Family

“We knew in our heart that we are Kaela’s ‘forever family'”: Couple who were moved to adopt their foster child

Salt&Light wishes all biological, adoptive and foster mums a Happy Mother’s Day!

Priscilla Goy // May 9, 2020, 7:38 pm

2018 family photo

When Kaela (centre) was adopted by the Lims, her biological grandmother, who had seen how the family had cared deeply for her during fostering, was overjoyed. She said in a video by Heartbeat Project: “It’s familiar voices, faces. I was so happy. I think lucky draw also not so lucky, right!” All photos courtesy of Tay Hwee Ling and Kelvin Lim.

Ask Tay Hwee Ling how many children she has and her answer may surprise you: She has seven children in her home – four biological children, an adopted child and two foster children. 

She has also fostered 10 other children and had four miscarriages.

Baby Kaela

At first, Hwee Ling secretly worried if she could love every foster child as much as she loves her birth children. “I did not want to welcome children into my family only to give them less than they deserve,” she says. But it turned out that “God’s love is more than sufficient”.

She and her husband Kelvin Lim, both 43, had always been keen on fostering, even before they had children of their own. “We would be very heartbroken when we read news about children being abandoned or abused,” she says.

But their four biological children – now aged 12, 14, 15 and 16 – came in quick succession, so they were too busy to consider fostering until 2014, when their youngest turned six.

Her experience of having multiple miscarriages was also defining for her – not only in relation to her decision to foster, but also in her trust and reliance on God.

A mistake redeemed

In a span of six years, Tay had six pregnancies, of which two ended up in miscarriages. After the sixth pregnancy, she decided to prevent further pregnancies and undergo tubal ligation.

“We thought then that it was logical and practical to stop getting pregnant again. Family members were also concerned and thought that this is ‘the max’ that we could cope with,” she says.

Baby Kaela

Hwee Ling says her four birth children are “very supportive” of fostering – “to me, they are the biggest reason why we manage to happily foster one baby after another. I could not have done it without them”.

But she was miserable for the next two years.

“I wanted to mother more children, but I could not give birth anymore,” she says.

“Most people would just say, ‘You already have more than enough children.’ I could not understand myself too, as to why my maternal desires continued to overwhelm me.

“I cannot really explain it, but through many people and articles, God showed me that I had taken birth control into my own hands, and tampered with His design.”

She and Kelvin struggled during those two years. He saw how “tormented” she was, and later supported her decision to get a reversal – removing the clips that had been placed on her fallopian tubes to prevent a sperm from reaching an egg.

But even then, things did not turn out as planned.

“He turned my giant mistake into something beautiful, preparing me to love all these babies that He put in my home.”

After the reversal, her tubes could not function normally as before. She then had two ectopic pregnancies, potentially fatal for the mother, so emergency surgery was required. Both tubes were lost. Both babies were lost. 

This painful experience taught her a lot of things, she says. “Regarding fostering, it taught me to treasure every baby that God puts in my path.”

Her last ectopic pregnancy happened when she had just started fostering a three-week-old baby.

“I came home to a nearly-newborn baby when I had just lost another. God comforted me and showed me anew that every baby, whether of my womb or not, is placed by Him into my stewardship.

“He turned that giant mistake that I made in trying to take family planning into my own hands into something beautiful, preparing me to love all these babies that He loves and puts in my home.”

More than enough love

Since 2014, Hwee Ling has fostered 13 children, of whom most were less than a year old when she took them in. Ten of them are out of her care now, and were fostered for durations ranging from a few days to three months. The remaining three live with her, one of whom has been adopted into her family.

“With every foster child that comes along, it’s not without cost to our time and resources,” says the stay-at-home mother. Her husband Kelvin is the division head in grant administration at the Agency of Integrated Care. She says he earns enough and the Government’s financial support for foster parents, such as the fostering allowance, is sufficient.

“If I held back because of my own ‘pain’, then a child out there would be deprived of a foster family.”

Her birth children also had to adjust to having less time with their parents and becoming more independent.

“But they never disliked it. I guess we were already a big family, and are quite used to sharing or sacrificing some time and space for one another.

“They are very supportive, and to me, they are the biggest reason why we manage to happily foster one baby after another. I could not have done it without my four birth kids.”

Her oldest son, Isaac, says: “I think my parents made very selfless decisions as they decided to take care of children who needed a home even though they were already taking care of many children.”

Tay secretly worried if she could love every foster child as much as she loves her birth children. “I did not want to welcome children into my family only to give them less than they deserve,” she says.

“But God’s love is more than sufficient. With every child that came into our home, I have never felt unable to love the child equally.”

Kelvin – described by Hwee Ling as “the risk-averse, level-headed, cautious guy” – had more concerns, but mainly for her. He worried that she would find it hard to let go when a foster child was reunited with his or her natural parents.

“With each child that has come to us, it has become clearer and clearer that fostering would be my family’s calling.”

Says Hwee Ling: “I was concerned about that too, but the pain of hearing about babies being abandoned or having no secure home overrode this concern.

