Miscarriages and betrayal drove her to the brink of suicide. But a new kind of motherhood brought her back to life
TRIGGER WARNING: The following mentions suicide ideation. Reader discretion advised.
JOSHUA OW YONG & GEMMA KOH // October 30, 2023, 4:05 pm
As the injured birds she found and her dying plants healed, so did Jessica Ong, pictured at her garden plot, Theos' Eden. She now uses it to benefit others. Photos courtesy of Jessica Ong.
At the age of 41, Jessica Ong felt like an outsider whenever friends included her in their family outings.
By then, she had had three miscarriages. Her pregnancies never passed the eight-week mark.
Jessica tried all sorts of therapies to get pregnant with her Scottish husband, Brian Barron. Doctors could not find anything physically wrong with her, but she was fast approaching the cut-off age for bearing a child.
“I felt like an outsider – left out, ostracised,” said Jessica, now 49 and a regional customer director of a global logistics company.
“I felt hollow, like a robot, just functioning to get through life,” she told Stories of Hope.
“A lesser woman”
Some people commented that she couldn’t carry a baby to full-term because she was “too active”.
“I felt that God had betrayed me because He ‘took away’ motherhood from me.”
Well-meaning Christians asked her to pray. Some told her that Sarah from the Bible was 90 when she became a mother.
Worse, others suggested that she had sinned and was “being punished”.
“Sometimes the words were spoken out of good intentions and encouragement, but they were not helpful,” Jessica said.
Her grief at not being able to become a mother was compounded by other wounds.
For over a decade, she had been physically, mentally and emotionally abused and betrayed in past relationships.
Jessica was often told – and believed – that she was “good for nothing”.
Abandoned and forgotten
Doubts about herself and disillusionment with other people spilled into her spiritual life.
“I asked God, ‘What’s wrong with me? I’ve done my best. I am following You and You are supposed to watch over me. I think You’ve deserted me.’
“I also felt that God had betrayed me because He ‘took away’ motherhood from me.
“I told Him, ‘I don’t know what the joy of labour feels like. You made me imperfect. You made me a lesser woman.’”
She started pulling away from church.
“I told God, ‘I don’t know what the joy of labour feels like. You made me imperfect.’”
“I was angry with God. At one point, I told Him, ‘I love you, but I hate you to the core. Brian is the last in the Barron lineage. How can I carry the guilt of his bloodline ending with me?’
“I thought God hated me. I could not hear Him, even though He was probably shouting at me.
“Then I became disillusioned with God and stopped talking to Him.
“I was very broken.”
By 2016, the pain became too much to bear.
“I felt life wasn’t worth living anymore. It wasn’t worth the pain, the ridicule I was feeling. I thought God had abandoned me.”
In her mind, she had it all planned out.
“After Brian leaves for work the next morning, I will open the window of our eighth storey flat and jump out.”
A new peace
That night when Jessica went to bed, she had a dream.
“I saw a majestic, powerful figure sitting by a massive, ancient, wooden table. Lightning was flashing across the sky, but it wasn’t scary. I walked up to this person with my head bowed low, not daring to lift my face to Him. Somehow I knew He was God because of the awesome love and peace I felt.”
Their conversation was not spoken, but came as an impression.
“He asked me, ‘What are you doing?’”
Jessica had no answer.
“This feeling of love was so overwhelming that I started crying.”
“I heard Him say, ‘I love you. I’ve always been here for you.’
“I felt comforted knowing that God has been there for me through the challenges, hurts and pain I had experienced. I felt so humbled and small.
“When I woke up in the morning, my heavy heart and the emptiness that had been gnawing at me was gone.
“It was replaced by a peace I had never felt before. It felt like I had been hugged by God.
“This feeling of love was so overwhelming that I started crying. I had no idea if they were tears of joy or relief.
“I told my husband, ‘I saw God.’”
Even after the dream, Jessica still pinned her hopes on becoming pregnant, but was disappointed again and again.
She knew that God had a plan and purpose for her life (Jeremiah 29:11), but often wondered if God would answer her prayers to experience motherhood.
However, almost concurrently, a few things started happening that showed Jessica that God heard her and cared for her.
She heard of two children – siblings ages 11 and 13 – who needed a home as their parents were unable to care for them.
“I had never thought about adoption,” Jessica admitted.
“We prayed one prayer: God, if this is your will, open all the doors,” said Jessica.
During her Quiet Time, Jessica came across a verse in the Bible that encouraged her and signalled that they were on the right track: “He predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:5-6)
She was also encouraged by a sermon about being good stewards of God’s creations – including God’s children.
She felt God telling her: “I need you to adopt them because I love them just as I love you.”
The adoption process was challenging. But finally, after 18 months, they were officially the parents of the two siblings.
“Who else could open all the doors but God?” said an emotional Jessica.
“God gave me the joy of having not one but two children.”
God also showed Jessica the joy of motherhood in unusual ways.
Slightly after the adoption process started, there was a knock on their door. It was a neighbour.
He had found a baby myna bird with an injured leg.
“I was feeding the very young birds every 15 minutes from sun up to sun down. I was doing the job of a mother.”
“I don’t know why the neighbour came to us, but he said, ‘I think you will know what to do with it’,” said Jessica.
They weren’t able to find the nest the fledgling had fallen from.
They named the bird Max.
Jessica and Brian contacted Animals Concerns Research & Education Society (ACRES) and got advice on how to feed the common bird.
The animal lovers also spent a few hundred dollars sending him to an avian vet for treatment. The vet taught them how to strengthen the muscles in the myna’s left leg that had been crippled from the fall.
