[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
case3 Current Residence - Incheon | First Consultation with Adoption Agency - Nine Months Pregnant
Residence Shortly Before/After_Childbirth - Facility | Birth Date of Child - March 19, 2008
The Longing for My Child Kept Me Going through 10 Months of Waiting
I was born as the eldest child in my family and grew up in rural Korea. I left my family to live alone in the metropolitan area for the first time when I entered college. Placed in a situation where I had to do everything on my own after being taken care of by my family for so long, I felt lonely and forlorn, and I found myself depending on the boyfriend I met at my first workplace. We eventually broke up, but five days after our break-up I realized I was six months pregnant.
I was too young to know what to do. I had never imagined that what I watched on television could happen to me. I met with my ex-boyfriend, but his response was cruel and cold. He told me that I should look for a hospital and take care of the situation myself as we had already broken up. After contemplating alone, I found a hospital that performs abortions but the doctor proposed that I carry the child to term as I was far into my pregnancy. I had an ultra-sound, and the moment I heard the sound of my baby's beating heart I knew I could not go through with the abortion.
The problem was, however, I couldn't bring myself to tell the truth to my parents. As the eldest child, I didn't want to disappoint them and I was too ashamed to face my younger siblings. I concealed my pregnancy, quit my job, and found part-time jobs to earn my living expenses. However, the heavier I became, the more difficult it became to work from early in the morning to late into the night. Tears came to my eyes. The work was tough and I was physically and mentally exhausted.
With just one month to go before my due date, which was in February 2008, I thought about where I would stay after I gave birth. At the time, I was living in a Gositel, which is a very small room you can rent for a temporary period at a bargain price. The room was so small that one person could barely lie down. I had no home, and although I worked part-time, I didn't earn enough to save any money. I stayed at a location near to where the father of my child lived and waited for him to change his mind about the baby. But when things did not turn out as I had hoped, I felt that I had no choice but to place my child for adoption. In February 2008, almost near my due date, I contacted an adoption agency that I had found on the Internet, to receive some information on adoption. The compassionate voice of the social worker on the other end of the line felt so comforting. When I told her that I was thinking of adoption, she kindly provided basic information on adoption and recommended that I visit the agency in person. She also told me that I should bring a copy of my Korean resident registration form and a copy of my family relations certificate, which are official documents that can prove my identity and family relations.
After much contemplation, I visited the adoption agency on March 3, 2008, one week after I had made the phone call. After a counseling session which lasted about 30 minutes, the social worker handed me an adoption agreement form and a memorandum for termination of parental rights and asked me to sign them. I did not want to because the baby had not even been born. When I refused, the social worker told me that I could fill them out later and recommended that I enter a facility for unwed mothers. I was in my last month of pregnancy and was feeling quite vulnerable. On top of that, everything seemed to be happening so fast; I felt scared and refused everything the social worker suggested. She tried to reassure me and told me that she was concerned for me because I would be alone and in a more challenging situation than the women at maternity facilities when my contractions began. She said that she could introduce me to an obstetrician who could give me an oxytocic injection so that I could give birth earlier than the due date. All expenses for examinations, childbirth, and hospitalization would be covered by the adoption agency. As I was in an economically difficult situation, her words seemed comforting, especially because it was the first time since I had been on my own that anyone had treated me with such kindness. But still I could not help feeling confused and uneasy. Nevertheless, I had no choice but to do as the adoption agency suggested, as I had no one to look after me.
On March 19, 2008, I decided to give birth earlier than scheduled, as proposed by the adoption agency. However, I still couldn't bring myself to sign the adoption agreement form and memorandum for termination of parental rights. The social worker in charge of my case assured me that I could always change my mind about giving up my child for adoption. I filled out the forms and received the oxytocic injection. Later in the afternoon, I gave birth to my daughter.
The next day, the social worker came for the baby. She told the father of the child, who came to the hospital upon hearing the news that I had given birth, to sign the same documents that I had signed. As she handed over the documents, she told him that "This is what the mother wants, so all you need to do is sign the papers." He did as the social worker requested without having enough time to thoroughly read through the documents. The father of my child signed the papers without receiving any information about adoption. Upon signing the papers, my child had to leave me.
