[The 60th Women's Policy Forum] Reality of Unwed Mothers and Support for Self-Reliance
Feb 24, 2010
at Korean Women's Development Institute
The article from 'Counselling Services of Adoption Agency Experienced by Unwed Mothers'
Interviewees : Five Mothers Who Changed Their Minds and Brought Their Children Back from Adoption Agencies after Initially Giving Them up for Adoption
case1 Current Residence - Seoul | First Consultation with Adoption Agency - Eight Months Pregnant
Residence Shortly Before/After_Childbirth - Facility | Birth Date of Child - August 12, 2005
My Baby Has Two Birthdays
Let me introduce my story first. After preparing for childbirth at a maternity facility in Seoul, I gave birth to my son at a hospital on August 12, 2005, at 02:47. I had worked until I was six months pregnant, but as my pregnancy became evident, it was difficult to continue working due to the way my colleagues perceived me and concerns surrounding my pregnancy. The way I was perceived by my family and others, my fear of giving birth, and economic difficulties led me to enter a maternity facility for unwed mothers on June 12, 2005. I had learned that I was three months pregnant after I broke up with the father of my child. The pressure of having to raise my child alone as an unwed mother, the prejudice of our society toward unwed mothers, the fear of my family finding out about my pregnancy, and the associated guilt made me struggle between the choice to raise my child on my own or give him up for adoption.
While staying at the maternity facility prior to giving birth, I spoke with three adoption agencies to get information about adoption. At the time, I wanted to be able to keep in touch with my child through his adoptive parents―exchange photos, talk on the phone, and meet with him in person―so that I could see how he was growing up. Therefore, I tried to find an adoption agency that would understand and respect my wishes. The first agency explained closed and open adoption and noted that most domestic adoptions were closed, while most international adoptions were open. The staff from the agency listed the pros and cons of domestic and foreign adoption. The advantage of domestic adoption is that the child grows up thinking that the adoptive parents are his/her biological parents. The disadvantage is that the child might find out about his/her birth mother later in life and try to find her. If the birth mother has started a new family, contacting her might be problematic as her privacy could be invaded. The advantage of overseas adoption is that the child grows up in an environment free of bias toward adoptees and the birth mother can keep in touch with her child. The disadvantage, however, is that the child grows up among people of a different ethnicity.
I was told that with open adoption, the birth mother could receive photos of her child, enabling her to see her child grow up. The first two agencies I consulted told me that I would be able to see my child only after he reached adulthood. The social worker from the third agency said that the agency would find a family that would allow me to see my child whenever I wished. I decided to give my child up for adoption through the third adoption agency as I believed that, among the three agencies, it best understood my position. All three adoption agencies sent social workers to the facility in which I was residing. The first two agencies visited me once, while the third agency visited twice. The first counseling session with each agency lasted approximately 30 minutes.
The social workers from all three facilities urged me to fill out an adoption agreement form and a memorandum for termination of parental rights during the first counseling session. I felt uncomfortable doing so and refused to sign the documents during the sessions with the first two agencies. When meeting with the social worker from the third agency, which I had selected for the adoption process, I filled out the documents without signing them and the social worker took them to her office. This was approximately one month before my delivery. The adoption agreement form requested a variety of information about me and the child's father: hobbies, education, skills, family relations, blood type, favorite flower and color, physical measurements such as height and weight, and favorite food. As the social worker collected the form, she told me that the child's father and I had favorable features and that my child would soon find a good family. The social worker then chatted with me for about five more minutes. This was all the counseling I received from the agencies.
Although I had only requested a consultation with the agencies and had not determined to give my child to another family, the adoption agencies urged me to fill out an adoption agreement form and a memorandum for termination of parental rights. Even after I told them that I had not made that decision, the agencies tried to persuade me to fill out the forms, telling me that I could sign them later, if and when I made the decision.
I gave birth earlier than anticipated, on August 12, 2005, about three in the morning at a hospital near the maternity facility. Before I went to the hospital, I contacted my brother and he came to see me. He still opposed my raising the child, which led me to think that I should give the child up for adoption. I contacted the adoption agency's social worker in charge of my case on the morning I gave birth. The social worker was busy that day and a different social worker came to visit me. She dropped by around 11:00 and asked me to sign the adoption agreement form and memorandum for termination of parental rights, which I had filled out during the last counseling session. In addition, she had me sign a statement saying that if the child's father brought suit to claim his parental rights, I―as the child's mother―would take full responsibility and had me sign the statement. All of this took place in the hospital corridor in front of the infant unit where I was able to catch a glimpse of my baby. Aside from looking into his eyes shortly after giving birth, this was the only time I saw my baby before sending him away. The social worker had wrapped the baby in a quilt and taken him away while I returned to the unwed mothers' facility. It was only lunchtime when I came back to the facility after having given birth to my child and given him away.
When I returned to the facility, I felt numb. After one or two hours, I realized that everything was the same except that my child had left my womb. From the morning I gave birth to the next morning, I did not sleep. I spent the night tossing and turning. I felt as if I had dumped my baby in a wasteland or the trash. When the sun came up, I spoke with a staff member at the maternity facility about my wish to bring my child home and then I called the adoption agency. The social worker at the agency criticized me for reversing my decision. I was very upset when the social worker told me that this would cause much inconvenience for the agency in terms of processing the related documentations. I shouted at her, asking what was wrong with a mother wanting her child; what was the problem with bringing my baby home when he was not yet adopted? The social worker replied that the person in charge was on vacation and that I should come back on August 17.
During those four days―from the day I decided to keep my child to August 17, the day I went to find him―I ached to see my baby and could not stop worrying that something might happen to him. It had been five days since I had given birth and I had seen my child only twice. My heart pounded with my longing to see my son. Finally, the 17th of August arrived and I called the agency for directions. "Ask someone else, or look it up on the internet," was the only reply I received. I took a cab and arrived at the adoption agency. I found my baby lying alone in a temporary protection facility within the agency. He was lying alone in a large, desolate room. I rushed to pick him up and bring him home with me. It tore me up to see my child alone in that room, and to this day I vividly remember that desolate image.
On the way back to the facility on August 17, 2005, I said to my child, "You are born again." Although I didn't know what lay ahead for us and was concerned about our future, I could not help but feel sincere joy. I no longer worried about my parents' reaction or the cold shoulder I would receive from people in my community. I had once heard a saying that until a baby reaches his 100th day from birth, the baby and the mother are practically a single being. I felt this was true; I felt as if I had indeed left a part of myself elsewhere for a short while. As a way of apologizing to my baby and compensating for the lost five days, I have been writing him a letter every month. The letters are sealed in an envelope for my child to read later on. I recently finished my 58th letter.
The services that adoption agencies provide to unwed mothers who must make the biggest decision of their lives―whether or not to give up their parental rights and send their children to another family―are in fact cruel. When I was placed in a very vulnerable situation shortly before giving childbirth, the adoption agency urged me to give my child up for adoption. They give no consideration to the aching hearts of the mothers who must send their children away, and their services should be revamped.