“Our complicated, beautiful love story starts in July 2013. We met under hot African sun, just weeks after I had moved to Uganda. She was a tiny little thing with the biggest brown eyes I had ever seen. She sat off by herself quietly in her own little world. I was going to bring her to play with the other children when a staff member from the orphanage warned me, ‘She won’t let you play with her. She won’t let anyone play with her. She’s very stubborn.’ But I was stubborn too, and eventually that little 12-pound 2-year-old was happy to let me push her on the swings and take her for a walk with the other kids.
After that day, it was a while before I went back to see her. I knew the dangers of short-term volunteers going into orphanages and the attachment issues it created. I knew if I wanted to be a part of her life, I would have to want it badly enough to be there for the long haul.
Besides her severe malnutrition, she had various other developmental delays and medical issues. I heard through the grapevine she had recently been diagnosed with failure to thrive. Shortly after, I went to meet with the orphanage administration and asked to take her to see some doctors and specialists in a larger city. They quickly agreed, and we spent the following months traveling back and forth, meeting with multiple doctors, therapists and specialists.
We often left with more questions than answers before finally seeing a wonderful neurologist who was willing to order tests and advocate for her care and well-being. This sweet little girl was still such a question mark to so many. She was still not eating, continuing to lose weight, and become more and more withdrawn. At our third appointment, our doctor took off his glasses and looked me in the eyes. ‘I strongly believe in a healthy family setting, this child would thrive. However, should she remain in an orphanage, I do not expect her to have a very long life. Have you ever considered pursuing foster custody of her?’
I felt the weight of his words and had to catch my breath. I was young. Really young. I didn’t necessarily want to be a mom, and I wasn’t convinced I would even be a very good one anyways. I had lived in the country long enough to know that while adoption in Uganda was very much on the rise, it was corrupt and complicated to say the least.
Many adoptions were taking place of children who could have and should have remained with their biological families. There was a lot of confusing conversation surrounding it and I wasn’t sure at all that I wanted to be a part of it. Because of all of this, the laws at that time stated you must live in Uganda and foster your child for a minimum of three years before pursuing adoption. I hadn’t even begun to think three years into the future, and I didn’t know about any of this, but I knew I could not hear the doctor’s words and choose to not do anything.
I spent the next few weeks going over all of this in my mind before once again meeting with the orphanage director to inquire about the process of becoming a foster parent. She agreed on the condition that during our 3 years of fostering, every effort be made to assure there were no extended relatives within Uganda capable of caring for her.
I brought my Selah Brynn to our Ugandan home one year after meeting her. We fell into an awkward new rhythm of doctors appointments, therapy sessions, and learning how to trust. She was scared, I was scared, and I am certain we both knew it. But in time she became mine and I became hers and I loved her with every fiber of my being. Over time, the scared, withdrawn little person who could only sit unassisted for short periods of time, became a chubby toddler who ran and danced and laughed easily.
About halfway through the fostering process, it became very evident that due to her special needs, finding a family for her in her original village was simply not possible and I was given the go ahead to pursue adoption at the end of our fostering process. It was also at this time we realized we were quickly exhausting all medical resources available to us in Uganda. Our kind neurologist who had been advocating my daughter’s health for years, confirmed the best option for her would be to move to America as soon as possible to continue her care there.
If I thought that our early days of fostering were the most difficult of days, the actual adoption and immigration processes would prove that a lie. I cannot even begin to list every hurdle, hold up, or obstacle we were up against. I had been living in Uganda for nearly three years and had never planned to be there so long. Selah was worth every second, but each day was becoming more painful and all I wanted was to go home. I was dealing with severe trauma and anxiety, all along knowing that while our Ugandan doctors were phenomenal, my daughter was not receiving the medical attention she desperately needed. As the months crept by, I was becoming more and more desperate to go home – to settle and live a simple, ‘normal’ life.
In the summer of 2016, I knew I needed a break. I was having health issues of my own, and knew the only way I would survive the remainder of our time in Uganda would be if I sought therapy for myself. Selah stayed with close friends, while I took a much-needed trip to the States. I was able to work on adoption paperwork from that end, as well as begin setting up what our lives would look like once we finally made it there for good. That trip was everything I needed and gave a tiny bit of hope that we would truly make it.
Meanwhile, during my time in Uganda, I had kept in touch with my childhood best friend and middle school crush. Growing up, our teachers would tease us saying we would get married someday. I had spent my high school years riding backroads and listening to music in his truck. He had forever been one of the sweetest, steadiest parts of my whole life.
