A Korean Aussie adoptee goes back home for the first time. Hilarity ensues?
The story of the Baby Box in Korea has swept adoptee communities and mainstream media after an award-winning documentary on Pastor Lee’s initiative went viral. The Baby Box is a place for mothers to anonymously leave their babies who they cannot raise. This is as a safe alternative to abandoning children. These babies are eventually sent to an adoption agency.
Responses and opinions are varied. I’m writing my thoughts on the Baby Box in response to a social campaign run by KoRoot, a guesthouse for Korean adoptees visiting Korea.
To me, the Baby Box was set up with good intentions, but its existence is a sad reflection on Korea’s adoption culture.
As mentioned earlier, the Baby Box is a safe alternative to abandonment. It is absolutely not safe to leave a young child alone anywhere, let alone a crowded Korean city. Obviously, it is a much better option to leave the child in a private environment where they are guaranteed care and safety.
But to me, it all boils down to a simple fact: babies shouldn’t be abandoned in the first place. Not on the street. Not in a box. Not anywhere.
Why is this happening?
Stigma around single mothers in Korea is still a very real issue. There is some degree of stigma in Australia too. But even though it is very difficult to raise a child alone, at least most of them get to keep their babies. In Australia, single mothers can apply for (not very much) welfare from the government. There is some degree of community support available for single mothers.
Single mothers in Korea, on the other hand, face enormous pressure to give up their children for adoption, risking possible estrangement from their own families and social discrimination against themselves and their child.
The woman in this particular story is very young. Being 18 and pregnant is not ideal. But I know people who have had children at that age, and friends born to young mothers. Their lives are difficult, sure. But they did not resort to putting their child in a box, never to be seen again.
I have talked to many adult adoptees recently who were abandoned on doorsteps, in markets, on the street, dirty and malnourished. The worst adoption stories I’ve ever heard were when a family member has kidnapped the child to put up for adoption. It is much harder for these adoptees to find their birth families. There are no names, no stories, sometimes fabricated birthdays. Some of them will never find their families. I can barely fathom it. It breaks my heart.
I can only really speak from the perspective of my own adoption story. I was not abandoned, but the story is still incredibly problematic. My adoption file says my mother was unwed. In reality, she was rehabilitating my sick father and other relatives as well as dealing with a multitude of other tragedies around her. Her doctor suggested that she needed to solve one of her problems – give me up for adoption.
Once I learned this, I became very angry. Not at my mother. She’s a strong woman who needed to do something in her awful predicament and cried out 25 years worth of guilt when I met her. I forgive her. I can’t judge because I’ve never been in that situation. But I was angry that she was in that position and that was an option in the first place. I was angry that there was no support or affordable healthcare for my wonderful family, and something as drastic as sending away a newborn child to a completely different country and culture was the solution.
My parents went through the formal procedures when they gave me up for adoption and left information with my agency. That one piece of paper with their names, ages and the (fake) story of my adoption was my only link to my birth family and ultimately helped me find them. I don’t know what it would be like to grow up knowing that I was found in a box, and never know my parents’ names. Probably torturous. Every adoptee deserves to know information about their birth and their families – just like every human being on the planet. Hell, I was frustrated enough that I didn’t know what town I was born in.
Many adoptees my age or older were put up for adoption because of the poverty many Koreans were living in up until the 1990s. But despite Korea’s remarkable social and economic progress, adoption is still ingrained in its culture. It is the solution to difficult family problems. But I think that’s wrong. Community and government support, sex education, reproductive rights and creating a more caring society is the solution.
Of course I’m glad that babies are not being left in the street. But surely there’s a smarter way to deal with this problem. One day, these babies will grow up. Maybe in the US, Europe or Australia. And, like me, they will grow up wondering, worrying, imagining what it’s like to know someone with their genes. Many adoptees grow up with abandonment issues, anxiety, isolation from a lack of clear cultural identity. Not to mention the guilt that birth mothers live with after giving up their child.
I’m not blaming the Pastors who set up the Baby Box, who are trying to do their best in the circumstances. I’m not blaming the distraught mothers of Korea, nor the adoptive parents want children. (Except for the bad ones. I’m looking at you, Woody Allen). But I am disturbed at the reasons why this even exists in the first place.
Further Reading about adoption issues:
Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea
Land of Gazillion Adoptees [Facebook]
Korean Unwed Mothers Families’ Association
PeaceShannon – an adoptee activist living in Seoul writes her opinion on the Baby Box
Please leave me a comment if you have written an opinion piece or know of a great Korean adoption resource so I can add it to the list above.