Almost 30 years after a desperate mother abandoned three of her newborn babies on separate occasions, the siblings and their birthmother reunited for the first time.
ABC’s 20/20 followed the story of Janet Barnicoat who was abandoned as a newborn in 1981 in Lawndale, California. Barniacoat, who was adopted by a California family, said she always wondered who her birthmother was and if she had siblings.
This spring, her questions were answered.
Through an online ancestry search that matched her DNA to others in the database, she discovered two half-siblings who also were abandoned and later adopted: Dean Hundorf from Lacrosse, Wisconsin, and Julie Hutchinson from Baltimore, Maryland, according to the report.
Hutchinson’s and Hundorf’s stories were similar to their sister’s. He was abandoned on someone’s doorstep near Christmas in 1986, and she was abandoned in 1985 at a market in California, the report states.
Here’s more from the report:
Like Barnicoat and Hundorf, Hutchison was found just hours old, umbilical cord still attached and wrapped in a towel. She also had the same questions about her past as her half-brother and half-sister did.
“I just want to know, you know, like how was their life growing up adopted? Did they have the same thoughts, you know, as I did growing up, like, ‘Who was my mom? Who was my dad?'” Hutchison told “20/20.”
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Although they had different fathers, Barnicoat, Hundorf and Hutchison all had the same mother who abandoned them just hours after they were born at separate times over the years.
“20/20” arranged for Hutchison to meet her half-siblings for the first time, and the connection between the three of them was immediate.
“These three people were so much alike. They had the same sense of humor. They were cracking each other up,” [genetic genealogist CeCe] Moore said of the meeting. “There is something about biological and genetic bonds that survives any sort of separation.”
The siblings’ amazing reunion story became even more astonishing when they found their birthmother, Joann Hauser.
Strangely enough, in 1981, Hauser was hailed as a heroine in her local newspaper after telling authorities that she found Barnicoat abandoned in a paper bag in an alley, according to the report. Ashamed, she never revealed to authorities that Barnicoat was her own child.
Hauser said she already had two boys when she gave birth to Barnicoat in 1981. A single parent after a failed marriage, Hauser said she conceived her daughter at a party.
“I was terrified,” she said. “I remember it was around 4:00 in the morning she was born. So nobody was awake, and I did it by myself…. I’m like, ‘What am I going to do? What am I going to do?’ I felt if someone else had her, they could give her a better life than I could.”
She abandoned her two other children in similar circumstances, leaving them places where she knew people would find and care for them, according to the report. It was a time before states enacted safe haven laws that allow desperate mothers to abandon newborns at hospitals or fire stations without repercussions.
“Every time I go somewhere, where I see a ‘Safe Haven’ sign … it gets me every time, still, now, to this day,” Hauser said.
Today, states are working to raise awareness about safe havens and other options available to mothers in crisis. Indiana recently became the first state to expand safe havens by placing padded, climate-controlled baby drop off boxes in fire stations across the state.
Barnicoat’s story has a happy ending. After meeting her birthmother, she assured her that she forgave her; and she is developing a strong relationship with her new-found siblings, according to the report.
Greater awareness about safe haven laws is helping to ensure that even more babies have happy endings, too.