Kade had recently joined the military and was stationed in San Diego. On a whim, I booked a weekend trip to visit him before returning home to Uganda. I was crazy about him. I always had been, but my life was literal chaos and I had no idea when we would ever be able to live in the same place. But being the incredible man he is, he didn’t care. He met me in the center of all of my chaos and crazy and chose to walk with me through it all. I returned to Uganda at the end of that trip completely in love, and even more ready to move home.
On October 4, 2016, I stood before a judge in a tiny courtroom in Kampala, Uganda. On that hot and beautiful day, Selah Brynn Namwase became legally and forever mine. ‘Just as much as if she had been born to you.’ We were certain at that time we were only months away from finally being able to go home to America and we could hardly wait. But as with every other part of our journey, it was slow and unforeseen.
As 2017 came to a close, we still were not home, and my Ugandan visa was running out and had no available extensions left. I tried everything I knew, but in the end had to return to America without my daughter to finish the immigration process from there. We spent the most grueling and heart-wrenching 6 months of my life apart, and I doubted every second that this indescribably difficult journey would ever end.
But in July of 2018, nearly five years after our story began, I finally received word I was able to travel back to Uganda for Selah’s final visa exit interview.
The day before I was scheduled to fly out, Kade and I went hiking as our last ‘kid-free’ date. As we reached the top of the mountain, he got down on one knee, promised to love me and my daughter for the rest of forever, and asked me to be his wife. I laughed and cried and could not believe I was watching every last bit of what I always wanted finally come to be. I hopped on an airplane the next morning with a ring and a promise and every bit of fear and anxiety my body could hold, in fear that this could still all go terribly wrong.
On July 9, 2018, we stood in an immigration office where every bit of our five-year journey was reduced to pieces of paper and a stranger to officially determine our fate. But finally, after years and years of hurt, struggle, and heartache, the weight of the world lifted. That stranger looked me in the eyes and said, ‘Well done. You have everything you need. Congratulations, you can take your daughter and go home.’ I picked up her visa at the embassy a few days later, and just like that, we cleared Ugandan immigration for the final time, and were on an airplane a few hours later.
The doors of the plane were closed and locked. We were wheels up, looking out the window, and catching final glimpses of my daughter’s birth country and the place I called home for the past five years. And that’s when it all hit me. I had flown in and out of Uganda countless times in the past 6 years. The breathtaking views of Lake Victoria and Kampala’s city lights were almost normal to me. But every single time, regardless of where in the world I was flying to, all I had wanted was to be taking my daughter home with me, and this time, there she was.
We spent the next 30+ hours shuffling between 4 different airports and layovers with a couple of suitcases that contained all that was left of our lives in Uganda. We were tired, but I was deliriously happy and every person we passed knew it. We were running through airports and eating at restaurants I had only dreamed of being at with my sweet little sidekick. What I quickly realized when we landed in America on July 14, 2018, was that there is no way to have prepared myself for all of this goodness. All the things I’d spent years and years praying for and wanting were right here. I didn’t deserve it. I still don’t deserve it. But thankfully the grace of God is so much greater than my brain can even begin to comprehend.
There aren’t words for all the feelings and the overwhelming abundance of peace that met us the moment we landed on American soil. But I felt like I was breathing in all the way for the first time in years.
Three months from the day we landed on American soil, I married the love of my life in the little country church we grew up in. Selah was there in a white, fluffy tutu, dancing and laughing the entire time.
I didn’t know what to expect from our life in America. I had placed zero expectations on Kade and Selah’s relationship, wanting only what would come natural to them. But they both slid into their new normals beautifully and easily. Watching Selah thrive and come to life under the love of a father has been the most redemptive story I have ever been lucky enough to witness.
In the past five years, I’ve been fortunate enough to live a lot of life. I’ve traveled a lot of places and been lucky enough to experience a lot of things. But none of them have ever made me happier than this quiet, ordinary place that we are right now. Since arriving in America 9 months ago, we have celebrated our wedding, holidays, and vacations. But our most beautiful days have been in the sweet, sweet simplicity of everyday life. When I can look out the window and see my daughter, laughing with her daddy – happy, healthy and home. Each and every tiny, mundane moment – the times I let myself breathe in deep and let it all sink in – are what I fought so long and so hard for. I am thankful beyond words for this journey, for our story, and this beautiful, beautiful life.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Macey Felty. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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