Janet Barnicoat knew that as a newborn infant, she had been left to die on the side of the road, placed inside a paper bag.
If not for a young mother who—hearing Barnicoat’s cries while on her way to the grocery store—stopped and called 911 as she was turning blue, she would not be where she is today. Thanks to the good Samaritan, Barnicoat was taken care of at a hospital, placed in foster care for a year, and then adopted by a loving family.
In her 30s, Barnicoat had two children of her own, and lived in Southern California about 100 miles from where she was found as a baby. Questions about her origins still lingered in her mind.
“Do I have siblings? Who are my parents?” Barnicoat said. “Why didn’t they want me? I got mad and angry and I held onto that for a very long time—she tossed me away.”
“It was tearing me apart inside and I couldn’t handle that anymore.”
It set Barnicoat off searching for real answers—and so she decided to start from the beginning.
Her rescue had been well documented by local news stations—footage of her and the story of her heartwrenching rescue was not hard to find.
The rescuer had been one JoAnn Hauser, a 25-year-old mother of two.
“I thought I heard something like a cat,” Hauser recounted.
She followed it to a paper bag placed on the sidewalk beside a dumpster. “I looked into this bag and there was a baby in the bag.”
Hauser rode back home immediately to call 911. “She was so tiny and her face had turned blue. She was so fragile I was almost afraid to hold her, but I knew I couldn’t leave her in the bag.”
“She looked like a doll. Just perfect,” Hauser remembered.
The baby still had its umbilical cord attached, and was whimpering and crying. Hauser was called an angel of mercy, who had rescued a baby left to die.
For Barnicoat, she was “the last connection I had to my birth mother.”
After a search, Barnicoat located her and the two had an emotional reunion, where Barnicoat thanked her for stopping that day and locating the source of those cries.
But Hauser had no additional clues to share either.
When her last source yielded no answers, Barnicoat had to turn to the professionals. She sent a DNA sample to Ancestry.com and got four hits—four blood relatives she knew nothing about before.
One of these was Dean Hundorf—her younger brother—and their emotional reunion was also captured by news stations.
The two immediately felt a connection: “It was like we’d known each other forever,” Hundorf said.
Then Hundorf revealed to Barnicoat that he was also abandoned as a baby—they were both “foundlings.”
The realization that their mystery mother had left more than one infant to fend for themselves was a hard pill to swallow, but only brought them closer.
And as the story grew, genetic genealogist CeCe Moore started digging into Barnicoat’s origins. As a baby, she was left on a street known for being a frequent spot for prostitutes, and there was a high school not far away from it as well—that she was the unwanted child of either a sex worker or a teen mother sounded plausible to Moore, but neither theory gave them a definitive answer.
Then Barnicoat learned that one of the other DNA matches was another close relative—yet another sibling.
“Holy cow,” had been her reaction. “Are you serious?”
And that sibling was Julie Hutchison, sibling to both Hundorf and Barnicoat—same mother, also abandoned as a baby.
Moore was on the case—as she dug into the last match, the three siblings were in for a harrowing discovery.
The last match was a man named Adrian—a first cousin to the siblings, on their mother’s side. This gave Moore another avenue down which to search for the three foundlings’ birth mother. While doing a Facebook check, Moore then found a familiar connection. Adrian was friends with JoAnn Hauser—the “angel of mercy” who had rescued Barnicoat.
This was no mere coincidence.
Moore’s conclusion was that Hauser had to be either the siblings’ mother or aunt.
The news was hardest for Barnicoat to handle—“I’ve met her, I’ve sat in her house,” she said. The idea that her mother might have been in front of her the whole time and didn’t want her brought her to tears.
“This breaks my heart.”
Barnicoat suspected Hauser was really her biological mother, and she decided to pay her another visit to determine the truth. And when Hauser agreed to the meeting, she knew her moment of reckoning had come, too, because she began by saying:
“Today, I better come clean.”
“It’s probably mind-boggling, but I did give birth to you,” Hauser said, point-blank. Barnicoat’s immediate reaction was not one of shock, but confirmation.
“I knew it,” she said.
But it was also a reaction of relief. At Hauser’s admission, Barnicoat could finally breathe a sigh of relief. The search was over.
Hauser launched into an apology right away, but Barnicoat shook her head and reached out for her mother.
“I just want you to know I’m not mad at you,” Barnicoat said. “I forgive you—I really do. We want you to know we’re not mad at you, we love you.”
In that moment, Barnicoat could feel and see Hauser’s burden, and wanted to let her know it was all right to leave it in the past.
There had been a time when Barnicoat hated whoever her birth mother was, hated that she was abandoned. But seeing Hauser in the moment, she couldn’t bring herself to even get mad.
Neither could Hutchinson nor Hundorf.
“As soon as I walked in there, my heart broke for her. This is a woman who has been through so much. I can’t hate her,” Hutchinson said.
Hundorf, while not hateful, was still wary and unsure of what this relationship might be. “She just looked like a stranger to me,” he thought. It had been so different when he was meeting his sisters.
“I didn’t want to do this,” Hauser told ABC. “It’s not easy to face.”
When Hauser got pregnant with Barnicoat at age 25, she was single, unemployed, broke, and had just been divorced. She already had two children, and knew there was no way for her to care for a third.
The last thing she wanted was this baby to be left for dead or without a home, so she concocted a big story and made sure that the baby got adopted into a loving family.
But four years later, the same thing happened. And a few years later, it happened again.
Hauser said she thought about these three babies gone from her life “all the time, every day,” but felt they had to be better off without her. “I don’t think I can [forgive myself],” she said. “I don’t know how I’m going to get there, I really don’t.”
Then, nearly three decades later, when Barnicoat reached out, Hauser was floored, flooded with emotions, “thrilled” she would be able to see her daughter in person once again.
Now, the family is resolved to help each other heal.
Moore told ABC that the “foundlings are the most forgiving, loving people … that I’ve ever met.”
“They want to have that connection, and in order to have that, to foster it, you have to let go of all that negativity,” Moore said.
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