Donna Massie Wysong was a teenager when she learned that she had been abandoned as a newborn baby. Although she thought about tracking down her biological mother, she didn’t want to upset her happy family, and so she let it be. It wasn’t until 43 years after the girl known as “Baby Jane Doe” was given up that she found her biological sister. And when they met for the first time, the ugly truth about their mom was uncovered.
It was a cold night in March 1973. A pedestrian almost tripped on what appeared to be a discarded rag near Hampton Boulevard in Norfolk, Virginia. Then a tiny leg emerged, and a baby’s cry rang out. The passerby gathered up the blanket and took the baby to a nearby hospital.
“It’s shocking to me,” Wysong told 7 On Your Side in February 2016. “I did question how someone could leave a baby, who was just born, on the side of the road in a dirty rag in the middle of winter.” Shocking, not least, because she was that baby. Mercifully, she survived to tell the story.
Indeed, Baby Jane Doe, as she was nicknamed, caused quite a stir in the news at the time. Among many who were enchanted by the blue-eyed, blonde-haired infant was Eileen Massie. Already mom to a five-year-old boy, she immediately knew Baby Jane Doe had to be hers.
After two months of calls to social services, Massie got her wish. “I just felt it was divine intervention almost,” she later told 7 On Your Side. They took the child home and named her Donna. Because of the sensitive nature of her story, however, they were advised to keep it a secret.
Wysong remembers a happy and loving childhood. As she recalled to 7 On Your Side, “My dad always said my dimple was a kiss from an angel before I fell out of heaven. And I believed it!” It was only as a teenager that Wysong would learn more about who she was and where she came from.
Wysong read her story in the newspapers in the library. She considered contacting the TV show Unsolved Mysteries about her case, since her birth mom was never found. But, not wanting to disrupt her happy family life with what might be uncovered, she decided to leave it alone.
In fact, it was only 43 years after she was abandoned that Wysong would learn the truth about her biological family. After seeing her story on 7 On Your Side, genealogical investigator Angela Trammel volunteered to trace Wysong’s biological roots. It would be a further nine months before Wysong accepted her offer.
Trammel specializes in tracing the families of abandoned babies. Wysong submitted a DNA test in November 2016, allowing Trammel to begin the search for her family. By January 2017 it was determined that Wysong had Irish heritage, and from there the search began to close in.
Through Wysong’s connection to Ireland, Trammel was able to trace her distant relatives. Then the circle closed in on nearer relatives – she even found an aunt. Then, as if by some kind of poetic justice, on St. Patrick’s Day, Trammel called Wysong with some life-changing news.
“You have a sister. A full-blooded, biological sister,” Trammel explained to Wysong. Through the use of DNA testing, Trammel had tracked down a sibling who Wysong never knew she had. She was “eleven months younger – an Irish twin, so to speak.” But that wasn’t all that Trammel had found.
“Your sister was also adopted. She also had been abandoned,” Trammel explained. “Do you want to talk to her?” Wysong was understandably feeling a mix of emotions: excited to discover she had a sister and shocked to learn that she had suffered the same ordeal, less than a year after her own abandonment.
In February 1974 a doorstep seller was doing his rounds in Virginia Beach, Virginia. On the steps of an empty building, he spotted a box and heard what he thought was a kitten. When he looked inside the box he saw a newborn baby. It was Wysong’s sister – now Vanessa Smiley – who had been abandoned less than 20 miles from where Wysong was found.
Smiley, too, found a home with a loving family. And like Wysong, for many years she had been happy for her past to remain in the past. But when her in-laws gave her a DNA testing kit as a gift, she went in search of lost relatives and, using Ancestry.com, discovered that Wysong was her sister.
When she discovered her long-lost sister, Smiley naturally had reservations. “I saw that this woman had hired a private investigator,” she explained to 7 On Your Side. “I didn’t know if she was going to show up at my house, and I’ve got kids. I thought I’d better talk to her and tell her not to come.”
She needn’t have worried, however. When they spoke there was an instant bond between them. Whenever and however they could, they’d catch up on 43 lost years, sometimes talking into the early hours. Then, two weeks later, they met face to face for the first time in their lives.
But their reunion was tinged with a little sadness. Just days earlier, Wysong and Smiley had successfully contacted their biological mother. It’s fair to say that it hadn’t gone as well as their own first conversation. The woman, whose identity has not been revealed for privacy reasons, recalled beatings at the hands of the girls’ father.
Then the conversation turned nasty. Smiley said to “bio mom,” as the sisters referred to her, “I’m not the one who put a baby in a box.” The woman responded cruelly, saying, “You put yourself in a box.” On the morning of the sisters’ reunion, bio mom sent a text warning them that she would call the police if they contacted her again.
But the family reunion wasn’t over. Amazingly, Trammel called with news of a third sibling – a younger brother who bio mom had kept. It transpired that their biological father knew his son but had never known about his two daughters. In April 2017, all three siblings and their families met for the first time, along with an aunt who they had bonded with.
Wysong and Smiley, who are both married and have kids of their own, have made a bold decision. They plan to move their families to Virginia Beach – their birthplace, and the place they were abandoned more than 40 years ago. According to 7 On Your Side, Smiley said to Wysong, “I’ve lost 43 years without you. I’m not going to lose one more day.”