Decades and a Facebook post later, B.C. woman reunites with foster mom

·4 min read
Jessica Cressey, left, cries while in a Zoom call with her foster mom Bjòrg Bergmann-Buhler on May 10, 2022. Cressey temporarily stayed in Bergmann-Buhler's home when she was six. (Sarah Penton/CBC - image credit)
Jessica Cressey, left, cries while in a Zoom call with her foster mom Bjòrg Bergmann-Buhler on May 10, 2022. Cressey temporarily stayed in Bergmann-Buhler's home when she was six. (Sarah Penton/CBC - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains details of abuse, overdose, and trauma.

A Merritt, B.C., woman has been reunited with the foster mom who gave her a ray of hope she says she'll never forget.

Jessica Cressey spent some of her earliest days living in hotel rooms with her biological mother, where she was sexually abused and surrounded by drugs, alcohol and crime, she says.

"My mom was just drinking and partying with a bunch of random strangers, and she left me in [a] hotel room," Cressey told CBC Radio West host Sarah Penton.

But at six, Cressey, a member of the Nicomen Indian Band, was taken out of that world and placed into a foster home.

There, she says, she briefly experienced what it was to be loved — an experience that helped turn her life around despite the challenges she faced along the way.

Now 37, Cressey has an 18-year-old son of her own. She works at a copper mine in the B.C. Interior, and says she has been sober for six years.

36 foster homes by 16

According to B.C. government data, more than 3,700 children and youth went through the foster care system last year, down from more than 5,500 in 1997 when the province began to collect data on foster placements.

Like Cressey, a disproportionate number of those children were Indigenous — up to 45 per cent, according to provincial data. The foster care system has been criticized for its impact on Indigenous children and First Nations communities.

Cressey says she was in and out of an estimated 36 homes by the time she was 16, and experienced abuse and trauma, which she says would later fuel a dependence on drugs and alcohol.

Jessica Cressey/Facebook
Jessica Cressey/Facebook

She says although much of her childhood is blurry, she distinctly remembers the last time she saw her mother alive before dying of a heroin overdose.

Cressey was six years old and alone in a hotel room when police, ambulance and social workers arrived. She says they took her to a nearby bar where her mother was in a bathroom stall, "screaming her head off."

'I felt heard ... I felt loved'

Cressey was then placed into the care of Bjòrg Bergmann-Buhler, a foster parent in the community of Revelstoke, B.C., where she says she immediately felt peace and calm.

"I felt heard, I felt important, I felt wanted, I felt needed, I felt loved," Cressey said of her time there.

To this day, whenever the sun sets in a certain way, Cressey says she is reminded of the warmth of being in that home.

Jessica Cressey/Facebook
Jessica Cressey/Facebook

Bergmann-Buhler started fostering children in 1989 after her own kids had grown up and moved away. She took in over 50 children in her years as a foster parent, mostly for short-term emergency situations.

She says she simply wanted to help kids who were in need .

"I don't think I did anything special," she said.

Submitted by Britt Hunchak
Submitted by Britt Hunchak

Cressey only spent weekends over a few months with Bergmann-Buhler — she was placed with another foster family on weekdays and, after her time with Bergmann-Buhler, went on to live in other foster homes and with extended family.

Still, Cressey says, living with Bergmann-Buhler filled her with many fond memories: dressing up, playing with the family cat, feeding chickens and enjoying home-cooked meals, especially steamed broccoli with cheese sauce.

"I can still taste it as if it was yesterday," she said.

Reconnecting on Facebook

Early this month, Cressey decided to track down her former foster mom, writing a Facebook post in an attempt to connect with her.

To her surprise, Bergmann-Buhler responded a few hours later, as did hundreds of other people who had their own fond memories of her warmth.

Bergmann-Buhler, now 79 years old, says she immediately remembered Cressey when she saw the post.

"She was quite an interesting little girl, and we enjoyed having her," Bergmann-Buhler said.

The pair have reconnected over the phone and plan to meet up later this month — for the first time in decades.

Cressey says she's excited to give Bergmann-Buhler a hug to thank her, while Bergmann-Buhler insists she didn't do anything special aside from try to help kids in need.

"I was just doing normal things," she said. "It's amazing to me that we can make such an impact on somebody in such a short time."