to this moment, each one guided by God’s gentle, loving hand.

    Still, as Ryan, Olivia and I sat watching the sea lions playfully thrash around their pool, a feeling of sheer panic started in the pit of my stomach, urging me to flee. At that moment, my phone buzzed beside me. The text message was from my half-sister, Jennifer. “We’re here!” she wrote. “Where are you?” Ryan and I looked at each other for a long moment, took Olivia by the hand, and stepped out toward the picnic area about a hundred yards away where we had planned to meet. I didn’t see them at first, but then they caught a glimpse of us and started waving. We quickened our pace and they came into focus. They were holding hands, and as I approached I saw Jennifer drop her mom’s hand. In an instant I was enfolded in the arms of the woman who had carried me.

    We hugged for a long time – so much love and pain, hope and forgiveness were communicated in that embrace.

    “I can’t believe this is really happening,” she said.

    “It has been a long time,” I replied.

    With tears streaming down all our faces, we made our introductions. I hugged Jennifer as my birth mother hugged Olivia and Ryan. Jennifer had brought her two children, one a tall and willowy girl about Olivia’s age. They became fast friends – cousins – without a moment’s hesitation – as if they looked at each other and recognized a kinship. Jennifer’s little boy was a quiet redhead with a gentle demeanor who was about the same age our Gabriel would have been had he lived.

    The kids led the way – Olivia and her cousin walking hand in hand, amused by the animals they saw. The adults shared in their fun, and in a deeper joy of mutual discovery. I hadn’t expected how comfortable – how right – it would seem for us to be together. We talked of things large and small, and laughed much more than we cried. But the tears did flow as my birth mother and I spoke for the first time of what had led us to this glorious, improbable day.

    a middle-aged woman surrounded by four children

    The author’s mother, Ruth, with Olivia and Ava and two other grandchildren. Photo courtesy of Melissa Ohden.

    I remarked to her with a smile that I was sure she had realized long ago that I looked like my birth father.

    “Yes, you do,” she said, “but when I show my friends and coworkers pictures of you, they say you look like me from the nose up.”

    “You show my picture to people?” I asked.

    “Of course! I keep the photo album you sent me for Christmas a few years ago in my car, and show people the pictures all the time. I keep a copy of your medical records that you sent to me there too, just in case someone says they don’t believe what happened to us.”

    I can’t begin to put into words what it meant to me to hear her say that she saw herself in me, that she shared our story with her friends, and that she offered the proof of our history to anyone who doubted the truth. As a child I had spent endless hours dreaming of how I might look like my birth mother. Later, after I first saw her photo, I struggled to see the resemblance. Now I recognized a connection that went far beyond any superficialities of appearance.

    The questions about my birth that had once dominated my mind seemed to fade in importance. Our meeting was more than I could have hoped for. But the things I learned from her that day were everything I ever suspected, and worse. I was filled with grief for the pain and sorrow she had endured.

    “My greatest regret, Melissa, is that I didn’t just run away,” she said. She told me that her parents were outraged by her pregnancy, ashamed about her being unmarried and pregnant, afraid of what it would mean for their reputation in the community. The most obvious solution – marriage – was the one her parents most opposed. They were adamant that their daughter not marry a man whose background and prospects were so modest, in their opinion. They were intent on their daughter making a “better,” more socially prominent match.

    In haste and secrecy, an abortion was arranged. My birth mother, feeling powerless and afraid, made clear that she did not want to go through with it. Her parents made clear to her that it wasn’t her decision to make. “The procedure was horrible,” she said, “but I was drugged and don’t remember much. After you were born, my mother told me you were a girl, but told me not to look at you. ‘She’s hideous,’ she said. I suspected you were alive at first but was told emphatically that you were dead.”


    She left the hospital in a daze, unsure of how to put her life back together. She didn’t go back to USD, but instead went to college in Sioux City. She grieved deeply over the abortion, but had no inkling I had lived until she got a call from her sister in 2007, shortly after I had sent my letter to her parents and had received their response.

    “Are you sitting down?” her sister asked.

    What emotions she felt when she learned the truth of my survival! Rage at being lied to, yet joy that I had somehow lived! She told her two daughters right away, but waited to reach out to me, unsure of what to say, afraid of how she would be received, certain I would never believe that she did not know I had lived.

    We shared many confidences that day, but our greatest joy was just being in each other’s company. My birth mother asked about my parents, wanting to express her gratitude to them for giving me a happy home, a loving family, and constant love and support. She hoped they would be happy that we met.

    “I know I will never be ‘Mom’ to you, but I just hope I can be in your life,” she said before we parted.

    “Yes, absolutely, I want that too,” I said. “There’s no rule book for this, but I know we can find a way to be a part of each other’s lives from now on.”

    As we hugged goodbye, our spirits were light and our plan was to meet again soon. I felt as if a great weight – one I hadn’t even been fully conscious of – had been lifted from my shoulders.

    The month of May – when we celebrate mothers of all kinds – had brought a great gift of healing and hope to me and to the woman who carried me.

    Contributed By MelissaOhden Melissa Ohden

    Melissa Ohden is founder of the Abortion Survivors Network and an advocate for women, men, and children impacted by abortion.

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