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A Photo (part 1)

Updated: Apr 5, 2019

I have been putting this blog post off for a while now, but there is a story that needs to be told. Although it isn’t my story to tell, nobody else is going to tell it, so I can only hope that my writing will do it justice. This will be the first of three blogs over the next month telling the story of this beautiful family.

“A child born to another woman calls me Mom. The depth of the tragedy and the magnitude of the privilege are not lost on me.”

– Jody Landers.

Layla was born to a woman named Alice. I never had the privilege of meeting her, but I believe that one day in heaven, we will be best friends. 

Alice died when Layla was just six months old. I do not know what illness caused her death, but she left behind her husband and a baby girl. Layla’s father did the best that he could to care for her, but, unfortunately, his best was far from good enough. After trying to take care of Layla for almost six months, her father realized she was going to die if he continued on his own. So, he courageously took Layla to the closest orphanage he could find, which just so happened to be in the village in which Eric and I lived. 

Not long after, we met Layla and began to foster her during our last few months living in Uganda. During this time, we met Layla’s biological father about three different times. He loved Layla and wanted the best for her, but he just could not take care of her. We later found Layla’s maternal grandparents, who were also too poor to take care of Layla. Occasionally, they would all meet us at the orphanage to see Layla. On one of these visits, her father brought along two other children, whose names were Farida and Ismael (Isma, for short). Through a translator, we were told that these two were Layla’s half siblings, and that their mother was alive and taking good care of them. I still thank God that I took this photo that day.

Layla with her biological father, Farida, and Isma. Layla(1) Ismael(3) Farida(5) Their father-Muhammad

A year later, we saw Layla’s family again at the court hearing for her adoption. They were all so excited to see that Layla was well taken care of and moving on to live a life where she would be happy, healthy, and loved. At the time, my sole focus was getting the adoption finished—I just didn’t have room for much else. But, pretty soon after the adoption, I so regretted never asking Layla’s grandparents for a photo of her mother. They lived far out in a rural village somewhere, so the chances of them having a camera or picture were very slim. Still, I was mad at myself for not asking. I had missed my chance. One day Layla was going to ask me about her mother, and I hated that I wouldn’t have any answers. So, when Eric went back to Uganda this past May, I asked him to try to track down a family member. In America, finding someone is an easy task, as you can find most anyone through a simple social media search. In Uganda, it can be nearly impossible. Most Ugandans don’t have addresses or social media, and they are constantly changing their phone numbers. It can take days to find someone you know well, so I had little hope that Eric could find these people we hadn’t seen in more than 4 years. I dug through Layla’s adoption file to find every bit of information I could about her family, writing down every name and phone number. Eric said he would look for them, but warned me not to get my hopes up, as he often does. For me, it’s tough not to, especially when I want something to happen so badly. I couldn’t believe it when, three days into his trip, Eric called me and said he was with Layla’s mother’s family! He’d found their village, then walked around with a picture of Layla’s grandfather until he was able to find him. The family welcomed him with hugs and were overjoyed to hear about Layla. They giggled and clapped as Eric showed them videos of Layla on his phone. Her grandmother was downright giddy to see that her grand-baby was not just healthy but thriving. 

Eric with Layla's biological family

Although the reunion was exciting for everyone, Eric couldn’t help but notice the house they all lived in. There were 15 people living in a house made of mud. You can see in the picture above that the house was crumbling apart—there are holes in the dirt walls and the windows are falling off. He knew there was no way that this family had a picture of Layla’s mother, as they couldn’t afford a camera and wouldn’t have had anywhere to print a picture. Still, Eric asked if they had a photo. To his surprise, Layla’s grandmother disappeared for a couple of minutes and returned with a huge smile. Tucked away in an old chest in that tiny mud hut, were a few old, water stained photos of Alice. I cried when Eric sent them to me. She is so beautiful and looks so much like our little Layla. 

Layla's biological mother, Alice Norah Nabanja (we do not know who the child is)

I can’t help but think of the tragedy that had to occur for me to become Layla’s mother. I wish I could hug Alice. I wish I could talk to her about Layla and laugh at the funny things Layla says. I wish we could talk about the amazing things Layla will do one day. Alice never knew I existed. She probably never thought that one day Layla would have another mother. That’s not a thought that any mother would want to have. Being Layla’s mother is the greatest joy and honor of my life. I will forever be grateful for Alice. I will forever do my best to be the mother she would want to leave her baby with. The magnitude of this privilege is not lost on me.  I showed Layla this photo of Alice a couple of months ago, and this is what followed:

Me: "Isn't she so pretty?"

Layla: "Yes, why is she wearing those bracelets?"

Me: "I'm not sure."

Layla: "I think she was wanting to look beautiful for me for when I saw the picture!"

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