'The other half of me in the mirror'

Jenny Gremm was ready to die.

It was July 2014 and the 54-year-old woman's heart condition was progressing rapidly. Two of her daughters sent her a ticket to visit them in Toronto and say goodbye.

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She was "fine with the idea of dying" and had made funeral arrangements with her pastor.

Among her final pieces of business was making one last attempt to find the daughter she had given up for adoption in Ontario around 37 years ago.

"I wanted to see her before I died," said Gremm.

An adoption worker told her her daughter had been in touch with one of Ontario's children aid societies when she was 19 and offered to attempt to contact her.

With files from the adoption and through Facebook, the adoption worker found Gremm's daughter, now Pamela Kreyenhop, and messaged her. Since she was in her mid-teens, Kreyenhop had searched for her birth mother, asking in Internet forums and on websites but armed only with her first two names and the initial G for her last name. Privacy laws, dead ends and a few cases of mistaken identity had frustrated and disheartened her throughout her decades-long quest.

"All my life I have had this brief flash of a memory," said Kreyenhop. "It's only about five, ten seconds. It's a woman leaning over the crib, reaching down to pick me up and it was nobody I had ever met. I swore that that memory was of my birth mom."

Kreyenhop missed the Facebook message and it sat, unanswered and unbeknownst to her and Gremm, for months. Then, shortly after Christmas, Kreyenhop spotted the old message.

She messaged back the adoption worker and about a month later, she got a follow-up phone call.

Then, on March 16, as she got ready for work, the phone rang again.

"Just out of the blue... the lady who works down there (asks) me if I was interested in getting to talk to my mom and so on and so forth," said Kreyenhop. "I told her of course I was."

As they talked, another call came into the adoption worker. Jenny Gremm from Prince George wanted to speak to her daughter.

The maternity house

Pamela Kreyenhop was born Khristina Anne Gremm on Dec. 17, 1977 in Kitchener, Ontario.

The family name was related to the Brothers Grimm but life was no fairy tale for her then 17-year-old mother Jenny. Her mother and her birth daughters' namesake Khristina had died around five years earlier; her father remarried and his new wife had nine children who piled into one-time mansion the family had run as a boarding house.

Alcoholism was prevalent in the home. In the middle of nine new step-siblings, Gremm said she started running away when she was 14 and began "looking for love in all the wrong places as they say."

At 17, after a week of feeling ill, Gremm's stepmother took her to the doctor. She doesn't

remember who asked about a pregnancy test, only the doctor, a man named Shonk, asking her: "Do you want an abortion?"

"I was shocked," said Gremm. "I was like, this isn't the baby's fault. The baby doesn't deserve to die just because I made a mistake."

She spent latter part of her pregnancy in a so-called maternity home for unmarried mothers.

"Oh the bad girls went there," laughed Gremm. "If you were pregnant, you went there."

Nevertheless, Gremm said life, with around 20 other mothers, in the maternity home was "reasonable."

The labour when she had Khristina was short, said Gremm, around four hours and after

she wasn't allowed to see the baby because, at the time she wanted her child to be adopted.

Meanwhile, her father and stepmother separated. She learned her father wanted her to keep the child.

"My hormones were high... OK, I was going to keep her," she said.

The ensuing months, however, were difficult. The baby's father had left town shortly

after she learned she was pregnant; her father flitted in and out of sobriety.

Gremm said she just didn't know what to do.

"I suppose I was a little bit distant... ," she said. "I would feed her, change her, play with her a little bit but it was basically feed her, change her, put her to bed."

During a regular appointment, around April 1978, a doctor deemed Khristina was failing to thrive and was lagging in her expected rate of growth. The doctor called a children's aid society, one of the agencies that handles child protection in Ontario, and Khristina was apprehended from a babysitter while Gremm was in school.

A social worker waited from Gremm when she came to pick up her child.

Gremm was given a choice: sign adoption papers or Khristina would enter the foster care system.

"It was traumatic," said "It was quite a draconian system back then. They basically demanded that I sign the adoption papers. The worker told me you're not getting her back.