“Jessica wouldn’t put the bird down even if it was cheaper to,” said her husband, Brian.
The bird needed to be fed every hour. So Brian took him to his office and fed him during breaks.
The couple also Googled how to teach the bird survival skills, with the aim of releasing him back into the wild.
Over the next two years, the couple came across several more abandoned baby or injured birds. They were common ones – pigeons, mynas, sparrows and crows – that might have otherwise been left to die.
Neighbours jokingly called Jessica “the bird whisperer”.
Jessica said: “One day a friend said, ‘Congratulations, you are a mama to birds.’
“It dawned on me: This is what I am. I was feeding the very young ones every 15 minutes from sun up to sun down. I was doing the job of a mother – but in a different way.
“After the 14th bird came to us, I told God, ‘Enough birds. I understand.’”
In the same year Max arrived, Jessica started a garden at her HDB corridor.
Shortly afterwards, a good friend gifted Jessica with a hoya plant with its clusters of porcelain-like flowers.
“Bud blasting” reminded Jessica of her pregnancies that couldn’t be carried to term.
It was the start of a passion that would bring peace to Jessica.
“I was excited when the hoya started budding. But before it could bloom, the buds dropped. I was devastated,” she said.
This “bud blasting” happened more than once. It reminded Jessica of her pregnancies that couldn’t be carried to term.
Jessica consulted online forums on how to nurse her plant back to health.
After four months, buds appeared.
“I was not hopeful and expected them to blast again.”
Then one day she smelled a fragrance.
A flower had opened. It was beautiful.
“Seeing it, I jumped up and down with joy,” she said.
Free at last
Jessica got satisfaction from caring for the plants, rehabilitating dying ones and growing the next generation from seeds or cuttings.
“The journey of motherhood is not different from what I’ve been showing you,” God told Jessica.
“As the plants and injured birds were healing, I was healing,” she said.
She started praying over the seemingly “hopeless” cases.
“I told God, ‘You created them; You know how to take care of them. I’m only Your steward’.”
She prayed over a pigeon that had been nearly decapitated by a cat.
“It also had a broken wing, and the vet said it would never fly again.”
But the pigeon recovered and flew away.
“Even the vet was amazed.”
Answers to her seemingly small prayers reignited her trust in God, and prayer became a regular part of her life again.
“God, You are real,” she declared.
Jessica also felt God tell her: “The journey of motherhood is not different from what I’ve been showing you.”
She had found purpose in her life, and purpose in her role in His creation.
Gardening became a time of “basking in God’s warmth, peace and love, talking to Him and reflecting on my life”.
“When a plant is dying, you’ve got to slowly make the adjustments. Cannot just ‘boom’ and change it.”
She also saw a parallel between gardening and how God had been caring for her.
“When a plant is dying, you uproot it, change the planting medium and move it to another location.
“You’ve got to slowly make the adjustments in a calculated way or the plant will die. Cannot just ‘boom’ and change it.
“It dawned on me that during the miscarriages, God had always been there for me, holding me and letting me rest. He did not forsake me.”
It reminded her of the poem “Footprints in the Sand”, which ends with: My precious child, I love you and will never leave you, never, ever, during your trials and testings. When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.
“This breakthrough lifted the deadweight in my heart.”
One year into planting, Jessica knew she was free; she no longer yearned to get pregnant. About a year later, she knew she was restored from the effects of abuse and betrayal.
“My deep-seated anger and pain towards those who had hurt me was replaced with love. I was no longer a victim. God had protected me. My perspective had changed.”
The Eden effect
As Jessica’s love for hoyas bloomed, she had to rent a small garden plot in a nursery in Seletar to house her collection of more than 600 varieties of hoyas.
Shortly after Covid social distancing restrictions were relaxed, visitors to her garden plot started asking to buy the plants she had propagated. Her “guardian angel mentor”, who had taught her all about plants, separately made the same suggestion.
It was an answer to her prayer for an extra source of funds to support humanitarian and mission work. At that time, there was dire need of financial aid to sponsor Covid test kits and face masks in more remote countries.
After weeks of prayer, she named her garden plot Theos’ Eden.
“It came to me that God was using all these plants in my healing process, and I could share Jesus’ love with others.
“Many people ask why I chose this name. It creates an opening for me to share that Theos (pronounced “thee-oss”) is Greek for ‘God’ and ‘Eden’ refers to the perfect garden.”
“It allows me to share my story while respecting other faiths and beliefs.”
Jessica also opens her garden plot on an ad hoc basis to visitors who want to help her with the planting or who just want to soak in the peace.
“Usually they plant in silence. But as they benefit from the therapeutic effects of seeing the plants they’ve nurtured grow, they often open up about their struggles.”
Often they are struggles that Jessica herself has been through.
“I listen. And when they ask how I overcame mine, I have been able to share with them that God is real.”
Jessica also encourages pastors to bring youths with challenges to learn how to tend to plants and eventually “see God from a very different perspective”.
“I always let the Lord bring people to the garden.”
Theos’ Eden includes plants that were deemed “unique or a challenge to get” that somehow Jessica was able to procure. They flourish and grow large with minimal care.
The couple attribute it to what they call “the Eden effect” – God’s hand in multiplying Jessica’s efforts to bless others.
“It is not my work. Everything is God’s growth,” said Jessica.
If you find wild animals in need of help …
Contact the following 24/7 hotlines for assistance:
- NParks Animal Response Centre, Tel: 1800-476-1600
- ACRES Wildlife Rescue Hotline, Tel: 9783-7782
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