As I left the hospital on March 24, 2008, I realized that I could not live without my child. I went to the adoption agency and stated that I wanted to revoke my adoption decision and take my child home with me. However, the social worker refused to give me back my child, who had been placed in a temporary protection facility within the agency, saying that all of the paperwork had been completed and it was now a closed case. I had not fully recuperated from giving birth and my body, especially my back, ached all over. Frail and pale-faced, I visited the adoption agency almost every day, begging the staff to give me back my child. Nevertheless, they continued to refuse, repeating the same words.
On April 16, 2008, the child's father and I visited the adoption agency together after learning that the agency had found an adoptive family for our child. We begged to have our child back but the social worker urged us to go through with the adoption, questioning what would be best for the child given our financial conditions and child-rearing environment versus the adoptive family. Furthermore, the social worker told us that if the adoption was delayed for five to six months from the date of birth, my child would be designated as an orphan on her birth certificate. In that case, she explained, regardless of whether the child was sent for adoption, she could not be properly registered under anyone's family registration certificate. If I took the child to the municipal office to register her as my child, she would still be registered as an illegitimate child. The social worker urged me and the baby's father to make a decision as soon as possible. We hesitated in making the decision and, during that time, the couple who had wanted to adopt my child adopted a different baby. After this incident, the attitude of the social worker became even more forceful.
On May 1, 2008, I visited the social worker again, crying and pleading with her to help me take my child home with me. I asked her if I could leave the baby with a foster mother while I saved enough money to raise her. The social worker told me that by law foster mothers are only allowed to take care of children whose paperwork for adoption has been finalized. When I told her that I had found a facility that could take care of my child while I worked to save enough money to raise her, the social worker informed me that that particular facility only took in physically or mentally challenged children. As I continued to plead, the social worker told me that I could take my child home if I paid a fee of KRW 20,000 per night for keeping her at the agency as well as all the expenses incurred at the hospital. Another condition, however, was that I normalize my ties with the baby's father and bring my parents and his to the adoption agency. At the time, I was not in a situation to receive the approval of my parents or the father's parents. Therefore, I told the social worker that given my circumstances it would be difficult to satisfy the conditions. The father and I could no longer oppose the adoption and finally agreed to send our baby away. On May 13, 2008―within a week of giving my consent for adoption―my baby was sent to her adoptive parents.
The social worker made me feel inferior throughout the counseling sessions, comparing my situation to that of the adoptive parents. She kept telling me to consider under whose care the child would flourish. It was obvious at the time that the couple who wanted to adopt my child was prepared to raise a child while I clearly was not. The counseling session with the adoption agency was intended to persuade me to give up my baby. The conditions the adoption agency imposed on me were impossible to satisfy; the agency had laid forth conditions that could only be satisfied by maintaining an amicable relationship with the child's father, which at the time was difficult for me to do.
After sending my daughter to her adoptive parents, I became a member of an internet community for unwed parents who had placed their children for adoption. I was able to obtain a lot of information I had not been aware of previously from this internet community. I learned of one case where an unwed mother stayed with her child at a facility for more than a year because she could not make up her mind about whether she should give her child to another family. I also discovered facilities where unwed mothers could stay temporarily until they became financially independent. I learned that what the social worker had said about my child being registered as an "orphan" in her official birth records had been a lie. The website revealed that considerable numbers of unwed mothers who knock on the doors of adoption agencies are forced into making a hasty decision to give up their babies. Around this time, the father of my child finally made up his mind that he wanted to raise the child with me. He told me that he felt terrible for the child and me and realized that the only way the three of us could be happy was for us to get married and raise our child.
On July 18, 2008, we visited the adoption agency again to ask how we could get our child back, but we met with the same response. "There was nothing wrong with the [adoption] process, and because we have a legal obligation to protect the privacy of the adoptive parents, we cannot give you any information," was what the agency told us. We petitioned to the Ministry of Health and Welfare and sought help from others by letting them know of our case. We fought long and hard against the adoption agency. Finally, in March 2009―10 months after our child had been adopted by another family―we were able to bring our baby home. Although the joy of getting our child back was unimaginable for us, the adoptive parents who had raised her for 10 months were left in agony. The adoption agency fiercely criticized us for sending the child away for adoption only to take her back. The agency's staff didn't seem to realize how its inappropriate counseling had caused pain for both the biological and the adoptive parents. Looking back, I feel that the people from the adoption agency who consoled me with kind words during my first counseling session had done so only to persuade me to give up my child and to discourage me from trying to get my child back. I cannot understand this reality in which social workers try to dissuade birth mothers from raising their own children. Why is it that these people, who should place the best interests of the children above everything else, are so negative about the birth parents raising their own children?