"My first reaction was this is terrible, how could you do this, you're taking my baby and a few days go by and I actually feel relief because I knew I couldn't care for her properly. I didn't have the experience, I didn't have the life knowledge, I had nothing.

"I really did love her I just wasn't equipped."

She wouldn't set eyes on Khristina again under she saw pictures of her daughter on Kreyenhop's Facebook page this month.

"I pretty much buried it and got on with my life, as they told me to do, get on

with my life and basically forget this," said Gremm.

A million and one avenues

Gremm's adoptive family renamed her Pamela. She moved from Kitchener to London, Ontario before the family headed to Alberta when she was five.

Kreyenhop's upbringing was rural - living on "five and half acres in the middle of nowhere" near Edmonton.

Her sister was also adopted, six years later. Her adoptive parents also fostered children for decades, spurring Kreyenhop's yearning for a big family.

"The frustrating part was you got close to somebody and then they moved on," she said.

And always in the back of her mind, questions about her birth mother.

"Who is she?", said Kreyenhop. "Am I like her? Do I look like her? Do I have her personality? Do I think like her? Do we enjoy the same things? It was more questioning than a void."

Kreyenhop's adoptive parents were open about how she came to her family - she said she can't remember a time she didn't know when she was adopted.

Around her mid-teens, she began looking for her birth mother. Her adoptive parents got her in touch with the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies.

So began her search down "a million and one other avenues."

"For years, it was just this loophole, that loophole, all these hoops to jump through," said Kreyenhop. "There was that privacy act that was in place for so many years so it was almost impossible to get information and then you need to go through this agency and that agency. It was kind of a tedious and frustrating process.

"It's been taking quite some time to get the right pieces in place to get the information that's needed at the right time."

According to wikipedia, for much of the 20th century, adoptions in Ontario were closed, with a number of measures in place to insure anonymity between birth parents and adoptees.

The provincial government ran an adoption disclosure register but "the process was long, the resources for birth relatives were limited and success was not guaranteed."

In 2005, the Ontario government introduced Bill 183 that permitted the disclosure of information to an adult adoptee or to birth parents. It was subsequently quashed by an Ontario court due to privacy concerns but in 2007 the government reintroduced modified disclosure legislation.

In the meantime, the Internet gave birth to a plethora of tools, first chat rooms, forums, and then, later, Facebook.

But, even in the age of social media, finding those pieces has been difficult for Kreyenhop.

"For years I didn't know where to look or what else to do beyond what I'd already done, so I'd kind of push it to the back of my mind," she said. "I figured it would eventually happen. Once in a while I'd find a new website or a new page on Facebook and check things out, and do some more looking. It kind of never really ended.

"Basically it's been 21 years I've been looking. But I don't think there's ever been a time I wasn't looking in one way or another."

She knew her first two names and where she was born. But she didn't know her mother's name, her mother's age, her mother's birthday and that limited her search. It also made for some false hopes.

"There were a lot of pieces of the puzzle I couldn't put out there in these forums to get more information," she said. "A couple of time I ran into situations where people had thought that I might be their long-lost daughter and it turned out they were dead ends. It would be a real big letdown.

"I never gave up on it. Over time it became let's check this out but let's not hope too much."

When she was contacted by the Ontario adoption worker, it was different: "They had the records. They knew who's who in the zoo. They had all that information."

"I was really excited... That first email, I didn't know what to say," said Kreyenhop. "I didn't know what kind of reception I was going to get. I didn't know if (my birth mother) just wanted to pass on medical information or if she wanted to meet me, to talk to me."

She also recently experienced re-connecting with her son, who was adopted when he was four.

Kreyenhop's adoptive parents split up when she was 13. She moved to B.C. to be closer to her mother before settling in Chilliwack with a family of her own.

While, unlike her adoption, her son's adoption was open, she had lost touch with him after his adoptive family moved seven years ago.

Then, in December 2014, he sent her a friend request on Facebook.

"I was afraid he was going think I'd abandoned him and so on because we'd lost touch for so long," she said. "I was afraid he'd be upset. Nope, it was I'm glad you're here, I wanted to talk with you. I know we lost touch but here's what's happening with me."

