The upcoming 10th anniversary of Mylene Badiola's arrival in Newfoundland and Labrador coincides with her birthday in June — and for the first time in a decade she will get to celebrate with her son.
In February, for the first time since 2012, the Filipino woman could finally wrap her arms around her son Jade, which she did in a tear-filled hug at the St. John's airport.
"I felt like I was going to faint. I am picturing him like he was five years old," she said.
Like many people in the Philippines, Badiola left for work in Canada to send money home and provide a better life for her family.
The only problem? She had to leave her three children behind — Kate, Jelo and Jade, who were 11, nine and five years old, respectively, when she left.
"It's painful. It's sad," Badiola said, fighting back tears.
"You don't like the feeling of leaving your children for work."
But as she left to help provide her family with a better life, Badiola made a promise to her children: "I am going to work to bring you here."
She started working as a counter attendant at a Tim Hortons in downtown St. John's, moved up to shift supervisor and is now a manager trainee. A portion of her paycheque went home to her former husband, who was caring for her three children, her mother and her sister.
No money for legal help
Between shifts, she started looking at the paperwork-filled process to sponsor her children to come to Canada.
It took her two years before she even began the process, because she mistakenly thought she didn't have enough money saved. And when she applied in 2014 her application was declined, she said, her ex-husband in the Philippines wouldn't submit documents for their youngest son.
"In the requirements, the children that are on my application need to have all their medical requirements," she said. "He didn't get Jade's paperwork."
Badiola restarted the long process, which took as long as 18 months even before the pandemic hit — but she forgot to sign a specific document, killing the process before it started.
On her third try, she sent a cheque instead of paying online.
"Your immigration is very, very strict on all of the requirements. So it's been hard."
But she had a long list of people offering to help her out, including the owners of the Tim Hortons where she works, who paid for the application, and a lawyer friend who helped with the paperwork, pro bono.
I am not giving up on my kids. - Mylene Badiola
While her job and the immigration paperwork took up much of her time, Badiola found something she hadn't been looking for: love.
She married a Newfoundland man and has had two more children: Mikaal, 7, and Maya, 4. But two other children she had in Canada died of Trisomy 18, a rare but serious condition in which children are born with three copies of chromosome No. 18 instead of two. Most children born with it die soon after birth.
Badiola has grown accustomed to the challenges life has thrown her over the past 10 years, she said, but she's still in mourning over the loss of Nikolas and Malia.
But with three children a world away in the Philippines, a determined Badiola resolved to change that.
On Feb. 3, it did. After 10 years of phone calls and FaceTme, Jade — now 15 years old — arrived at St. John's International Airport.
With his younger brother, sister and stepdad holding signs and Canadian flags at the airport, Badiola — with her boss and other friends and supporters standing behind her — couldn't help but cry.
"I felt like my heart stopped beating," she said.
More than two months later, Jade has enrolled in school and gone ice skating for the first time and is making friends at St. John Bosco in Shea Heights.
Her 15-year-old son is now an older brother — kuya, as they'd say in the Philippines — to Badiola's newest son and daughter.
But he's still a teenager no matter where he was born or where he calls home now.
"He won't zip up his hoodie, he won't wear gloves, he won't wear a hat," laughed Badiola. "I always tell him, 'You're going to get sick. You're not Canadian.'"
While the family adjusts to the newest member at their Shea Heights home, Badiola remains laser-focused on the unfinished business: getting Kate and Jelo to Newfoundland and Labrador.
"I am not giving up, I am not giving up on my kids," she said. "One here, two more to go."