A DNA Test Revealed Family Secrets That Changed Everything
Growing up between Mexico and California, I learned to cope through instability and abandonment.
I learned from an early age that my mom was adopted. Instability and chaos are what I most remember of my childhood. Mom was a mythical creature that was full of life and had the inexplicable power to attract others. Although she was neurotic, chaotic, irresponsible, unpredictable and at times uncaring, she was absolutely comfortable in her skin. Mom had to have her freedom no matter what the cost.
But she developed the habit of sporadically abandoning me and my five siblings, sometimes for years at a time, just dumping us off on her neighbors and our Nana. As an infant, my siblings and I were separated. She left one of my older brothers and me with an unknown neighbor. This part of my history seems to be a total blur in my family's memories.
Growing Up With an Unstable Mother Wasn’t Easy
The earliest memories I have as a child is my time with Nana, my mother’s foster mom. Nana was brave enough to take on the responsibility of raising me and my three brothers in addition to her own adopted son and a niece that was sent to her in Mexico City. Can you imagine what it takes to raise so many children? She managed to keep her household impeccably clean and her affairs in order. Nana was content with her routines. The sleeveless dresses she wore to stay cool in the hot Sierra Madre desert always exposed her strong brown shoulder. She was a reserved woman who spoke only when necessary. She wore her three gold bracelets and gold ring with a sense of honor. Her jewelry seemed to always have traces of masa from the tortillas she handmade. She was natural and wore no makeup, a thrifty woman who never spent money on herself and always took care of the food and household needs. Although my Nana was not one to easily demonstrate her affection, she never failed to care for our every need.
During this time, I felt like a ghost. As my body moved around the house going from room to room, I felt as if I was floating, dissociated from my environment. As I traveled around the house, I witnessed Nana in her habitual routine moving from the stove to the kitchen table cooking and preparing food for the family. It was like a mirage. I heard her voice, “Mi hija Magdalena ya viene por la niña,'' sharing with them that my mother would be coming to take me with her. These words filled me with anguish, uncertainty and created an infinite whirling that pierced through my stomach and chest. There was no face of this person they called my mom to refer to in my mind. I drew a blank. She abandoned me at such a young age there were no memories or feelings to connect us. This stranger was now coming to remove me from the people who had offered me safety and care, yet, I felt ready to move on. Perhaps because this place represented where I was forgotten, felt no outgoing love and abandoned. I finally landed in my body ready to face whatever may come. Somehow, the news filled me with the courage to take her hand. I was ready to go “al otro lado,” across the U.S. border.
I Eventually Had Stability, but It Didn’t Last
When my mom and I arrived in California, I was introduced to my new stepfather, my new baby brother and was also reunited with my two older siblings. For a while, family life was perfect. I had my own bedroom; we shared wonderful holidays; Mom and Dad were in love. One of the most memorable moments during these happy days was one Christmas when my parents surprised us with new bikes. I learned how to ride my bike faster than my eldest brother and was thrilled.
Suddenly, everything turned around. My mother was diagnosed with uterus cancer and was hospitalized. During her recovery at the hospital. I was told that my stepdad had asked for a divorce. My mother recovered and moved straight into her new adventure. My brothers and I, on the other hand, ended up back with our Nana. This time, in her wisdom, she reunited me with the man she believed to be my father. At my Nana’s request, this stranger came for a visit to meet me. There was a calmness to him, and I felt comfortable and accepting. It inspired a smile in my heart. It was soon after that my new dad took me to his home to introduce me to his wife and my three new siblings. They were kind, respectful and always treated me with love. I felt like I was family.
Some Genetic Testing Stories Don’t Have a Happy Ending
News would randomly hit about my mom’s whereabouts—some said she was in California, others thought she was in Australia, while some believed she was here in Mexico. Needless to say, she continued to mystify people's imagination. She was a mystery to us all. I often asked myself “Why does mom behave like this?” Is it possible that her unknown mother also gave birth to children with different men? Did she also feel like I did—unwanted? Did her siblings also share this same pattern? Why couldn’t she just be normal? My mind was often full of questions?
I don't know how I turned out as well as I have. As an adult, my childhood feels like a rollercoaster, full of ups and downs and lots of unknowns. I am happily married now with a lovely adult daughter and a wonderful caring husband. Although I had been reluctant to take a DNA test, I felt compelled when my husband gifted it to me. Initially, I hesitated because of my distrust in the possible unknown uses of my DNA, but my curiosity outweighed the worries. I was fascinated by the results. I was excited by the ethnic breakdown and the geographic tracing of my DNA around the world.
A few months later I purchased a test for my younger brother. Weeks later we got results and realized he was in fact not blood-related to me. I was devastated, as this also meant that the man I called “dad” until the day he died was not my father. It broke my heart. I recognize this man was brave enough to claim me as his daughter and made me part of his family. After much discussion with my brother, we decided not to inform our siblings and continue to move forward as if nothing had happened. We both realized that love and family are beyond blood.
My Unexpected DNA Results Did Have a Silver Lining
Weeks later, after receiving my DNA results, I was sent an email from a person who turned out to be my mother’s unknown sister’s son—my cousin. I found out they had always lived nearby, and that for a time, we literally lived on opposite sides of the same freeway. After many exchanges, I discovered my mom and her siblings all came from different fathers and that they too had at times been abandoned by their mother, my grandmother. It became clear that there was a generational pattern with the women on my mother’s side, who were having children in unstable relationships that resulted in them leaving their children behind.
Despite my past, I consciously chose to nurture and love my daughter and husband. I have broken the ancestral pattern of bad choices and abandonment which has burdened the women of my family. My DNA test results opened many doors to discover my family's history and brought new questions regarding my unfound father.
Does he know I exist? Would he like to know me? Do I look like my father and his children? Is he still alive? I wonder.