Monday, July 27, 2009

Report: Korean Birth Mother Presentation

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!


Anonymous said...

I came by and I read it and was so moved I couldn't comment. And I've come back to say what brave women these were for coming to the US and talking about this. Absolutely heart-breaking. And thank you, Malinda, for the detailed account. I appreciated your physicial descriptions of them too.

Am I demented? I thought int'l adoption in Korea was now banned because of their earlier babylift. I wonder where I got that idea.

Incidentally, Jane thinks Simone looks Korean, that she is not native to Jiangxi. Since she has said that, I can't get it out of my head. It's true! She does.

malinda said...

I think you're thinking of Vietnam, not Korea. There is still international adoption from Korea, though they are planning to phase it out by 2012.

It's possible Simone is of Korean ethnicity. Not only is there immigration (illegal) from North Korea to China, there is a population of ethnic Koreans who are seen as one of the 52 recognized minority groups in China. They are mostly up north, but who's to say whether they've migrated south?

Anonymous said...

It is very interesting to realize how much the birth moms valued the updates about their child. One thing I really wish is that my daughters' birthparents could know what happened to them.
Sue (aka anonymous)

Anonymous said...

Can you really tell if someone looks Korean, Chinese, or Japanese? Try this quiz:

I got only 1 out of 18 right!!

Sue (aka anonymous)

malinda said...

Sue, I'm also completely lousy at differentiating between different Asian ethnicities! I don't think I got even one right.

I understand that even Asians find it difficult, using clues like dress and demeanor to help, but when given just faces are pretty bad at it.

But there are folks who claim they can really tell the difference. I assumed Osolo meant Jane Liedtke when she said Jane -- am I right about that? Jane claims to be able to tell what PROVINCE a Chinese child is from!

ralph said...

I lived in asia for 5 years - it took me about 18 months to begin to differentiate! I'm pretty good at it now. You only see the differences you're exposed to. A favorite example was on a tour bus in Tay Ninh Viet Nam when the guide informed all of us on the bus we had to take note of what he looked like, because we all had blonde/brown hair and blue eyes and he couldn't tell us apart.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I meant Jane L.

Wendy said...

No one can definetly ID someone by their race (as we know, a false construct). Yes, some people have features that lend themselves moreso to one ethnic group or another and one province may have more of that ethnic group than another, but that can not be said for all people--Asian or otherwise. I think Jane is doing a disservice by claiming to be able to ID children from each ethnic group--yes, she is right SOME of the time, but not always.
The point of the test mentioned is to show that we stereotype and that it is almost impossible to be right 100% of the time.

Mi Hilo Rojo said...

Thank you to let us know! I'm was in Puerto Rico and almost I send an email to FCC Tarrant asking about the pesentation.


Anonymous said...

Hi Malinda,

Re Jane Liedke.... she told me that our DD looked like a mix of japanese (eyelids) tibetan cheeks, and islander/Thai shaped eyes, also that she may be a mix of Northern Chinese and Tibetan. My DD is from Hunan. I was very concerned about this especially when you hear of trafficking reports etc.... then a chinese lady who claims to be able to tell ethnicities, and also has an adopred DD from Hunan said that our DD was defintely from the Hunan region (ie south central China) and was most probably from the Miao ethnic group. When I looked it up I could see the similarities... I guess we can never know, but I think i would take a chinese persons opinion over an american persons in this instance... the other info was very confusing.

Wendy said...

anon--just to let you know, we met Jane (didn't ask her ethnicity, but she commented on it anyway knowing what province she was from) and she declared that our daughter was NOT Zhuang, that there was no way she was Zhuang. MANY Chinese people absolutely said she was Zhuang. Well...we met her birth family--she IS Zhuang.
I am just saying...ethnicity can be determined by features on occassion, but not always. Our daughter does have Zhuang features--which are not universal within the Zhuang people, but only meeting her family provided the truth of the matter.

***sorry for going off the topic of the post. Thank you Malinda for posting this, I look forward to hearing more!

Anonymous said...

My experience in traveling to China 3 times is that there are Chinese people who hold stereotypes about people from different provinces. My older daughter is a Hunan, a "chile baby" (meaning she is supposed to be sweet and spicy e.g., has a temper). Hunan girls are also supposed to be very pretty. My other daughter is from Guangxi and she has some facial characteristics of Zhuang people (high forehead and protruding lips). Having traveled to each of their orphanage cities, I could see that they tended to look like other people from their towns. However, I don't think that Jane should go around making proclamations about the ethnicity of kids based on their appearance. It isn't helpful or useful information. I think it is better to make peace with not knowning, if you can.

And now back to the discussion of birthmothers! I think we need to keep in mind that are probably as many differences between birthmothers as there are between kids from different provinces (or even the same one). But I did wonder how the differences in culture, circumstances and adoption procedures between China and Korea would affect birthmothers' reactions in each country.
Sue (aka anonymous)

Anonymous said...

Just to make it clear, I said Jane thought my daughter might be a particular nationality. I did not say there was proof. It may confirm my exposure living where there are Asians of all variety, but there is no proof. . .and I do know that some people put no stock in her theories.

travelmom and more said...

Trying to figure out where one person is from is difficult in China due to curent economic mobility and forced mobility in the cultural revolution (and in the case of expansion like in the Yangzi river project in the 90s). In the 60s Many people from the cities were sent to the countryside to work as farmers, miners, etcetra. After the cultural revolution some people stayed in these areas and others didn't. Additionally, many people leave their villages to find work or attend university in other areas, then marry and have children, which makes it very difficult to identify exactly where people are from. Sorry to be so off topic about the birthmother discussion.

Colleen said...

I just came across your blog and I am really enjoying reading through the post. I have one daughter from Korea and one from China. I enjoyed this post on the Birth mothers. I wrote letters and sent pictures to Eastern for about the first two years.
Back to reading post : )