Difficult years

Gremm, as she was told, got on with her life, but every birthday she would remember

her first daughter.

She wanted to re-establish contact but had to wait until around 1995, when Kreyenhop turned 19, to register with the Ontario government her desire to meet her child.

Life, however, for Gremm remained rocky. She had two difficult marriages and four children. Years of poverty would mark much of her life. She dreamed of becoming a doctor but her health got in the way.

In 1992, she moved to B.C. to be closer to her brothers. She was doing university transfer courses at CNC but in Jan. 2000 she was forced to quit college because of constant exhaustion. By June, she was struggling to walk and that month a heart condition forced her to have triple bypass surgery.

Amid multiple moves and disruption among her family, Gremm struggled to maintain a permanent address and phone number. Finally, in 1998, she put her name down again with the Ontario registry.

Her condition worsened and she reached out a final time in 2014. Then, last September, her heart improved, drastically. She was able to walk without a cane.

Then, two weeks ago, the adoption worker in Ontario contacted Gremm and asked her to write an email she would pass on to Kreyenhop.

The email bounced back.

'Oh....and my name is Jenny Gremm lol'

Unfortunately the email address Kreyenhop had given to the adoption worker wasn't working. Gremm phoned the adoption worker back immediately, with Kreyenhop on the other line at time.

The email bounceback was "a major letdown" to Gremm. But twenty minutes later, the email situation was untangled and Kreyenhop got this message through to her birth mother at 11:19 a.m. that day.

"I have been looking for you for so long!!! I'm sure you have many questions for me as I have for you. I just want to let you know I have never faulted you for your decision. I have had a full and wonderful life up until now and I have always loved you even though I can no longer remember having met you."

Gremm replied at 12:07 p.m.:

"I am SO happy to have found you!!! I always loved you...even before you were born. I never even considered abortion. I gave you up only because i wanted you to have a better life than I could have given you. I would have tried harder to find you but I was ashamed. because I have lived most of my life in poverty and didn't want you to be ashamed of me."

She ended the email: 'Oh....and my name is Jenny Gremm lol'

Kreyenhop's email had her cellphone on it and from there it has been a whirlwind of Facebook chats and daily phone calls.

"I'm still a little floored," said Kreyenhop. "One moment I've got a small family of mom, dad and a sister... the next minute I have my adoptive family and my birth mom, and three sisters and a brother and a brother in law and two nephews and uncles and I didn't know any of that until that day.

"I had this big huge family I always wanted and never knew I had. It was really overwhelming."

Gremm discovered she had a granddaughter and a grandson.

They also realized how near they had been - Gremm moved to Prince George in 1992 and Kreyenhop moved to Kelowna in 1995, the same year Gremm first attempted to contact her through the registry.

"She and I have so much in common," said Gremm. "She has the family sense of humor. She's going into pre-med. There's so many things... it's like, wow, that's true for me too."

Kreyenhop also says she came to a realization about something she's remembered since childhood.

"(Jenny) sent me a picture , I took one look at the picture and said: 'That's the woman in that memory," said Kreyenhop. "I actually have a memory of her and I was less than three months old.

"Another piece fell into place... Who is she? She's the other half of me in the mirror, she's my reflection."

While Kreyenhop has drifted apart from her adoptive mother, she is still close to her father. He is travelling in Australia and can't be reached - so she has to wait to tell him.

"I really want to tell them but at the same time I'm a little nervous about telling dad, not because he hasn't supported me, because he's always supported me in looking but... I don't want him to feel like he's being replaced," said Kreyenhop. "He's always been there for me, he's always been very special to me and I don't want to hurt him in any way. As soon as he get back I'm going to tell him but I'm still not quite sure how."

Kreyenhop and Gremm intend to meet in April.

"I still get goosebumps every time I tell people about it," said Gremm. "It's like a fairy tale.

It's a fairy tale that took almost four decades to find a happy ending.

"It's like there never was a gap, there never was a missing," said Kreyenhop. "It's like we weren't and now we are."

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