• middleofalovestory

RACING AGAINST TIME TO MEET HER FATHER

In the middle of a pandemic, a DNA test revealed a relationship my mom had been waiting for her whole life, but her families--known and foreign--are scattered around the world, still waiting for their first face-to-face meeting.
The author, Sarah Lopez-Pozas, who writes about her mother Tess

LinkedIn had a notification for me on May 1, 2020 that changed the life of my family forever, but I almost didn’t open it. An unfamiliar name with the headline “Ancestry.” Maybe it’s a membership offer to the Ancestry website, I thought, so I didn’t think to read it. I got another notification, however, this time on Facebook messenger. Same unknown person. Huh. Okay, maybe this is something else. So this time I gave it a try.


It was a message from a woman named Elizabeth, asking if I was related to a certain “Teresa Lopez-Pozas,” who happens to be my mother. She said that she and her family had done a DNA test that had revealed that they were closely related.


At this point, I didn’t expect much.


My mom, Teresa, was adopted around 60 years ago as an infant, and we never got a concrete story as to who gave her to her adoptive parents and why. The loving couple who adopted her were not able to meet her biological parents and also had very little to go by as my mom was somewhat passed onto them. We only had a dilapidated picture of her mother, and a name we could barely do anything with. This fact about her life was always a root of many habits she developed as well as lowly opinions of herself.

We only had a dilapidated picture of her mother, and a name we could barely do anything with. This fact about her life was always a root of many habits she developed as well as lowly opinions of herself.
Sarah's mom, Tess Pozas

I couldn’t count all the times my mom stopped to wonder in the middle of a movie or on the car ride home why she wasn’t worth having. This was something we learned to carry with her—my father, and us, her four children. I learned early on that telling someone who was adopted how lucky they were is bad practice. Just imagining what it would be like if I was adopted, gives me a knot in my stomach I can’t explain, just because I know the struggles of my mom’s life so well. This is definitely not to say that I am against adoption—because I am all for it, but we’re getting off-topic.


I reply to the message saying, “Hi Elizabeth. She’s my mom. That’s great.”


I got my mom a 23&me DNA test as a birthday present about two years back. An uncle also got her an Ancestry test kit before then. We thought we could figure out her heritage at best, and that’s exactly what we found—something to maybe explain my mom’s hazel eyes. The test showed that my mom is half-Filipino, and half-uhm, Spanish-English-Scandinavian. We couldn’t, however, find anyone closer than a third cousin, and hoped that maybe a closer relative would pop up in a few year’s time in the database, but never, say, a sibling—or more so a parent—given my mom’s age. I expected at best that Elizabeth was a cousin, trying to bury any expectation or hope just as my mom had done for so long.

I couldn’t count all the times my mom stopped to wonder in the middle of a movie or on the car ride home why she wasn’t worth having.

I asked Elizabeth calmly if she remembers the relation specified by 23&me on the site.

She replied, “It seems she is my half-sister.”


My heart dropped. And then it started pounding so loud and my hands started shaking. My mom has a sibling (it turns out she has two).


“I wanted to connect her with our dad and also to tell her more about our family,” Elizabeth typed.


At this point I was crying. My grandfather is alive.

Carlos Boburg--Tess Pozas' father whom she has been looking for all her life--in his younger days.

I told my fiancé, who was sitting right next to me, about what was going on. It was around 8 PM at our apartment in Norway, but it was 3 AM in Metro Manila where my parents live. We decided to call my dad who we knew would still be up. We told him the news, and surely enough, he cried out of happiness.


Mom had a hard time sleeping that night, and took a sleeping pill. She passed out on the sofa watching Koreanovelas, but it took us about 3 seconds to decide we should still wake her up for the news.

There are very few moments of elation in life, like finding someone who you feel like you’ve lost forever—and we feel utterly astounded that modern science has allowed this to happen in our lifetime.

I told Elizabeth what her reaching out means to us, that we have so much to catch up on, and that I will schedule a call at the soonest possible time between everyone right after mom catches her breath.


My mom was rightfully peeved that we woke her up, groggy from the sleeping aid, but when we told her what had just happened, she couldn’t move in shock 'til the morning. Her dad, Carlos, is 84 years old, a retired U.S. Air Force official who moved to the United States around the time of the Vietnam war. He came from a line of travelers and immigrants, and grew up in Guatemala and Belize. During the war, he was stationed in the Philippines among many other places, and now lives in Oklahoma with Betty, his wife. Carlos, we heard, was just as shocked by the news of his daughter. Elizabeth had arranged for this DNA test for members of the family and delivered the news to him. He apparently messaged my mom as soon as he found out through the 23&me website, saying he was happy to find her and to please contact him soon.

Tess Pozas (bottom, right) and her family
During the war, he was stationed in the Philippines among many other places, and now lives in Oklahoma with Betty, his wife. Carlos, we heard, was just as shocked by the news of his daughter.

However, we hadn’t logged in for a while, and that’s why Elizabeth had to find potential relatives of my mom on several platforms.


Good thing our last name was pretty uncommon.


Again, being adopted for my mom, albeit being taken in by a loving and diverse family, was quite difficult, but this moment—it was glorious. There are very few moments of elation in life, like finding someone who you feel like you’ve lost forever—and we feel utterly astounded that modern science has allowed this to happen in our lifetime. My mom, in the past, had even joined Amerasian groups (with the assumption that she was part American) in hopes of finding her dad, but was always so scared everytime she heard of men in the United States denying relationships with their children even after DNA tests proved otherwise. Carlos was not like those men.

The video call reuniting father Carlos, and daughter, Tess
At this point I was crying. My grandfather is alive.

