This is a translation of the JoongAng Daily article found here:
Written by Kim JungSoo
Translated by Emily Cashell
“When a baby laughs like a blessed angel, all the pain disappears”
Some recent obstetricians have said that they “will not do anymore illegal abortions”. At the time of the declarations, disputes for and against abortion have suddenly increased. Four years ago, according to government statistics, in a year, more than 35,000 fetuses were removed from inside their mother’s bellies. In the past, high abortion rates were due mostly to the fact that people wanted to bear only sons. Compared to the past, these days there are less abortions for that reason. Currently, a rapidly changing sex culture and an increase in pregnancies before marriage are becoming the main causes of abortion. Even though they want to have their baby, single mothers have to persevere because there are so many social and economical difficulties. Even though adoption is likened to ‘giving birth from the heart,’ it is possible that single mothers will shed tears. I met seven single mothers who were in their teens to 30s. Those who chose life instead of abortion and to raise their child instead of adoption, do not feel regret. Those people told their full story candidly, but the majority chose not to make their face or name open to the public. They experience a cruel reality.
1. “To take care of my baby, I will study and prepare for employment even harder”
“People think that teenagers don’t listen to their parents and when they accidentally get pregnant, inevitably, they only think about giving birth and raising the baby. I am a mother too. It is possible that my love for my child is deeper (than typical moms). This is because I gave birth and raised my baby under difficult circumstances.”
Lee YooMi (18, pseudonym) laughed as she showed a picture of her 9 month old son on her cell phone. She has a skinny face like someone in a girl group. However, she looked small and sturdy as she said, “I thought I would have to feed him colostrum but luckily plenty of breast milk is coming out. I am still breast feeding.” Last July, she enrolled in a 2-year highschool equivalency program and graduation is just around the corner. In the future she plans to study nursing. YooMi said, “It seems that in many ways raising a baby will be helpful.”
Last winter, even when YooMi and her ex-boyfriend first heard about the baby, without a doubt she decided on abortion. Because of circumstances at home, YooMi lived alone near school. During vacation she had decided to have an abortion and go on to her 3rd semester of school as if nothing had happened. However, in seemingly no time at all the baby in her stomach reached almost 7 months. She consulted her obstetrician and others who said ‘it would be preferable to put the baby up for adoption.’ In the end, through the internet, she came across a facility for unwed mothers called Ae Ran Won, and when she gave birth there, she decided to raise her baby. At the facility she was told that she could stay for up to one year and they would help her graduate from school and prepare for employment. After hearing that, she had no reason to separate from her baby. Her parents, who had received a big shock, looked at YooMi’s changed life with admiration. YuMi said, “I am on (welfare) now, so I can live somehow. I have started saving money but I am worried about making preparations for where I will live in the future.”
2. “The awful feelings of having an abortion are no different after 10 years”
Yoo JiYoung (19, pseudonym) is living at a facility for unwed mothers, with her daughter who will soon have her first birthday. Before she got pregnant, JiYoung was a high school dropout. However, since giving birth she has started to attend school again. If she raises a child there is pressure to have a diploma. If she finishes school she is thinking of studying to be a nursery school teacher at a continuing education center.
JiYoung said she had “absolutely no thought of abortion or adoption” because in middle school she became pregnant as a result of sexual assault. JiYoung was very young and she did not know that she was pregnant. Suddenly her appetite grew and she was spending more time sleeping, so her mother took her to the hospital where it was confirmed that she was pregnant. Her mother ordered her to have an abortion. Thoughts of her “baby that was gone in the blink of an eye” leave deep scars. For that reason, this time when her boyfriend, who was a college student, and others urged her to get an abortion or put her baby up for adoption, JiYoung insisted, “Even if I give birth alone, don’t worry about me.”
“A friend got pregnant around the same time as me. Despite being more helpless since her boyfriend was even younger than her, she wanted to have her baby. However, about 8 months into the pregnancy both sides of parents took her to the hospital and ordered her to have an abortion. After that my friend left home. Most of all, she does not want to see her father. Even today if she sees me with my baby she often thinks of her baby and cries.”
Compared to her friend, JiYoung thinks she is quite lucky. She now has a boyfriend who is in the army and it seems that they will get married in the future. Her boyfriend’s parents found out about the baby belatedly and they said, “Don’t break up with her just because she has given birth to a child.”
