Eighteen years ago, she became the reluctant mother of an abandoned newborn and has never since regretted the decision.
“Baby Jane Doe” is now a high school graduate and is about to enter college.
This is their story.
An Alcorn 911 dispatcher received a shocking phone call at 4:25 a.m. on July 11, 1996. The female caller informed the dispatcher a baby was in need of medical assistance at Dr. Patrick Hsu’s office. The anonymous caller was not believed to be the infant’s mother.
The unidentified newborn later named “Baby Jane Doe” was discovered by Magnolia EMS workers on a warm summer night, wrapped in a large beach towel. A toddler t-shirt and an over-sized diaper hung loosely on her small frame.
“She wasn’t fussy and appeared to be content, wiped down and well fed,” said Sara Gibbs, a registered nurse who was working in the nursery at Magnolia Regional Health Center when she was instructed by her house supervisor, Mavis Lowery to turn on an infant warmer. “She told me to go get it ready because a baby had been found in a dumpster, wrapped in a blanket.”
The infant was in reality found in the entryway of the doctor’s office.
A phone trace revealed the anonymous call had originated from a pay phone at the corner of 1530 Polk and Sixth Street.
The doctor’s office was closed temporarily and a search conducted to determine if there were any new mothers within a 50-mile radius. McNairy County was considered as a possible location.
The newborn girl was immediately declared a ward of the state and positioned to go into foster care.
“Mavis approached me and said, ‘You need to take this baby.’ I was shocked to say the least,” said Gibbs. “Here I was, a single, divorced woman working nights with 12-hour shifts. What would I possible do with a baby? Where would she sleep? In a dresser drawer? All these things were running through my mind, but her response was simple, ‘love her.’”
“Dr. Hsu gave me until 7 a.m. to make up mind,” she added.
After speaking with her pastor, Reverend Ronnie Gibbs and close friend, Lynda Kay Gibbs she decided she was indeed willing to take on the responsibility of rearing the child.
“Shortly after I married in 1985, I found out I was unable to have children,” she said. “I had it settled in my mind that was the way it was going to be. I wasn’t pining after other peoples babies or even baby-sitting for friends. I wasn’t thinking about it all. So, it was a complete surprise when she came along.”
After being granted emergency custody of “Baby Jane Doe” when she was just six days old, the Gary, Ind. native began the lengthy process of adoption.
“There was someone else who had an interest in adopting her, but ended up bowing out. She had to be six months old before she could be formally adopted,” said the baby’s adoptive mother. “She’s known as Janessa Hope and legally became mine on April 2, 1997.”
Gibbs said she had originally picked the name Lynn after her friend Lynda as Janessa’s middle name.
“A friend who used to work with me once said, ‘Sara, that’s your hope for tomorrow’ in reference to Janessa,” said Gibbs, who now works at Methodist Hospital in Germantown, Tenn. “Another former co-worker spoke up and suggested I use “Hope” as the baby’s middle name and it stuck. Her first name, I found while reading Jet magazine. One of the brides was named Janessa.”
The Corinth resident expressed her appreciation for the support she received throughout her journey into motherhood.
“You would not believe how much support I had,” said Janessa’s mom. “Pediatrician Dr. Victor Lutz would prolong her hospital stay everyday by ordering more tests to give me a chance to get everything settled. He showed up with a car seat the day I took her home and said, ‘Man, I’m glad this is over. I was running out of tests to order.’”
After a long period of consideration, Gibbs decided it was time to tell Janessa she was adopted and did so when she was four years old.
“Her first question to me was ‘why didn’t my mother want me?’ I told her it was probably that she just couldn’t afford to keep her,” said Gibbs.
The now 56-year-old mother said it was the right decision to make.
“I wouldn’t have hidden it from her, not for anything in this world,” she said. “She often flips through the scrapbook that contains pictures and newspaper clippings about when she was found and has since she was little. I know she wonders who she came from.”
“I do wonder a lot,” chimed in a clearly emotional Janessa, who will turn 18 years old on July 11.
Over the years when asked what kind of mother could abandon her child, Gibbs has answered, “She did it for me.”
“If I could see her now, I would just thank her. I would want her to know Janessa was well taken care of, that she is loved and is everyone’s baby,” she said. “I would not be upset if she were to see this and contact the newspaper. I would share with her what has transpired in Janessa’s life.”
After getting married in 2000, Gibbs wrote a letter to her daughter’s birth mother as part of an essay contest at Magnolia Regional Health Center. Writers were instructed to pen an essay describing the “love of their life”. Gibbs was deemed the winner of the contest. Her opening words expressed gratitude toward the mysterious birth mother.
You don’t know me, but I have a part of you before me everyday, a constant reminder of someone I don’t even know. For you see I have the baby girl you left on the doctor’s doorstep. I think of you often and that is what has prompted me to write this letter.
I thank God and you too for the most precious gift I could have ever received. She is truly the love of my life. Janessa has a kind heart, a beautiful spirit and sincere love and respect for God. She knows how to love unconditionally, regardless of color or station in life.
Gibbs ended the letter by signing it, From Janessa’s mom to her mom.
Described by her mother as a shy, well-mannered inquisitive child with a good heart, Janessa is now 17 years old. She recently graduated from Corinth High School where she was a member of the dance team and chorus. She will begin classes at Northeast Mississippi Community College in the fall to pursue a degree in speech pathology.
In her spare time, she enjoys dancing, shopping for clothes and experimenting with makeup.
Sara Gibb’s essay ended with this message:
True love is unconditional, it understands and is understanding. It has no boundaries, is unselfish and love makes no plans, it just happens.
Love can come in many forms, mine came in the form of a 7-pound, 7-ounce baby girl.
(Information from Daily Corinthian news stories from July 12 and July 19, 1996 were used in this story.)