Unexpected Motherhood

Motherhood found me when I least expected it. I was six months into marriage to an adventurous psychiatrist and we had just moved into a bungalow amidst tea plantations in rural south Asia. Adoption had been in each of our hearts and minds for years before we married, yet our adoption journey is different than most. And it has ended differently than many others as our son went to meet His Maker in June 2016 (right before his 5th birthday). Elizabeth Elliot’s words echo in my heart and mind throughout these years since his death, “of one thing I am certain, God’s story never ends in ashes”.

If you and I (as my newlywed self) had shared a cup of spicy chai on my back patio, overlooking the tea patty fields steaming with humidity, and you had asked what my plans were for children I would have said “oh at least 3 years…most likely 5…there is so much work to be done!”. If you then had proceeded to ask me what my interest was for people with disabilities in India I may have coughed up that chai and made a glorious mess of myself. I simply had not let my heart or mind go to that community. Seeing the hunched over grandmother stricken with leprosy struggle through cooking her dinner pained me and I struggled with how to serve her. But I did not think I had any role in caring for her beyond visits and prayers. Seeing the boy who was crippled by polio as a child and unable to walk due to the deformities in his legs ached my heart and made me cry out to God as to ‘why’. But it did not beckon me forward to engage with him. I stayed a distance from that group of society. I did not get it and, honestly, I did not want to. Therefore, to imagine myself inviting a child into my family with a disability was far from possible.

However, on September 18th  my first son was born and I didn’t know it until the next day.

He was born in the hospital where we were working with a genetic condition that left him with significant physical deformities. He had absent eyelids, no fingers, severely webbed legs, a cleft palate and lip, as well as an absent nose. He was abandoned at the hospital by his birth family who were too saddened by his condition and who spiritually saw him as a curse. When I first met him, he was lying alone in the only infant warmer bed at the hospital. His eyes were perpetually open because he had no eyelids to close them. Due to the webbing of his legs, he could not really uncoil his body into a comfortable position so he just lied there curled up with eyes searching the whole room over. My husband and I led many in praying for this little one. The hospital staff joined in praying and hundreds around the world joined in, emailing prayer notes and letters to this precious baby boy. I read Psalm 139 where it says “your eyes saw my unformed body”. I had read this passage so many times, yet never had that verse pierced my heart. But this God and His Word, Living, it has its ways. It is alive and it is active and it pierces bone and marrow as it penetrates these feeble hearts of ours. When I questioned his condition, His Word, Living, answered with “Your eyes saw my UNFORMED body”. This baby boy, basically, was unformed. His eyelids never fully descended and his palate and lips didn’t fully form. He was unformed from head to toe. But God saw him. God formed him. God wove his existence into being, unformed that it was. And that same God saw it fit to breathe life into this little one’s lungs. This was a life, it was good, and it had value.

We named him Adam so that he would not be known as “that baby”, or worse, “that thing” anymore. God made that first man, Adam, in his image and saw that he was good.

We wrestled over the implications of an abandoned baby in rural south Asia. We questioned what the best response was to his life. Would he even live long? What sort of medical care did he need? Did it even make sense to repair such a broken body? Would he go blind without eyelids? Most likely he would and most likely he would lose his eyes due to the dryness that would lead to corneal ulcers and further complications. The questions were overwhelming. We imagined his existence in the confines of a rural mission hospital. Staff would come and go and so would his care. He would be moved from empty patient bed to empty patient bed without any semblance of normal and far from a notion of family. So we continued to pray and we asked others to pray. We had no idea that we were to be his family.

Meanwhile, my husband and I had been doing a Tim Keller study on the book of Romans. We had crossed Romans 8.15 which says “He has not given you a spirit of fear but of sonship by which you cry out ‘Abba! Father!”.

When Adam was just three days old, my husband came home from work and exclaimed,

Jess, we were Adam”

I responded, “and that means…?”

Jess, we were Adam, spiritually, before Christ. We were disfigured by our sin, we were orphans (john 14.16), and were destined for death (Romans 3.23). But God, in His great love adopted us…He rescued us and made us His sons and daughters. It was not easy…it cost Him everything. But He did it…”

So, if we believe He is who He says He is and if He (our God) did this radical display of love and redemption for us, and if He calls us to be imitators of Himself (Ephesians 5.1), then what response do we have except to adopt this little one? How can we live among this community of unbelievers and respond in the same way through rejecting this little life?

We decided that day that we would pursue Adam’s adoption. We became his foster parents, then adoptive parents, and started the difficult medical journey that we continued for nearly 5 more years. We learned his diagnosis and we swallowed back tears when we heard the prognosis. We were told he would not live for 2 months.  Still, we continued through mountains of paperwork and endless embassy visits. We heard from a major medical hospital in the US that they had a team of doctors who could provide the care needed for Adam’s reconstructive surgeries. The medical team predicted that he would have a “normal” life if he could get through these surgeries. We traveled to the US and he made it through days of investigations. All the specialists saw him and gave their predictions and what they thought would be best. It was a lot but it was good and it filled us with hope. Meanwhile, Adam’s personality started to come alive and people commented on how his eyes were talking constantly.

We then learned that $100,000 would be needed in order to start the surgeries and it was needed in five days. We cried and uttered a few desperate prayers. God moved mountains and we crumpled to our knees on Holy Ground when we received all the money in 5 days.

