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Abandoned at Birth — Giving a Lost Infant a Legal Identity

A newborn infant left in a wet, dirty ditch found her way home to her Ontario father 34 years later. The reunion was heartwarming. The worst was yet to be.

A New Life for an Abandoned Baby

“Baby Jessica” was a young girl when she discovered she was adopted. She grew up in a loving family in a small, northwestern B.C. town, home to the best powder skiing around and Juno award winning world musician Alex Cuba. 

Local Heroes Saved Her Life

Being heroes was furthest from their minds when Glen O’Keefe, Ray Wightman and Chris Johnson wound their way along Triangle Mountain near Victoria that fateful day in 1986. The teenagers were returning home from school when they heard an infant’s cry. Soaked and shivering, the tiny baby girl had been swaddled in clothing and left in a shoe bag.

It Would Take a Miracle

A cry for help in a ditch saved Baby Jessica when she was just hours old. Now 34, she would need a similar miracle to find her biological parents. Jessica, now Adriana, filed the paperwork to locate her parents in 2006. That’s when an adoption caseworker connected Adriana to her rescuers. By coincidence, Victoria media had just interviewed O’Keefe and Wightman on the 20th anniversary of their feat.

Meeting Her Rescuers  

Adriana was curious to meet the pair, but when they visited the ditch where she was found, she was filled with questions. Why this ditch? she wondered. “I wish we had got to know each other,” she said in an essay published in the newspaper that reported her rescue so many years before. 

A DNA Test Leads to Clues

The questions lingered. The woman who almost lost her life in that ditch was grown, with three children of her own, the newspaper reported. When Victoria police followed up again in 2019, she agreed to take an online DNA test. The results led to a second cousin in Alberta and from there, to her biological father in Elmira.

Finding a Father After All This Time

Rick, who had grown up in Victoria, was 54 and a father of two. He had dated a local girl back then. When he phoned to ask if Adriana was theirs, she denied it. Like Adriana, Rick was stymied by how this grown woman could be his daughter. Unlike the online test Adriana had used, he ordered a legal paternity test that was 99.99% accurate and could be used in court. On Father’s Day, she posted to her Facebook page, “…today we have the future, and for that I’m so excited. Happy Father’s Day, love you.” 

The Mystery of Her Birth

The baby who had no legal identity finally belonged to someone. “It’s a pretty happy time. I’m glad that she’s found me. I’m glad we both know,” Rick said in an interview after their first meeting, 34 years after her birth. He thanked her adoptive parents for raising Adriana. But the mystery of her birth remained.

Ashamed and Alone

Because Adriana had been illegally abandoned, her birth mother was criminally liable. A minor when she gave birth, she had kept the infant a secret from her family. When she finally wrote to her daughter, Adriana said her mother told her she had been in denial about being pregnant. She gave birth alone and thought of leaving the child at a church down the street “where I knew you would be safe and sound.” But she had panicked, wrapped the newborn in warm clothes and placed her in an Adidas shoe bag.

No Recollection of What Happened

The scared teen heard her parents talking about the baby found in a ditch, but couldn’t recall how she got there. “I remember driving and then the next thing I remember is waking up and being at home in my bed,” she said in the letter. “I had no intention of hurting you at all. I am so truly sorry.” Rick is furious he didn’t know. 

Having a Legal Identity

Because Baby Jessica/Adriana had been abandoned, her birth certificate and medical history drew blanks. Birth parents in Ontario are legally required to register a birth within 30 days. That entitles the infant to a birth certificate, social insurance number, medical benefits and passport. 

Criminally Liable for Abandonment

Abandoning a newborn can lead to up to 18 months in jail (two years before 2005). Durham police were searching in August for the mother of an infant boy found dead on Lake Ontario’s shoreline. A 23-year-old London mother was charged in 2016 with neglecting to obtain assistance in childbirth and disposing of her newborn’s body after delivery. 

Registering Infant’s Birth Saves Ongoing Grief

Babies Grace, Hope, London and Zenora were laid to rest at an Elgin Mills funeral home in 2018 by Abuse Hurts. The Newmarket non-profit has buried 11 abandoned Ontario babies, many left in garbage bins or dumpsters. The practice endangers a newborn’s survival and the mother’s recovery. Adriana’s reunion was bittersweet. She gained a second father, but registering her birth would have saved her the long and painful process of searching for the mother who left her behind so many years ago.

Get a Birth Certificate Notarized

When you need a certified true copy of a birth certificate for a passport application or other official uses, call on Axess Law’s Ontario commissioners of oaths. Dial 1-877-522-9377 or in Greater Toronto 647-479-0118 or use our online booking form to make an in-person appointment. We have law offices in convenient locations in Ottawa, Toronto, Scarborough, Vaughan, Etobicoke, Mississauga Winston Churchill or Mississauga Heartland.

Click here to learn more about Axess Law’s commissioner of oath services.

Photo by amenorvi| Pixabay. With excerpts from Victoria Times-Colonist, Aug. 31, 2020.

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