Adoption reunion: Calgary woman meets her daughter after 39 years

Jo-Ann Gerow, who gave a baby girl up for adoption 39 years ago, was reunited with the daughter she only knew for 10 days. CBC was there and got the emotional reunion on video.

'I was expecting a name, I wasn't expecting a mom,' says Tamela Dunn after meeting birth mother Jo-Ann Gerow

Adoption reunion: Calgary woman reunites with daughter after 39 years

8 years ago
Duration 1:09
Woman meets birth mother in tearful reunion after 39 years apart

Making and remaking the bed, taking long walks and writing in her diary, Jo-Ann Gerow does everything she can to pass the time.

She is waiting for a very special visitor.

"Surreal, like I'm waiting to wake up from a dream," Gerow said about the day she has hoped would happen for almost 40 years.

Gerow is 59, but she gave birth to a baby girl when she was 19 and gave her up for adoption.

Jo-Ann Gerow had two other daughters after Tamela Dunn's birth but never married. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

"I had just graduated high school, and wasn't too sure what I was going to be doing with my life, or in my life, and I had thought about giving the baby up to a member of my family, but then I thought I would get jealous over time," said Gerow.

The year was 1976. Gerow was kept in hospital to care for the baby for 10 days.

Originally from Burns Lake, B.C., Gerow was living in Kitimat, B.C., and clearly remembers the day she left the hospital.

A missing piece

"When I walked out, the sun was shining. I felt that on my face and I looked across the city of Kitimat and I started praying to God that he would bless and protect her and that we would be reunited one day," Gerow said.

Not knowing where her daughter went, or anything about the family that adopted her, Gerow says she had no choice but to continue living life.

Over the years, Gerow went on to have two other daughters, but she never married. She says her first child was always a part of her.

Year after year, she would hang an ornament for her on the Christmas tree and send prayers her way on birthdays. When the B.C. government opened their adoption filing system up in the early 1990s, she took action.

"I sent my affidavit requesting information in regards to the adoption, so I've been searching for quite a while," says Gerow.

Little did she know, her daughter was searching too.

"I walked around my entire life with a missing piece and I never understood it," said 39-year-old Tamela Dunn.

Dunn says she actively searched for her birth mother for 20 years but it was very difficult.

A message of hope

"Because of the fact of the old-style hospital, a lot of the records got deteriorated, there was a lot of information that was unreadable and so there was a lot that happened, and it was just an uphill battle," said Dunn.

It was an uphill administrative battle, as well as an emotional one. Dunn admits she had fears and anxiety about the idea of finally finding and meeting her birth mother.

"There's a lot of horror stories out there about people reuniting and sometimes it not working out so well," Dunn said.

This mother-daughter reunion was anything but a horror story.

Using a non-profit reconnection group out of B.C., Spirit of the Children, Dunn found Gerow this past March and called her up.

"I answered the phone and said, 'Hello?' And there was nothing and I went 'Hello?' And all I could hear was a gasp and for some odd reason I knew, and I said, 'You know, it's been 39 years since the last time I heard you breathe,'" said Gerow.

Almost two months later, after a 14-hour drive from Vancouver, Dunn and Gerow were hugging and crying on the front step of Gerow's northeast Calgary home.

The women say they want their story told as a message of hope to others still searching for their birth families.

As for Dunn, she says she has found that missing piece in her life and is happy to feel whole all over again.

"I was expecting a name, I wasn't expecting a mom."