The Doc Project

She lost her husband, then found the son she placed for adoption 3 decades earlier

When Janice Hoy became pregnant as a teenager in 1987, she had a difficult choice: raise the child herself or to place him for adoption. But she never anticipated the impact her decision would have 32 years later

Janice Hoy and the child’s father married and had three more sons, but kept the first pregnancy secret

Kevin Ferguson and his biological mother Janice Hoy pose for a selfie, November 2021. They were reunited 32 years after his birth. (Submitted by Janice Hoy)

For more than 30 years, Janice Hoy kept a tightly-guarded secret.

In 1987 she was 17 years old and pregnant. She faced a painful choice: to keep the baby, or to place him for adoption. 

Janice worried that she and the baby's father, Earl Strong, were not ready to raise a child together. And she knew she couldn't do it alone.

She was living in Courtice, Ontario, and abortion was not an option she was prepared to consider. 

17-year-olds Earl Strong and Janice Hoy on their way to high school prom in June, 1987. Janice was three months pregnant at the time. (Submitted by Janice Hoy)

On December 13th, 1987, Janice gave birth to a healthy, red-headed baby boy. "He was perfect," she said. "He was beautiful."

Janice held him, fed him, and then she went home and cried.

"I'd go several times a day. I'd sit with him and I talked to him. I told him that I was just a kid myself. I told him that I was sorry and that I loved him. I told the baby that if he ever wanted to find me, I wasn't going anywhere. I wouldn't change my name. And I hoped that one day he would want to find me."

Three days later, Janice and Earl signed the required legal documents and relinquished their rights to the child.

Janice struggled but she believed she had made the right decision. 

Staying together

She and Earl stayed together. Janice pursued her lifelong dream and became a registered nurse, and Earl a firefighter. They married and had three more boys.

Earl with sons Brock, Brody and Blake. Earl was a firefighter. (Submitted by Janice Hoy)

Janice and Earl never told anyone about their firstborn. 

"This was my dirty secret. It was something that I was embarrassed or ashamed of." 

Each year, as her firstborn son's birthday approached, Janice grieved. She told Earl that she wanted to search for him, but Earl insisted they wait until their youngest was 16 and mature enough to understand.

But in 2009, Janice secretly registered her name with the government. She wanted her son to be able to find her if he ever went looking.

In 2018, tragedy struck. Earl drowned when the snowmobile he was driving went through the ice on Sturgeon Lake in the Kawartha region of Ontario.

Janice went into a deep depression. She sought therapy, and the counsellor told her she had to confront the two big traumas in her life: the death of her husband and the loss of her firstborn child.

'Hello, I'm your birth mother'

Janice filled out the government forms. A month later, she received the birth certificate, with her son's name: Kevin Ferguson.

An adoption consultant tracked him down and Janice was able to send him a message: "Hello, I'm your birth mother. I've been waiting my — your — whole life to hear from you. I hope you'll text me back."

"I had been waiting for this message my whole life," said Kevin Ferguson. "So many questions go through my head. Who are you? Where are you from? What's our background? Do I have siblings?"

It turned out that Janice and Kevin lived in neighbouring towns, just 15 minutes apart.

"That was certainly a bit of a shock," Kevin recalled. "There was a very strong chance [that] somewhere, somehow, I had likely passed them on a street corner, or we had played hockey in the same arena. 

"Had I run into him?" wondered Janice. "Had he been to Bowmanville Emerg? Had I treated him or his brothers?"

The two made plans to meet for dinner the following evening.

But first Janice had to tell her sons.

"Brock, my middle guy, was really excited. And Brody, he was confused. He kept saying, 'I don't understand, mom.' Blake, my oldest, didn't want to hear the conversation." 

"I ran to my room and I slammed the door," recalled Blake Strong. "I didn't believe it was my dad's kid. I thought my mom had hid this from my dad his whole life, and that just made me so angry. It made me so upset."

'The first time I saw him, I knew I loved him'

Janice, along with her sons Brock and Brody, met Kevin for dinner the following night.

"The first time I saw him," said Janice, "I knew I loved him, and I knew right away he was a part of me.  We talked and we talked, and I couldn't take my eyes off of him. "

Kevin stared at his birth mother and at his newfound brothers. The resemblance was uncanny. 

"Their build, their faces. The hair. Even the way that they carried the same type of volume around in public that I do. That was a beautiful day." 

Brothers Brock, Brody and Kevin. (Submitted by Janice Hoy)

The following evening, Kevin was invited to visit the family at their home. The first encounter between Kevin and Blake had everyone on tenterhooks.

"I was probably the most terrified I've ever been in my entire life," recalled Janice's son, Blake, who, overnight, had been displaced as the eldest son. "I didn't know what was the proper way to act. I didn't know if I should hug him. I didn't know if he was even going to like me. I didn't know if I was going to like him. "

And then Kevin stepped into the house. "The dogs [were] running around, the cat was messing around in the tree. It was clean, warm. There were pictures on the walls of the family. It was surreal to see the answers to all those little questions I asked, 'What would it have been like if I wasn't adopted?'"

Biological brothers (and lookalikes) Kevin Ferguson and Blake Strong, meeting for the first time in their lives. (Submitted by Janice Hoy)

"The first thing that crossed my mind," said Blake, "was, 'Wow, he is short!' Because my brothers are all six foot tall. Kevin is maybe five seven. So I laughed and giggled."

And then the two men locked eyes. Their mouths dropped.

"It was like I was looking in a mirror," remembered Blake.

"It was shocking. I was looking at my long lost brother. He looked like my dad. He spoke like my dad. He acted like my dad. And I looked at Kevin and his horrible facial hair and how short he was, and I was like, this is my dad 2.0. It just gave me this warm, fuzzy feeling in my belly, like, he belongs. This is a last parting gift from my dad to me."

Remembering Earl

For Janice and her sons, finding Kevin has been life-giving, a salve for the loss they suffered when Earl died. "Every time Kevin is here, we give him another story about Earl. It just helps us with remembering Earl and keeping Earl's memory alive," said Janice.

"My dirty little secret, it turned out to be one of the biggest loves of my life. He was the best thing I ever did. He's a blessing, and the part of my heart that was missing is returned." 

The two mothers — the one who gave birth to Kevin and the one who raised him — haven't met yet. But that's about to change. Both families plan to gather in the coming weeks, if COVID-19 protocols in Ontario allow it.

Kevin reunited with his biological family. Back row: Brock and Brody, Front row: Kevin, Blake. Janice at centre (Submitted by Janice Hoy)

"I have an opportunity to enjoy moments that I never thought I would have," added Kevin, "And I'm way more grateful that I have such love and support seemingly every way I turn." 

Janice looks at her four sons and marvels at her good fortune. "Not in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that I would be this happy or this close with Kevin... finding Kevin and having my whole family together has been my saving grace."

About the producer

Alisa Siegel is a CBC Radio documentary maker.  She has produced stories on subjects as varied as the underground railroad for refugees in Fort Erie, daring women artists in 1920s Montreal, the return of the trumpeter swan, Canadian nurses in World War I, and violence in elementary school classrooms. She lives in Toronto with her family.

This documentary was edited by Alison Cook

Special thanks to Colleen O'Grady Johnson for sharing Janice and Kevin's story with Alisa. Colleen is the adoption consultant who helped Janice find Kevin. 

She was featured in a documentary Alisa produced last year about one man's search to find his birth mother. They were eventually reunited by the discovery of a long lost painting.