3. “The younger the baby, the stronger the mother’s spirit”
“When I see ‘YeeBun’ (nickname) I always think, even though it is difficult, I received a blessing.”
This is the story of Yi EunGyoung, 25, who is raising a 25-month-old daughter. Her baby was 4 months premature and spent two and a half months in the hospital. It was about that time that things started to go wrong with her boyfriend, the baby’s father. Eun Gyoung’s father, who was living abroad, said, “I will help you with anything except raising a child.” He encouraged her to give her baby up for adoption. EunGyoung thought differently. Even though she knew that there were risks to having a premature baby, she couldn’t let the baby go. That is why she asked for help at the town office and other facilities for single mothers.
“The younger the baby is, the stronger the mother’s spirit. At the first thoughts of wanting to be a little bit lazy, I change my attitude. I am ready to prove the people wrong who said that my life can’t improve if I raise a baby.”
EunGyoung is living with her grandmother now and her goal is to get a job and be able to support herself.
Every month, she deposits the money she receives from welfare into an account in her baby’s name. “When I first went to the town office, they treated me like I was a beggar. Now I am receiving welfare, but if I pay taxes in the future, other impoverished households can be helped as well. Even if children grow up in a foster home, it is costly. Since society pays expenses anyways, it is emotionally better for the mother and child to live together.”
EunGyoung feels a loss at not having a companion to talk to about her troubles, whether big or small. “Isn’t it hard to make a system that gives emotional help? Actually even if I only see my baby, it is naturally healing. One word, one laugh, or one look at her sleeping is everything to me.”
4. “I have to admit I am weak and I can receive help”
Kim SunYoung (33, pseudonym), the mother of 18-month-old HeeJin (pseudonym) said, “It is not easy to admit that I am low in society and that I am receiving aid from society.” When she got pregnant, she was a team leader at a small enterprise. She had dated the baby’s father for ten years. When she told her boyfriend about her pregnancy, he responded differently than she had expected. He said, “Let’s have a baby later.” They tried to persuade each other and as a result of those discussions she became distressed. SunYoung sent the 10-week ultrasound to her boyfriend. “The baby has already come into being. What should I do… I can do anything. Even though I am alone I will raise this baby.”
She informed her company after 5 months that she was pregnant. SunYoung told her director about her situation, “If there are implications to the company I will quit.” On the contrary, her director dissuaded her. However, unexpected situations continued to occur. Because of a political crisis, the company’s circumstances worsened and the atmosphere in the workplace became filled with alarm. They discussed in front of SunYoung, “How can we give maternity leave to someone who is not married?” To make matters worse, there were financial difficulties at home. When she became self-reliant, she used the money that she was going to use as a housing deposit to pay off loans. When she gave birth, she needed an emergency surgery. There was a commotion because the baby’s father was needed to fill out the consent forms. SunYoung said, “I should have said that I was a single mother, but I told them that there was a situation so I had to come to the hospital alone.”
HeeJin was born in those circumstances and once SunYoung went home, she started to find information on the internet. To her surprise, she found help there. She read information in internet cafes and she also found single mothers who would come to her house and offer advice from different perspectives. Her friend, whom she contacted just prior to giving birth said, “Why are you just contacting me now?” as she came with baby supplies. SunYoung used the money she had gathered from unemployment wages to pay for HeeJin’s first birthday. These days, SunYoung is working a part-time job that is very different from her original career. So far, it seems that SunYoung has been sincerely helped.
5. “It took one hour fill out the adoption documents, three months to get my baby back”
A sudden fall from high to low. Kim YoonJung (35, pseudonym) was a loved daughter in a comfortably well-off household. She was also a distinguished career woman, however her life changed the moment she became a single mother. Thanks to her master’s degree and good command of English, YoonJung was responsible for her company’s foreign business. While working overseas, she met a man who she was thinking of marrying. She was going to introduce him to her parents. However, she got pregnant and ended up having the baby by herself. Against her will, her parents urged her to give her baby up for adoption. YoonJung said “I will not think of my family.” She became estranged from her parents and started to do everything alone.
