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From: kippa on 22 Sep 2009 17:28
'It took a bit of luck'
Posted By KARENA WALTER , STANDARD STAFF
Friday August 21, 2009
Unwed and forced to give up her baby under a cloud of shame 50 years
ago, Colleen Cunningham received a call last May she never dreamed was
It was her brother in England who'd received a letter from a man
claiming to be her long-lost son. And there was a phone number.
Cunningham, in her early 70s and living in St. Catharines, had told no
one her secret. Not her friends. Not even her ex-husband.
Only her brother knew.
After confessing in tears to her daughter, who urged her to call the
number, Cunningham dialed. A man picked up across the ocean.
'I said, 'David? It's your mother.' "
David Barling-Gasson, a 50- year-old lawyer, had searched for his
biological mother for eight years, but mailed the letter only three
days before the call.
"Where have you been?" he asked.
"Canada," she said.
"What the hell are you doing in Canada?"
The pair, happily reunited and sitting in a St. Catharines living room
Thursday, laughed about the language of that initial conversation. But
there was nothing funny about how Cunningham was forced to give up her
child and the way it has affected her for decades.
"I'm hoping by telling this, women who had babies in the '50s and were
degraded and treated as bad, wicked women, will know they weren't,"
she said, still displaying her strong English accent. Cunningham was
training to be a nurse in London in the 1950s when she became pregnant
at 20. Although she wanted to keep the baby, she said her father had a
senior position in government and his daughter had to be above
While hidden in a flat in London, she gave birth to a boy one
February. "He was beautiful," she recalled. "He had curly dark hair."
After five days, her brother took the baby to an adoption agency. It
had all been arranged.
Cunningham knew she would never settle in England, and came to Canada
in the 1960s. She married and had a daughter 34 years ago, but
Cunningham's torment never settled.
"It's something that affected me all my life," she said. "Every
February I went into a deep depression and I never told anybody."
Meanwhile, the boy was adopted, grew up to become a lawyer and had a
family of his own.
One day, Barling-Gasson, whose parents died many years ago, saw a sign
about finding adoptive parents and decided to fill out a form. What
started as a curiosity became "undone business."
His research included visiting the adoption agency, which was moving
offices and gave him his original file. The documents said Cunningham
was born in India, so he went to the British Library and discovered
the name of her parents.
He ordered their death certificates, hoping they were signed by a
family member, and found Cunningham's brother's signature. A directory
search found her brother had an unlisted phone number, so Barling-
Gasson wrote the letter.
"I sent it on a Monday morning thinking nothing would come of it," he
Three days later in St. Catharines, Cunningham's daughter, Dominique
Walvius, received a phone call from her mother, crying and telling her
to come right away.
"I walked in and said, 'What's wrong?' " Walvius said. "She said, 'I
have a son.' "
Walvius told her mom to go into a room and call him.
Barling-Gasson had just turned on his cellphone after leaving a
funeral when it rang.
After that, the two spoke a lot by phone and Cunningham travelled to
London to meet him in May 2008.
This week, Barling-Gasson brought his wife, Ris, and two of his five
children to Canada for the first time. The family held a party
Thursday night to celebrate the reunion.
"It's amazing, we have so much in common," Cunningham said. "We both
love history, we love politics and we both click."
Coincidentally, both of Cunningham's children teach -- Barling-Gasson
is a law professor at London University and Walvius is a Grade 1
teacher at Cherrywood Acres school in Niagara Falls.
"And we all love red wine," Walvius said with a laugh. "I don't know
what gene that's connected to."
Walvius said she never had negative feelings about the idea of meeting
a half-brother, and it's turned out wonderfully.
Her children, aged one, three and five, get along with Barling-
Gasson's kids and they are already calling him Uncle David.
It could have gone horribly wrong, but Barling-Gasson said he never
thought it would. And for her part, Cunningham said she wasn't nervous
making that initial call.
"It's one of those things you read about and then you find it
happening to you," Barling-Gasson said. "And it took a bit of luck."