'She gave me her name': Ontario woman shares how she reconnected with her birth family

Heidi Belair (left) was born in Toronto and adopted when she was just a few months old. Taking a DNA test recently led her to discover more about her birth parents, and reconnect with two siblings she never knew she had, Bob Shields (centre) and Linda Keck (right).

It was only when her adoptive mother began developing dementia that Heidi Belair began to consider looking for her birth mother.

“Deep down inside I wanted to look, but I never wanted to hurt my mom,” she told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Monday. “I didn't want anybody to think I was unhappy.

“I was happy, but I was missing something.”

Belair, 59, was born in Toronto and adopted when she was just a few months old. She and her adoptive family lived in Galt, a community in Cambridge, Ont. At the age of 12, Belair was told she was adopted. While she didn’t feel inclined to search for her birth parents at the time, her desire to answer her own questions about them became stronger over time, she said.

“Sometimes you just want to know why you laugh the way you do and look the way you do,” Belair wrote in an email to CTVNews.ca on April 27. “There is always that lingering question [of], ‘Who am I?’”

In December of 2021, Belair decided to take a DNA test and received her results on Jan. 3, discovering that she was 79 per cent Scottish and 21 per cent Irish. After reaching out to some of the people who matched with her profile, she was able to reconnect with first cousins in Glasgow. Working together with a couple of her newly-found relatives, Belair eventually gained access to her adoption papers. She discovered that her birth name was Isabel Helen Wilson, and that her mother’s name was Isabel Thomson Wilson.

“I started crying because she gave me her name,” Belair said through tears. “I believe my mom did that [to] make it easier for me to find [my family], because she knew that she couldn’t look for me.”

Belair’s mother was about 15 years old when she gave birth to her, and her father was a teacher. With some more digging, a friend of Belair’s was able to locate her birth mother’s death certificate on Ancestry.ca, discovering that she had died from stage four ovarian cancer at the age of 52.

The certificate was posted by someone named Bob Shields, Belair said. Looking at his online profile, she saw that he was a musician living in the Guelph area who taught at Mohawk College. After searching for him on Facebook, she sent him a message, which he read within minutes, Belair said.

“He said, ‘You’re not my half-sibling, you're my full sibling, and you have a sister. We've been looking for you all our lives,’” Belair said. “We both bawled – he's just as emotional as I am.”

Shields had grown up with their sister, Linda Keck, who would eventually become an ICU nurse with the Federal Emergency Management Association and move to Florida. After Belair was born in 1963, her parents gave birth to Shields in 1964 and Keck in 1965, although neither was given up for adoption as Belair had been. Belair was quickly able to find Keck on Facebook as well, and the two connected over FaceTime right away.

“We just looked at each other and laughed,” Belair said. “I have a very loud laugh, and I've had it since I was a very small girl. Well, she has it too.

“We just laughed and cried, and it was like looking at myself [in a mirror].”

Now, she and her birth sister are in close contact, speaking with each another several times a week, Belair said.

Despite the sadness that came with discovering both her birth parents had passed, Belair said reconnecting with both her birth siblings, along with nine first cousins and two aunts, has been “incredible.” Her siblings said they looked for her from a young age, Belair said, but had very little information upon which to base their search. Relatives have since provided her with birth, death and marriage certificates, finally allowing her to complete the family tree of her birth relatives.

Belair and her two siblings have planned a family reunion from May 26 to 30, where they will gather at a campsite near White Lake, west of where Belair currently lives in Ottawa. Keck will be flying in from Florida, and Belair will pick her up from the airport. Meanwhile, Shields will be driving in with his wife and daughter from Hamilton, Ont. Belair’s adoptive brother, Robin, will also attend, as will her immediate family.

“[Bobby and Linda] sent me flowers and they said, ‘We've been waiting for you all our lives. We're sending you these flowers. But the real thing we want is to give you a hug,’” Belair said. “I’m going to cry for days.”

While she admits that the upcoming reunion has her feeling stressed about leaving a good impression, Belair said she’s ultimately thankful that she went searching for her birth relatives.

“There's honestly a sense of peace,” she said. “It's a contentment I've never felt before.”

Eventually, Belair said she hopes to meet with members of her extended birth family in Glasgow and other parts of the world.

“It has really brought everybody together, all the cousins are talking again and it's amazing.”