The story doesn’t end there. When baby JinHee was about four months old, YoonJung came across a long awaited job advertisement from a company that she liked. While preparing, and after YoonJung had already looked for a place to care for children, she inquired at the adoption institution.The consultation visit took barely an hour. In this time, they asked questions about her and the baby’s father and drew up the papers in which she relinquished her parental authority. YoonJung thought she would ‘find a job and take her baby back quickly.’ As YoonJung headed toward Seoul, she pleaded, “If you send my baby away, without fail, contact me first.” Ten days later, as she was studying for her second test, YoonJung received a text message. It said, ‘Yesterday JinHee was adopted.’ While the worker in charge was away, a couple had an adoption consultation and they were a good match so they took JinHee straight away.
After that, it took three months for YoonJung to get JinHee back. She protested against the adoption institution, and appealed with tears. Because of the goodness of the adoptive parents who had sympathized with the situation, JinHee went back to YoonJung. YoonJung quit pursuing her desired job. If ‘family relations’ are described in detail on the work documents and they find out that she is a single mother, the interviewers attitude will change and it will be impossible to pass the interview. No matter what happens, YoonJung will not think of letting go of JinHee again.
6. “4 years ago I was almost fired, single mothers in their 30s need sincere support in the early days “
Park Junga (36, pseudonym) worked at the same company as her boyfriend, but after getting pregnant they separated and she almost lost her job. The boss reproached the two directly and said that they had ‘lost their dignity.’ So, he took a stand and ordered them to resign. The baby’s father turned in his letter of resignation first. Junga was able to keep her job. The family also had another problem. Junga explained, “Even though my younger brother is a blood relation, he told me that the baby’s father’s life was ruined and I should have an abortion.”
Junga left her parents’ house and moved from one friend’s house to another. She recalled, “I called countless facilities around the country. Not only did the reservation have to match my due date, but at all times if there was an opening, I had to adjust my maternity leave. So, I called once every three days. After giving birth I didn’t want to put my baby up for adoption, I intended to raise the baby myself. ‘Can you help me?’ I asked, but many of the places said ‘we will help you give birth but raising the child is your own responsibility.’ On top of that, there were places that would only help teenagers.” This story shows that single moms in their 30s need sincere support in the early stages of motherhood as well.
The first night after she entered the childcare aid facilities, Junga shed many tears. She said, “If I have a baby it should be a blessing, why does it have to be like this? I drew a picture there. I painted a jet-black tunnel. Now I am in this situation but I want to be a person who comes out of the tunnel.” The baby she gave birth to and is now raising is four years old. During those years, Junga’s father disowned her. According to Junga, he said, ‘I don’t have a daughter who is a single mother.’ Her father is now starting to ease up a bit. After Junga gave birth, her mother helped her and she accepted the extreme conflict. This was very helpful to the situation for Junga. Junga discussed the facilities, “Single mothers need more than the programs that the facilities offer. For example, the facility needs to organize ways to commute to the workplace.” She also said, “Until my baby gets bigger, I need not only facilities but also available assistance in the area.”
7. “3 years after giving birth, I reconnected with my family who had urged me to give my baby up”
In the four years since giving birth to her son, ‘DongGulee’ (baby’s name for the duration of the pregnancy), Che HyungSook, 37, has experienced all kinds of hardships that single mothers can go through. Because rumors spread about her pregnancy, after four days she quit her work. However this was just a small problem compared to her other problems. After three years of small steps, relations were finally restored with her family who had urged her to give her baby up for adoption. Hyung Sook confided, “My father changed his home phone and cell phone numbers. I sent a letter every month. At first they were burned or thrown away but at some point, he started to save them.” She said the driving force behind restoring relations with her family was that they saw how hard she had worked for her and her baby to have a life. She added, “I seem to have social experience. There are many situations where even though other mothers have talents and capabilities, many never have the opportunity to work. Isn’t it heartbreaking?”
HyungSook works at a beauty salon. She finishes later than people in many other jobs. It is hard to find a place to care for DongGulee in the evenings. As could be expected there are difficulties for HyungSook. She said, “The principle at the first kindergarten would take DongGul to her house from time to time. She is a very gracious person. There are no childcare facilities that are open until late so it must be difficult for households where both parents work as well.”
Recently, HyungSook came across more trouble.The baby’s father started to pay long overdue visits to see DongGulee. So, she began to investigate parental authority and custody matters. “If there is a lawsuit, the scars will be deeper. Step by step I will find a way to solve this,” said HyungSook.