Sorry it’s taken me so long to report on the birth mother presentation. I planned to blog about it as soon as I got the girls to bed last night, but I was exhausted, and went to bed at 8:30!
I am SO glad I went to this presentation. It was incredibly powerful and emotional. (That emotion was the cause of the exhaustion, in fact!). The two birth mothers spoke very honestly about their experiences, and as the friend who accompanied me said, the wounds were so obvious on them.
One birth mother was 25, and is now in college studying social work and working with the Eastern Social Welfare Society (ESWS) in Seoul, S. Korea, the same organization through which she placed her child. She looked like a typical college student, except that she looked 16! She had long hair and was wearing a pink flowing skirt, a sparkly tee, multiple necklaces and earrings, cool glasses, and a completely closed expression. She said she had broken up with her boyfriend before she knew she was pregnant. When she contacted him to tell him, he said he didn’t want a baby and she should get rid of it. She went to get an abortion, but couldn’t go through with it when she heard the baby’s heartbeat. She intended to keep the baby, but with morning sickness she couldn’t work, and asked a social worker friend for help. The friend told her about Eastern, and she went to their unwed mothers home. She saw women there who had kept their babies, which gave her hope that she could do the same. She wrote her mother to tell her of the pregnancy and that she wanted to keep the baby. Her mom was completely opposed to her keeping the baby. After much thought and counseling and input from her mother, she made the hard decision to place her baby. She wanted the baby to have two parents, since she was raised by her mom alone. She wanted international adoption, because it would be “semi-open,” meaning that she would get information about the baby once a year. After deciding to relinquish her child for adoption, she was able to visit the baby once a month until the child left Korea.
She said the hardest part of adoption was once she had made the decision. She couldn’t handle seeing babies the same age as hers. She would be in despair, thinking, “Why me? Why can’t I have my baby when these other people have their babies? Why did I only get to hold my baby for a few hours?” She said at times she thought of suicide, and felt she had nothing to live for. She blamed her mother, she blamed herself. She tried suicide once. And another time when she thought she couldn’t live another minute, she heard from the agency that they had received an update about the baby from the adoptive parents. That was and is her greatest joy, getting updates about the baby. She decided that she wanted to improve herself, and live a good life, for her baby, whom she described as “my joy, hope, and life.” She said she knows the most joyous day will be when she can see her baby again.
One reason the updates about the baby were so important to her is that she drank at the beginning of her pregnancy and is so sorry about that, and worries about the effects on the baby’s health.
The older birth mother was 33, and had placed her baby for adoption 2 years ago. She was a little plump, and simply dressed in a blouse and khaki capris. She was single and pregnant, and she told us about going into labor at home, and not being able to make it to the hospital. She was alone, and had to cut the umbilical cord herself. The baby was fine at first, but became sick. She took him to the hospital, where he had to stay for a week. She didn’t know what to do, planned to raise her child, but contacted Eastern for help. She stayed at the home for unwed mothers with her baby. Every day she changed her mind about what to do. First she wanted to raise her baby, then she’d think what was best for the baby would be to place him for adoption, and then she’d change her mind again. She worried that she wouldn’t be able to give her baby opportunities, was worried about the social stigma of unwed birth that would attach to the baby. She said that when the baby was inside her, it was possible to think of them together as just one person, but when he was born and became another person, she had to think more about what would be in his best interest. Six weeks after the baby was born, she decided to place him for adoption. At first she wanted domestic adoption in Korea, but there was no possibility of an open adoption in Korea. With international adoption, she would be able to hear about the baby through the agency, and could perhaps see the baby again one day.
The worst day was when she took the baby to the agency for placement. She bathed and dressed him, and he was very, very fussy. He was usually a happy baby, so she thought he knew what was about to happen. At the agency, she felt cut in half, holding the baby with one hand and signing him away with the other. Going home alone, she could still hear his cries and smell baby smells. She would find her body still rocking him when he wasn’t in her arms any more. Once the baby was gone, she had so much free time and nothing to do but think of him and eat and eat and eat. She began drinking as well to deal with her grief. She changed from an optimistic person to someone mired in grief. She drank for 1.5 years, and is better now. She wants to do well for her baby. She has a new job, and they know about her baby, and they have been very supportive, even letting her take time to come to America to make this presentation.
She also was able to visit her baby before he left Korea. It was wonderful to see him each month, but hard to leave each time and hard to wait for the next visit. She wanted to make the visits, though, because she never wanted him to think she had abandoned him. And on his first birthday, the agency had a birthday party for him and she attended. She was so happy to see him there – he walked! And she loved to see that he liked to eat, just like her. She was very happy to see something of herself in her baby.
After the birth mothers and others talked (more about that in another post), there was a Q & A period. We were asked to write our questions on an index card and pass them up, and the moderator asked the questions.
The first question was, “Why did you come to talk to us and are you glad you did?”
They both answered that they wanted to puncture stereotypes adoptive parents might have about birth mothers. They wanted to stand up for the unwed mothers of Korea. And one said she wanted to know what life in America was like so she could see what life for her baby was like.
The question I asked was, true to AdoptionTalk, “What do you want adoptive parents to tell their kids about birth mothers?” I was almost sorry I asked, because it brought the younger birth mother to tears. But she said that before she was a birth mother, she had a very negative impression of adoption and birth mothers. She had watched TV shows where Korean adoptees said that their birth mothers abandoned them, and she thought that was how babies were adopted – they were all abandoned. She spoke forcefully and said, “I did not abandon my child.” She said she loved her baby and made the best decision she could for her child. She wanted adoptive parents to tell the children that their birth mothers loved them and did not abandon them. The older birth mother said the same, and added, “Sometimes love isn’t enough. I wanted my baby to have a better life. Tell them we love the babies, but we made a decision for their life.”
I also asked about how many women who are served by Eastern decide to parent rather than relinquish their children, and what services are offered to them. The social worker from Eastern said that currently 30% of the women at the unwed mother’s home decide to parent their children. She said that in the past it used to be very rare, but the trend is for more women to parent. She says that Eastern helps with counseling, short-term help with diapers and clothing, and help finding long-term housing. She also said the Korean government offers some support for single parents, but that it is not adequate.
There were an adoptive parent and an adult adoptee on the panel as well, I’ll post more about what they had to say later.
The birth mothers cried, the social workers cried, the adoptive mother on the panel cried, the audience cried, I cried. And it was so worth going!