Tina Bejarano Gardere is the central California woman who recently discovered that her first child, whom she was told had died at birth nearly 30 years ago, has actually been alive this whole time.
Bejarano says that after giving birth at age 17, her own mother had told her that the baby had died about 15 minutes after the birth. Bejarano told Fox affiliate KMPH-TV that she always celebrated the child’s birthday each year and mourned the loss. But her mother had lied to her. The child was adopted at five days old and grew up in the Las Vegas area.
That child, Kristin Cooke, is now living in New Jersey with a wife and child of his own. He reached out to Bejarano after a DNA test revealed that she was his mother. Bejarano says they have been communicating for months over the phone and will meet in-person at Thanksgiving.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Tina Bejarano Gardere Took a DNA Test to Learn About Her Heritage
Tina Bejarano Gardere explained to KMPH-TV reporter Marie Edinger that growing up, she didn’t know her extended family well. She was raised by her stepfather and mother. Bejarano described her mother as being “abusive.”
As an adult, one of Bejarano’s daughters convinced her that it would be interesting to take a DNA test. The goal had been to learn more about her family heritage.
She never imagined that the test would lead to finding her first-born child. Bejarano explained that she had believed her own mother’s claim that the baby had died at birth.
2. Bejarano & Her Husband, Eric Gardere, Have Five Other Children & At Least 12 Grandchildren
Tina Bejarano gave birth to her first child and mourned the loss of the baby at age 17. Bejarano started dating Eric Gardere a few months later. They got married in July of 1991, according to her Facebook page, shortly after her 19th birthday.
They went on to have five children of their own– two daughters and three sons. The family lives in Los Banos, which is located in Merced County in central California.
Gardere was not the biological father of Bejarano’s first child. But he said he always thought of the lost child as his own. He told KMPH-TV that his wife always became very depressed for several days surrounding the anniversary of the baby’s birth.
Now that they have been reunited with Kristin Cooke, Gardere said they text on a daily basis. “He calls me dad. I call him son.”
Bejarano wrote on her Facebook page that she and Gardere have 12 grandchildren.
3. Tina Bejarano Said It Made No Difference to Her That Kristin Had Transitioned
Tina Bejarano’s first child was born a girl. But Kristin Cooke is transgender and is referred to as a man. Bejarano said it made no difference to her because she loves her child no matter what.
Kristin Cooke has been very open about his transition. He has a blog called “The Trans Dad” to document his experience as a father. In the blog, Cook explained that he was raised in a Mormon family in Las Vegas but felt out of place as a girl. He said the mother who raised him was supportive of his choices and allowed him to dress like a boy.
Cooke came out as a lesbian as a teenager. He said he met his wife, Ashley, in 2010 and they got married in 2013 as a lesbian couple. He explained that his decision to transition put a severe strain on the marriage, but that he and Ashley eventually worked their way through it. “What I didn’t realize in all this excitement of being able to become truly me was that I’m not the only one in transition. Ashley had to mourn the loss of her wife to beable to truely love her husband. My parents had to mourn the loss of their daughter to gain a son.”
Cooke and his wife live in New Jersey. Their daughter, Scarlet Rae, was born in March of 2019. Cooke explained that he started his blog as a way to document the “trials and tribulations that come along with being a trans dad. This is my story, this is me writing for me, documenting the adventures of these chapters in our life. I’d like this to be a community for all walks of life in the LGBTQIA+ family, new and old parents come together and share the joys and sorrows of parenthood.”
4. The Gardere Family Operates a Martial Arts School
Eric Gardere wrote on his Facebook page that he has been involved with martial arts for most of his life. He says he founded Twin Tigers Kung Fu and served as the instructor.
The business Facebook page for the school includes videos of Gardere and Bejarano’s children practicing their martial arts skills.
The martial arts school does not appear to be registered with the state of California. A search of the California Secretary of State website does not bring up any results for Twin Tigers Kung-Fu.
5. Tina Bejarano Is Originally From San Jose
Tina Bejarano lists San Jose, California, as her hometown on her Facebook page. But it appears she also spent some time in Mississippi. She wrote on her page that she attended Oak Grove High School in Hattiesburg. She later attended college at San Jose State University.
On a second Facebook account, Bejarano wrote that she returned to college at UC Merced in 2016. It’s on this page that she listed Kristin Cooke as one of her sons. On her primary page, Bejarano described herself as a “Happly married woman with 6 kids 12 grand kids.”