“If I held back because I worried about my own ‘pain’, then a child out there would be deprived of a chance of having a foster family step forward to give him a secure and loving home.”

Kelvin also eventually agreed to be a foster parent. “As I prayed, God changed my heart – from considering fostering as a possibility, to becoming excited and nervous when the first foster child came, to joy.

“With each child that has come to us, it has become clearer and clearer that fostering would be my family’s calling.”

Kaela comes home

In May 2015, Hwee Ling and Kelvin fostered Kaela through Sanctuary House, which was later taken over by another charity and renamed Sanctuary Care.

Kaela arrived in the home of her foster parents just a day after she was born.

Children may be in foster care for various reasons. They may have been abused, neglected or abandoned, or their parents may not be able to care for them due to imprisonment, physical or mental illness, or one or both parents may have died.

Baby Kaela

The Lims on holiday.

After three months, Kaela was reintegrated with her birth family. Sanctuary House was undergoing restructuring then and had plans to close down. Both foster parents were sad despite being assured that she would be in good hands.

But they felt a prompting from God to apply as foster parents with the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), and leave Kaela’s name with them.

“We had no idea what would come out of leaving her name with MSF,” says Hwee Ling. “We were told that MSF didn’t have her records, so we were just hoping that whoever we left her name with would remember us if she ever came into MSF’s foster care system.”

“Since He showed us so clearly that His hand was in this, we moved ahead a day at a time.”

In December 2015, they were invited to take Kaela home.

The couple almost missed the invitation. Both were at the Esplanade in an area with no mobile reception, so the MSF officer couldn’t reach them when she first called.

Says Tay: “If the officer had contacted someone else, if we hadn’t applied to MSF, or if we hadn’t left Kaela’s name with MSF, she wouldn’t have been assigned back to us!”

At that point, she did not think much about how she might have had to let Kaela go again if she was reunited again with her birth family. “I was just really grateful that God put her in my care again.

“Since He showed us so clearly that His hand was in this, we moved ahead a day at a time, not thinking much about the end point, but just trying to be faithful stewards as He commanded.”

Kaela’s biological maternal grandmother was grateful to have Kaela reunited with the foster parents too. She said in a video by Heartbeat Project: “It’s familiar voices, faces. I was so happy. I think lucky draw also not so lucky, right!”

The Lim family eventually adopted Kaela in 2018, after her birth mother gave her consent.

Two families

As one member got added to the Lim family, another member got added to the Church too.

When the Lims agreed to adopt little Kaela, her grandmother made the decision to become a Christian.

Says Hwee Ling: “She had prayed for a resolution for Kaela, even though she was not a Christian. And our decision to adopt sealed it for her.”

There’s a special story behind Kaela’s adoptive name too.

Baby Kaela

Little Kaela arrived in the home of her foster parents, Hwee Ling and Kelvin, just a day after she was born. Three years later, the Lims have become her ‘forever family’.

Soon after the Lims took in Kaela as foster parents the first time, “God had sown seeds in our heart to tell us that we are her ‘forever family’”, says Hwee Ling.

When the Lims agreed to adopt little Kaela, her grandmother made the decision to become a Christian.

Kaela’s birth surname is also Lim. When her birth family registered her birth certificate, they changed her Chinese name from what they had originally intended, to the prefix “En” instead. It turned out to be the same prefix found in the names of Hwee Ling and Kelvin’s biological children.

“What are the odds that her name, given by her birth family, ends up with the same format as my birth children’s? It’s not chance, it’s divine!”

When Kaela was later put up for adoption, Hwee Ling felt inspired by God to rename her Mikaela Lim.

“Mikaela means ‘gift from God’, she was now ‘my Kaela’,” says Hwee Ling.

Also, having a child whose name starts with M meant that she could fit into the family’s “naming order”. Taken together, the names of the parents, four biological children and Mikaela all start with consecutive letters of the alphabet from G to M.

“Her name has elements given by her birth and her ‘forever family’, a reminder that we will bring her up in a way that helps her know that both families love her dearly.”

“If this matter is on God’s heart, and He has prepared the way for me, I want to rise up to do what He calls me to.”

Kaela’s adoptive family keeps in touch regularly with the birth family. They have agreed to meet at least twice a year, on her birthday and during Chinese New Year, sometimes meeting up on an ad-hoc basis too.

Hwee Ling intends to continue fostering and she says Psalm 68:5-6 encourages her.

“In this fostering journey, I see more and more how God really takes care of his beloved children, and how I can play a role in His plan for the fatherless, the vulnerable, the ones whose families are not a safe place for them.

“If this matter is on His heart, and He has clearly prepared the way for me, I want to rise up to do what He calls me to.”

So if you ask Hwee Ling in future how many children she has, her answer may change from time to time, depending on how many adoptive and foster children she has in her care.

But if you ask her: “Are they all yours?”, her answer will always be: “Yes, all mine.”

About the author

Priscilla Goy

Priscilla loves true stories – especially stories of God’s love for people, people’s love for God and social causes, and the marginalised and misunderstood. She told such stories as a Straits Times journalist for five years, and now works as a communications professional in the social service sector.