What followed that night was a video call we couldn’t have prepared ourselves for. How do you start calling someone Grandpa off the bat? How do you ask about Grandma? How uncanny will it be to see faces that look so much like ours? Will my mom be able to speak in the call at all? She was so nervous.


The call was fantastic, and yes, my mom was hardly able to speak. Grandpa, everytime he spoke, showed that he was undoubtedly my mother’s father.

He loved to talk and make friends with strangers, just like mom.


He cracked jokes with ease, just like mom.


He loved gardens, eating innards, and wine, just like my mom.

Grandpa, everytime he spoke, showed that he was undoubtedly my mother’s father.

And even if all these similarities weren’t present, the fact that he embraced my mom at that very moment would have been more than enough to convince my mom that this sprightly, bright-eyed fellow was always a part of her.


He told us that he had had quite the adventure in the Philippines when he was just a youth of no more than 22. A Filipina he dated told him she was pregnant as he was about to be stationed elsewhere, and his oldest sister offered to raise his baby as her own—but by the time my grandfather had the chance to go back to the Philippines, my grandmother was long gone. He had heard from a friend in the service that she had had a boy.

The only photo Teresa has of her mom (pictured right). Tess is seen here as an infant being carried by her first adoptive mom.
What followed that night was a video call we couldn’t have prepared ourselves for. How do you start calling someone Grandpa off the bat? How do you ask about Grandma? How uncanny will it be to see faces that look so much like ours?

Grandpa had fought cancer twice in his life, and travels to Guatemala often to visit his siblings there. The Scandinavian blood came from his great-grandfather, whose name he still carries, though Americanized. His wife Betty, has a son of her own, Carl, whom he talks about with pride, just like his two kids with Betty, Shawn and Elizabeth. Elizabeth was a lawyer, and is an avid reader and mother of two, while Shawn is a investigative writer by profession with three young children. They live in different states in the East with their respective families. My mother’s half-siblings seemed like puzzle pieces in my mom’s life that have finally been found. Us kids have an amazing half-sibling on our dad’s side, and we knew just by meeting Shawn and Elizabeth, that they would be the same to my mom.

The Boburg family tree scroll kept by Carlos shows the family’s roots. The name comes from the Scandinavian last name “Boberg”, which was changed in Ellis Island, NY when one descendant moved to America.

Another puzzle piece we tried to find was my grandmother, but all our leads on the DNA sites were dead ends. One person we felt had a high chance of knowing her didn’t return our messages.


But that was okay. For what we had, we were more than grateful.


All this was beautiful, but the next few months would prove very difficult for my mom and the entire family. News of the pandemic and the spikes of cases in the US kept (and is keeping) us on the edge of our seats. What if we could just visit Grandpa now, we thought? My mom couldn’t fix a US visa due to embassy limitations in the Philippines. More importantly, Grandpa and Betty needed to be kept safe from everyone travelling. So it didn’t matter if some of us had the chance to travel to him either, which we unfortunately didn’t have the means to do so at the moment.

Another puzzle piece we tried to find was my grandmother, but all our leads on the DNA sites were dead ends.

I, her eldest, migrated to Norway to be with my then-fiancé. I couldn’t leave Norway then due to papers I was waiting for and now, due to country requirements for quarantine and a probationary period at a new job. One of my brothers, Joshua, was working in London, stuck in a borough that wasn’t doing so well. Another brother, Joseph, was in Sydney with his wife where they worked as nurses, while our youngest, Julia, was in the Philippines with my parents.


The pressure to bring my mom and grandpa together during a pandemic or at the first sign of its regression is something I can’t describe. It’s a push and pull, and I shuffle daily between thoughts of flying there myself to even just wave to grandpa from across the street. If that was just a valid way of bringing him closer to her.

Carlos Boburg, 2010

This happiness combined with this dread of her father being affected by the pandemic was tough on my mom. And if it wasn’t enough, my mom lost her only living adoptive brother in October due to kidney disease. The same week, my dad had a heart attack that needed a triple bypass. This crippled us in so many ways as this was the second heart attack my dad had had within two years, and this time, recovery was ridiculously difficult.

The pressure to bring my mom and grandpa together during a pandemic or at the first sign of its regression is something I can’t describe.

A week ago, we called grandpa to wish him a Merry Christmas.


He said, “I think I’ve had a little too much wine, but I just want you to know that I love you.” I started crying on the call.


He made us laugh and reassured us that he was trying to walk a bit everyday to stay healthy. He talked about his time in the war, and how he lost friends and how he thought it was such a painful experience for everyone on either side of it. He talked about his siblings who had just passed. He talked about wanting to see horses and cattle in Guatemala.

He said, “I think I’ve had a little too much wine, but I just want you to know that I love you.” I started crying on the call.

I’m sure we have never loved anyone we have never met in person so much.


We call mom’s half-siblings and their families as well to catch-up. Shawn and Elizabeth have bright and beautiful children who I can’t wait to meet, and we talk about what Christmas food is like in the corners of the world we were in. We exchange Netflix recommendations, and we all try to normalize this experience just as much as we can—but I sort of love how easy it is, to love family members you find out you have overnight.

I’m sure we have never loved anyone we have never met in person so much.

And so we wait a few more weeks, a few more months—hopefully at the most,


hoping the situation in the States and in the Philippines gets better faster than anticipated,


hoping that Betty and grandpa Carlos can get a vaccine at the soonest,


hoping this year doesn’t end without him embracing his daughter for the first time.


Photos grabbed from Facebook. From top left: Tess and husband Raymond with their kids 6 years ago, a photo of Carlos and wife Betty, more recent photos of Tess’ half siblings: Shawn with wife Stephanie and family, and Elizabeth with husband Cristobal and their kids.

Story by Sarah Lopez-Pozas

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