This pageant queen was abandoned as a baby. Now, she’s reunited with her birth mother.

More than 40 years ago, someone left a baby at a Nevada airport. Who would do that? Who was this baby Jane Doe? What happened to her? Would she ever meet her birth parents?

Meet Elizabeth Hunterton, a 44-year-old former Miss Nevada. She was that baby, and now has children of her own. She's also been documenting her frustrating journey to discover her past on TikTok. It all led up to her meeting her birth mother on Saturday, more than a decade after she first took a 23andMe test.

"It's kind of vacillated between, a few days ago, I was really emotional and really sad, and I've had bouts of just sheer terror," she told USA TODAY before their planned meet-up. "And now, I'm more at peace today than I have been all month. So I think that's a step in the right direction. We'll see. It's a lot."

"A lot" is an understatement: Her videos play out like a mystery novel, with many characters and twists and turns. And just when you think you've figured out the whole story, think again.

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'Underestimated the emotional toll it would take'

Hunterton never expected her story to go viral; some of her videos have hundreds of thousands of likes. She made the videos to "find any residual pain or, angst or worry and unpack that, confront it, heal from it and walk into this meeting (with my birth mother), unburdened and untethered."

She's known since she was a kid that someone found her at the airport. She just though that's where all babies came from. Her adoptive mother – who thought Hunterton looked like an "Elizabeth" and named her accordingly – told her she deserved answers.

"That was her giving me permission to one day search for my origin story," Hunterton said. "I've never known what (year) I was born, and I didn't know what day I was born."

In 2011, she finally decided to use 23andMe to start that search, though she didn't peek at her results until 2017 – when she discovered her biological father. She found out through a cousin he died in 2004 a month before she won the Miss Nevada Pageant. They looked alike.

Later, in 2020, she discovered a second cousin on her biological mother's side which led her to five potential biological mothers.

Many names on the family tree were Japanese – a language Hunterton happened to minor in during college. Hunterton is mixed-race and her adoptive parents are white; she was unaware of her Japanese ancestry.

She thought after more than a decade of preparing for the truth, she was ready for whatever she found next. She "underestimated the emotional toll it would take."

What really happened to Baby Jane Doe?

Hunterton sent a letter to the person she thought might be her biological mother, and it turned out to be her aunt. Her cousin texted her and confirmed they were related.

They spoke on the phone. "It sounds like I was the hardest part of my birth mother's already difficult life," Hunterton said in a TikTok. "(My cousin) explained that while my birth mother hasn't talked about me to anyone, her mom – my biological aunt – did suspect that her sister was pregnant, but they never discussed it."

Once her cousin brought it up to the family, including Hunterton's birth mother, they spoke again.

"(She said my birth mother) never looked proud of anyone but she was proud of you when I showed her the pictures of all of your accomplishments," Hunterton recalled. "She's extremely relieved to know that you're OK because for the past 40 years, she's been tormenting herself with worst case scenarios."

What really happened? Her birth mother reached out via email and explained she didn't have the physical, financial or mental abilities to care for a child.

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Her mother didn't remember the day, week, month nor year Hunterton was born, nor the name she gave her, but she did ask a friend to take the newborn to an adoption agency. The friend didn't tell her she abandoned the baby at an airport.

"Not only does she not match a single one of the witness reports from 1980, the betrayal of her friend still pains her," Hunterton said via text message shortly after meeting her birth mother in person.

Finally meeting her birth mother "was a very positive experience. Yet it leaves me with a few more questions and a lot to process."

She added, "After meeting my birthmother, I think my heart and demeanor resembles hers. Yet I’m very much my mom and dad’s daughter. Now that I know where nature and nurture stop and begin, I’m certain of one thing: It’s not nature or nurture, it’s both − along with free will. I’m a combination of my biological parents, my parents and who I chose to become along the way. I think that’s what this weekend taught me."

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'Can I come to peace with what I discover?'

A word of warning for those eager to explore their pasts: "People need to understand that the path can be painful," Hunterton said. "It can be painful to discover. It can be painful when we resurface and maybe we're not accepted as warmly as we think we are, or we should be or deserve to be." Make sure you have a village of people to talk to, to take care of you.

No matter who you are, too, there's room for self-discovery. "Even when you know your biological parents, and even when you know your origin story and your date of birth, it's human nature to ask who am I? And what does this mean? Can I come to peace with what I discover about myself or my background or my origin? How do I decide for myself who I am?"

What she does know, with certainty, lies on her recently uncovered birth certificate: "My birth mother gave me a name. And she named me Elizabeth. I guess she agreed with my mom."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Former Baby Jane Doe meets birth mom: What happened to airport baby?