I Was Aborted at 8 Months and Left in a Bin to Die

Opinion   |   Melissa Ohden   |   Jul 19, 2018   |   5:19PM   |   Washington, DC

Growing up, my elder sister Tammy and I fought like many siblings do. It was during one of these childish rows when I was 14 that she blurted out, “At least my parents wanted me!”’

I was numb with shock. I was angry, scared, and felt so ashamed – even guilty for being alive.

We’d been told early on that we were both adopted, yet I felt like she knew something I didn’t. I ran straight to my adoptive parents who eventually told me they’d wanted to hide from me a devastating truth – that I had survived a failed abortion.

I was numb with shock. I was angry, scared, and felt so ashamed – even guilty for being alive.

My parents, Linda and Ron Ohden, took me in when I was three months old believing they couldn’t conceive (but had a surprise natural son called Dustin when I was six). They didn’t know any more details about my start in life – and I was left reeling from the deep void created by the unanswerable questions that tormented me about my past.

Inner turmoil

In my teenage years I developed bulimia and turned to sex and alcohol in a futile attempt to numb the pain. My family didn’t realise how much I was hurting because I hid it so well.

On the surface, I got it together and went off to university to study political science. But deep down, the confusion and self-doubt were still eating away at me.

And so aged 19 I began my search to find my birth family. My adoption papers gave little away. I didn’t even know my real parents’ names. So I spent hours searching through old newspapers on microfiche and year books at the library desperately looking for someone who looked like me.

I also placed an advert in a local newspaper appealing for anyone with information to come forward, but no-one did. It was like looking for a needle in a giant haystack.

Pieces of the puzzle

Then, after years of searching with no leads, I came across something when I was 30. I was flicking through a nursing college year book when I saw a woman I suspected was my maternal grandmother – all I had known was my grandparents’ surname and where they had worked.

Wracked with nerves, I posted them a letter. My grandfather wrote back. He said me being born alive was not what was supposed to happen that day, which I already knew. He also said I wouldn’t find my birth mother through them because they were estranged from her. There was no further explanation, but I knew something sinister had happened.

Later that year I had another breakthrough – I requested my medical records and hospital administrators had failed to black out my parents’ names. I then found out I was living in the same city as my biological father. I wrote him a letter, simply to tell him I was alive and I wasn’t bitter. But he never responded.

Then six months later I found his recent obituary on the internet. I got in touch with his brother, who revealed my father had told him, “I have done something I’m so ashamed of but I can never say what”. I imagine he felt too overwhelmed to respond to me.

Melissa has her own family with husband Ryan – she later discovered their oldest child was born at the same hospital where she survived the abortion (Photo: Melissa Ohden)

Answers at last

My heart ached for my mother for having gone through what she did.

I gave up on my quest for the truth for a while. By then I had my own family with my husband Ryan; we had two daughters, Olivia, now 10, and Ava, three.

Then, when I was 36, out of the blue my biological mother’s cousin emailed me after finding out I’d been in touch with the family. She told me my parents were college students – childhood sweethearts and engaged when my mother at age 19 fell pregnant with me.

Because my mother had irregular periods, which she put down to being athletic, she didn’t realise she was expecting until the third trimester.

Within days of finding out she was pregnant, she was forced into having a termination by her mother. My grandmother hadn’t approved of my mother’s relationship with my father and I learned that the local abortionist was a friend of hers. My grandmother was an educational nurse at Saint Luke’s Hospital in Sioux City, Iowa, where it took place.

The doctors had estimated that my mother was about 20 weeks along – which would have been legal – but the fact that I had survived the saline infusion meant she was more likely about 31 weeks when it happened.

I have never met the nurse who gave me a chance at life but she’s an angel, I owe her everything.

My mother was heavily sedated and left the hospital, guilt-ridden – she had no knowledge that I’d been born alive, can you imagine that?

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I also found out my mother’s sister visited her in the hospital during the five-day infusion and had desperately tried to get her out of there, but it had been too late.

It was all such a huge shock. I’d spent all those years believing I was unwanted – but I was. My heart ached for my mother for having gone through what she did.

I wondered how I could be put up for adoption without my mother’s written consent. I came to the conclusion her signature must have been forged on the documents.

I did some further digging and spoke to someone who worked at the hospital when I was born. She told me about how I was saved – someone heard my cries in the medical waste bin and rushed me to intensive care.

I have never met the nurse who gave me a chance at life but she’s an angel, I owe her everything.

I told my mother I don’t blame her

Melissa, who has two daughters, Olivia and Ava, says she has now found peace after forgiving her mother and grandmother for what happened (Photo: Melissa Ohden)

I told her I don’t blame her at all. Nor do I hold any bitterness towards my grandmother – it would only eat me up inside.

It took 17 long years of searching and pain, but finally, through her cousin, I was put in touch with my mother.

I learnt that where I studied, at the University of South Dakota, was where my mother attended too and my grandmother was a professor there during the time I was there. I wonder if our paths ever crossed.

I didn’t meet with my birth mother straight away – understandably it came as a huge shock to her. We chatted for three years before even discussing it, we were both scared of rejection.

Then I bit the bullet and suggested we meet in person. She was keen too and we reunited in May 2016.

That day I wanted to turn away and run when I first saw her walking towards me. It was terrifying. But then we hugged and we both shed tears. I said to her, “It’s been a long time”. She replied, “I was robbed of you”.

From then onwards, it felt completely natural. She carries a lot of guilt and regrets but I told her I don’t blame her at all. Nor do I hold any bitterness towards my grandmother – who has now passed away – it would only eat me up inside. We all make mistakes.

I decided to write a memoir, called You Carried Me, as a sort of therapy to help me heal. I have chosen to keep my mother’s identity private for her protection.

At last I have peace – which is all I wish for my birth mother.