Because this earth withers. Our lives fade. After all, are not we all just pilgrims holding onto our hearts, this critical muscle that may near atrophy from the pain and suffering that pulses through the atmosphere and our very veins? Surely, we are, and we all would just atrophy were it not for the fact that this terrain, decaying though it is, is Holy. Because He is our Creator and our Redeemer, this is His creation and He is holy.

He is an ever present help in times of trouble. He never leaves nor forsakes. He knows how to take foolish things, like babies with poor prognoses, and shame the wisdom of this world and this mother. He knows that $100,000 is pocket change in His blood red, Heavenly garments. For if He did not spare His own son, but graciously gave Him up for us all, HOW WILL HE NOT also graciously give us all things? If He did not spare Himself, surely His supply is endless when it comes to restoring broken things.

So we stood on Holy Ground, and we do still today, as we remember his life. We watched 14 surgeries come and go. We watched as Adam learned how to sit up and we heard, along with accompanies of angels, when Adam laughed his first laugh. We waited in waiting rooms to hear about his cleft lip being repaired on Valentines Day (because doesn’t God love us in all ways tender and doesn’t He coordinate lips to be fixed on that day we all love to kiss those near us?). We welcomed little brothers into Adam’s family and saw him learn how to love them. We watched Adam surpass all expectations and leave us in this constant state of awe. We watched him walk on prosthetic legs and start going to school and overcome all the obstacles that were set before him.

There were tough nights and angry nights. There were nights where we have questioned is it all even worth it. Oh! There were nights when he fought sickness and we fought sanity. They were hard and we wrestled. But our God picked us up again and again. He filled us with Himself and He taught us Love. We lost Adam to a horrible fight with a virus. Now, as we are 5 years into this journey of grief and missing Adam, our God continues to carry us. We would choose Adam over and over again.

I still remember though. I remember after I had become his foster mama and was days away from being his adoptive mama. I remember lying in bed and trusting God with this question,

“Can I raise a dying child?”

His still small voice…

You, too, are dying”.

Yes, our Spirit’s will live. But this body, it is fading.

“Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day”.

After all, didn’t Solomon tell us, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven, a time to be born and a time to die” and “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of the Lord stands forever.”

Yes, we are eternal beings. We will one day see all things made new! The idea that we are all dying is not some fatalistic idea. Each year that passes, I see changes in my own body. We age and no man knows if he is guaranteed tomorrow. Do I love him or any of my family and friends less because of unavoidable death?

No. I love them deeply in this moment.

Then why should I question loving, adopting, and caring for this precious boy because medicine says let him die? We did not know what his tomorrows held, and now we have lived many “tomorrows” without him. Choosing Adam was worth all the sleepless nights and fears. We are privileged to grieve for him and miss him and long for the day to be reunited with him. What a gift that we were able to not just know him, but raise him, and call him son.

I know this moment. I know Jesus. I know what love is. I know His word. And, after all, “the word of the Lord endures forever”. Flesh fades like grass, but the Word endures. The Word gave me the strength I needed to love Adam.

Adams life and this living Word of God continue to fill us with hope, courage, and peace, even after Adam’s death. We had three other biological sons, two of whom were close brothers and buddies of Adam and felt the sting of his death for many years, and one of whom was only 12 weeks in my womb when Adam passed. These boys walked with us through the seasons of grief and also filled us with great joy as we watched them grow, learn, and love the world around them. A year and a half after Adam’s death, we started another adoption process. The plight of women and girls and the reality of so many unwanted daughters had long been on our hearts. We felt that the Lord had a daughter for us in India and started the international adoption process. 

It was a long, arduous, and emotional journey (more so for her than for us in so many ways) but we finally met our daughter in November 2019. She is a joy and a delight to our family. We consider it one of our greatest joys and privileges to call her daughter and to see her blossom. Yet we know that the reality of adoption exists because of a fracture in what God intended families to be. The fact that our daughter is in our family is beautiful and tragic. Tragic because it means that something was broken in her first family and things were not as they should have been. Beautiful because she is loved beyond her understanding and she is never alone and she has a name and a legacy and a family who loves her.  She went from being another orphaned girl in a large orphanage to a daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, great granddaughter, cousin, and friend. Children belong in families. Even if the brokenness of this world leads to children without families, I believe each of us can be a part of caring for these vulnerable members of our world. There are so many ways to be a part of caring for vulnerable children. Whether its through adoption, foster care, financial support of adoptive families, supporting birth mothers, learning more about the needs in your community, sponsoring a child so they can stay with their birth family and not be orphaned by poverty (through a trusted organization), and so many more ways.

Our family has had the joy of being blessed by adoption twice now. It is not easy, but it is always worth it. If you do not feel as though you are in the place to adopt, I invite you to consider how you can support vulnerable children in other ways. Every child deserves the love of a family and I am here to tell you after walking the road of adoption, you will be amazed at how God provides for all the needs that come up along the way. You will truly see that He is able to do “infinitely more than you can ask or imagine”. It is God who places the lonely in families and what a privilege that He invites us to be a part of this process!

Jessica Paulraj
Jessica Paulraj

Jess is a wife, mother, and nurse who lives and works in the Himalayas. She spends her days homeschooling, trekking, advocating for the girl child, and baking for a local café. Her motto is “strength in weakness, all the way Home” and she has learned that inviting God to meet her in the chaos is the only way to make it through her days.

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