Letter to my daughter’s mother

I imagine how lovely you must be. 

I see your smooth light brown skin and sparkling teeth.  The slight tilt on the sides of my daughter’s eyes, did that come from you?  I don’t see her shapely legs on a man, I am pretty sure that is your genetic stamp.  Are you tall and imposing or petite like your child?  Again, that gentle curve of the hips that make skinny jeans look so good on her must be from you. On the other hand, I do imagine the long straight nose that flares out at the end must be similar to her father’s.  Who knows, maybe he is the source of her wide smile.  You know, when she grins, her eyes crinkle up to small slits.  They are usually sparkling with mischief.

My daughter is almost a teenager.  She has already started to swing those emerging hips. These days her moods swing too, to the rhythm of her new cycle.  Yes, she is a young woman now.  As this new phase unfolds, both of us have taken to thinking about you. I know she ponders many things.  She wonders if it is you that gave her the beautiful singing voice that she plans to take to the stage.  When she tells me of yet another person who has remarked on how much she and I look alike, I can see the unspoken questions in her eyes.  It feels good when people say you look like your Mummy, but which one?

Which brings me to this question. Nyabo, what happened?

Did you know that when life separated you from your toddler, that the sharp knife that sliced you apart from your child would continue to make gashes in her heart? Did it leave the same wounds in yours? I have told her several times, as we discussed the circumstances of how she came to be mine, that your actions showed that you had wanted her to survive. To live and to grow.  You did not leave her for dead, no. Where you chose to place her ensured that she would be rescued and taken care of.  I am grateful for that.  She too, is grateful for that.

But Nyabo, did you know what would happen?

I cannot pretend to understand the deprivations that characterized the life you had both lived, that drove you to give her up.  I can only guess from what I read in the police and orphanage reports and heard from those who saw her dire physical state at that time.  Even today, my heart skips a beat when I contemplate what she went through. I think you would be relieved to know that the severely malnourished little girl would go on to regain her health and grow chubby cheeks. She adjusted to living life in an institution, one of many children recovering from their own stories of neglect and abandonment.  Unfortunately for her, because most people prefer a tiny little baby when they consider adoption, she stayed at the orphanage for years. She had even started school by the time I met her for the first time.

But Nyabo, did you know that even as she gained much needed weight, played and started to talk, her brain had already been deprived of the necessary stimulus to encourage attachment. Even after you were separated, she was unlikely to experience bonding in the orphanage with several children attached to a few caretakers.  I like to hope that you had been able to give her the cuddles and hugs that give every baby a sense of security.Perhaps you tied her on your back as you went about your housework. Maybe you sang to her as you bathed her.

During the bonding visits I made to the orphanage, she rarely made eye contact.  Until the time I asked her to check if my skirt had picked up dirt from the stone ledge we were sitting on.  For the first time, she did not look away when I held her eyes, giving me a glimpse of the tough, and feisty soul within.

Nyabo, did you know what this would mean for your baby? That attachment would have to be taught from scratch? That basic human touch would take on a complexity that would take years to unravel?  That emotions like empathy, remorse and a sense of self would have to be constructed, brick by brick? That the pain of separation would create the potential for addictions and compulsive behavior? 

Truth be told, I did not know any of this myself. It is only the grace of God, a lot of late night Google searches and dozens of foster parenting seminars that I managed to somewhat reconstruct what she had lost. Having raised her elder sister also provided a sort of baseline for what to expect and helped me to see red flags when things were not progressing at a standard pace.

Nyabo, what name did you give my daughter?  The child helpline staff and social workers had to choose a name for her.  When she came home, I named her too.  But I know that it is the deep longing for you that causes her to insist on using the name on those welfare reports. The name I gave her is unique and a little glamorous – she shares it with a singer I love.  It means, “let there be light and happiness”.  I love the coincidence that the name from those long ago police reports means “joy” or “happiness”.

When we celebrate her birthday, how far off the mark are we Nyabo?  Are her growth milestones on track or not? When she struggles or excels at school, is it because she is not being challenged enough or is it too much for her?  Are her interests typical for her age or not? 

I don’t know whether you are alive or not.  If you are still in this country or out. Do you know my daughter’s father or not?  Is he alive and does he know of her? Does she have siblings? Do you miss her; do you wonder what happened to her?  Do you care what will become of her? Would you like to know the stories she makes up in her head, about what could have forced a mother to give up her child?  I wonder if one day, you will be able to give her the answers she craves.

If life’s circumstances are what forged the knife that rendered you apart and cut short the time you had together, I pray that the wound you must bear will heal. I am sorry to tell you that the wound that your child bears is deep.  I thank God that he has enabled me to foot the huge sums in doctors’ bills that are necessary to deal with the physical and emotional consequences of this wound and undo the impact of the survival strategies she was forced to adopt.

I ask God to forgive me for the times I have inadvertently poured salt on those wounds and for the times I did not understand how those wounds were driving her difficult behavior. I ask him to forgive me for exposing her to people who did not understand how to take care of her.  Yes, sometimes it became too much for me.  Sometimes I stepped away, and let others deal with it.  But I soon realized that I was doing the same thing you did, Nyabo.  And not standing strong for her would cause even worse damage.  I willingly opened up my arms to receive this precious gift but I must confess, sometimes it all becomes too much.  This is why I think of you a lot these days.  I think it became too much for you, and you had no help.

Thank God I have help. Your child has siblings who love her fiercely, and no shortage of dotting uncles, aunties and Jajas. We have both had access to fantastic therapists. She has formed a strong bond with one of her teachers and I no longer live in dread of calls to the Principal’s office. A natural leader, she is charming, loves singing and acting and belongs to a fantastic children’s fellowship. Together we continue to unravel the complexities of her emotions. She feels remorse, yes! She feels empathy, oh yeah. She feels loved, thank God!

But Nyabo, let me give you the best news of all.  I found her father.  No, not that one. The one who created her.  Your child may not have met her biological father but she knows that there is no one better or more loving than her father in heaven.  He adores her, delights in her and has blessed her with a resilient spirit that takes my breath away. 

When I slump to the floor in my room exhausted by the latest parenting challenge, he reminds me of his promise to give strength to the weary, and make them soar on wings as eagles.  He assures me that she will be taught by him and great will be her peace.  When I worry, he laughs gently and asks, “how many times do I have to remind you that those children are mine?”

My daughter’s mother, I hope that your child and I will meet you some day. I imagine that she will give you a long tight hug, and smile until her eyes are swallowed up by her cheeks.  I think that the smile will also come from recognizing the origins of her beauty. Will she have won America’s Got Talent by then?  Will she have rolled out the engineering innovations that supply water in hard to reach areas? Perhaps she will be a movie director slash actor slash producer slash vlogger. Maybe she will be a mother like you and like me, trying to find a way for her child to survive and even thrive.  Who knows?  What I am sure of is that her Father will have healed her wounds and great will be her peace.

Isaiah 54 (NKJV)

13 All your children shall be taught by the Lord,
And great shall be the peace of your children.

Isaiah 30(NKJV)

29 He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength.
30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall,
31 But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.

Psalm 139 (NKJV)

13 For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.

Psalm 68 (NKJV)

A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows,
Is God in His holy habitation.

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