It has been a very special Christmas for Janet Anderson, who says she’s found what she’s been searching for all her life.
The 64-year-old from Moose Jaw, Sask., met her birth family for the first time on Christmas morning in B.C., 64 years and two days after being adopted by another family two provinces away.
“My heart is so full — it is, it really is,” said Anderson. “I feel like I am a whole person now, whereas before, there was always a puzzle piece missing and my family has filled that here.”
In October, Anderson received her registration of live birth in the mail from the Saskatchewan government.
She found her birth mother, Jean Stahl, on Facebook and decided to reach out by messaging her daughter, Elaine. After the initial shock wore off, the two began talking regularly and Elaine Stahl invited Anderson to Haida Gwaii, B.C., to join the family for the holidays.
There was always a puzzle piece missing and my family has filled that here.– Janet Anderson
On Christmas Eve, Anderson’s flight from Vancouver to Sandspit, B.C., was cancelled and there wasn’t another scheduled for two days. But she was determined to make it.
“Christmas is a time for families to come together and it’s really important,” Anderson said.
She instead caught a flight to Prince Rupert, B.C., and took an overnight ferry to the island. Elaine and her husband Greg picked her up at the terminal at 5:30 a.m. on Christmas morning.
“It was everything I hoped for and more,” said Anderson. “I have a sister!”
They both recognized each other right away. The two long-lost sisters have barely left each other’s side since.
“She was crying and I was hugging,” said Anderson. “It was an awesome moment that we’ll both never forget.”
“It was just such a relief and so exciting to finally meet her,” said Elaine. “For me, it was only two months. For her, it was 64 years waiting.”
Anderson was in for a shock when her birth mother was waiting to meet her in the car.
“I had waited all my life to meet her and to look at her and to just see her and hug her,” Anderson said. “There’s no words to describe it.”
Jean Stahl was 25 when she gave birth to Anderson at the Salvation Army Grace Haven, a home for unwed mothers in Regina, and eventually put the baby up for adoption. (At the time, her name was Lillian Jean Avery.)
She went on to get married and raise four children in Salmo, B.C., where she still lives.
Until this year, she had only told her parents and her husband Kurt about the baby she gave up as a single woman. She never said anything about the birth father, who was 24 at the time of Anderson’s birth.
Content with her adopted family growing up, Anderson only began seeking information about her birth family in 1991 without much luck. But when the Government of Saskatchewan opened its adoption records for adult adoptees on Jan. 1, 2017, it allowed Anderson and others access to all their paperwork as long as it was not vetoed by a birth parent.
Stahl always wondered if she would be contacted by her daughter one day, but had signed a paper saying she wouldn’t seek her out. She is still processing the impact of the reunion, Anderson said.
Anderson said they had a breakthrough as mother and daughter when she stopped Stahl from walking back to her granddaughter’s house alone.
“It was raining out and it was a little slippery. Off she was going. And all of a sudden, I looked at her and said, ‘Mom, stop,'” said Anderson. “I didn’t want her to fall, and it’s the first time I called her mom.
“It just came out. It was such a natural thing to say to her. I think that made her realize it’s real.”
For Christmas, Stahl gave Anderson a framed photo of the two of them, before Anderson was adopted.
It took me 64 years but it is just so worth it.– Janet Anderson
Anderson gave everyone personalized Christmas ornaments with the date of their meeting and sentiments about being together at last.
Anderson said she’s been met with both love and acceptance by all of the family. She has also met her two brothers, Jerry and Jamie, over Skype.
“It feels like she should’ve been here all along,” said Elaine.
The sisters have found out they have a lot in common. Both of them were lifeguards as teens, both spent their summers in Penticton, B.C., as young adults, and both still have a bad habit of rolling their eyes when they’re annoyed.
“We’re both very stubborn,” Anderson said, laughing.
While some people have said their connection is only DNA, Anderson said it’s unexplainable to those who haven’t been in their situation. She encourages everyone else who is searching for their birth family not to give up.
“It took me 64 years but it is just so worth it.”