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Birthmothers: Unspoken Side of Adoption

2006/10/12 Source

By Yi Chang-ho
Contributing Writer

The documentary "Resilience" has some remarkable features. One of them is that it portrays birthmothers, and most of them are single mothers, who unwillingly had to give up their children for adoption,

a side of the story often neglected in Korea.

Another is how the documentary came to be. The documentary's producer, the Rev. Kim Do-hyun, met a Korean adoptee for the first time while he was working and living in Switzerland. The woman was happily married and had a child. The Rev. Kim says, "Everyday she was happy, but one day she told me this: 'I have a great question mark in my heart, absorbing all my energy"'. These overwhelming questions about her adoption, identity, birthparents and Korea made a big impact on him. He came to think that one of the ways to answer the questions of adoptees could be through the birthmothers. "If the adoptee has a question, maybe the birthmother has the answer. They are two sides of the same coin".

The Rev. Kim is nowadays back in Seoul, Korea. With his wife he manages Koroot, a guesthouse in Seoul for Korean adoptees returning to Korea. He wants Koroot to be more than a guesthouse. "Koroot can be a channel. I want to provide opportunities for adoptees to bring their experience and ideas to Korean society". One of Koroot's first endeavors is producing the documentary "Resilience". He approached the filmmaker Tammy Chu, a Korean adoptee from the U.S., to make this documentary. "I thought it would be better and easier if an adoptee approached birthmothers with this subject. They have a bond between them, I'm, in a way, an outsider", he says.

"Resilience" finally gives birthmothers who had to give up their child a voice about being single mothers, international adoption practices and society. The documentary allows them to contemplate this serious, but often ignored and misrepresented, social issue in Korea. The personal stories about how and what happened are sometimes shocking and very emotional to the women. Only a few of the approached women had enough courage to participate. "There are some birthmothers who are ready to speak up. The ones who participated usually met their child again". The sensitiveness of the topic is illustrated by one young woman being filmed in silhouette. "We suggested filming her in silhouette, because she is still very young and she accepted".

The birthmothers suffer from guilt and regret. The Rev. Kim explains, "They are the victims of Korean society, a Confucianist and patriarchal society. The patriarchal power in Korea can hide what it did wrong by sacrificing women". The Rev. Kim continues, "Until the 70s poverty was the main reason for sending babies and children abroad for adoption. Nowadays, almost 98 percent of the babies and children are from single mothers". Single mothers are hardly accepted in Korean society.

There is still little support for single mothers in Korea. "There is one single-mother house in every province, but we need many more of those houses. Four thousand babies and children are put up for adoption each year. Many mothers would raise their babies themselves if they could. It means we need at least ten times more single-mother houses". The single-mother houses are the only government support single mothers receive and they can only stay there for two years, during their pregnancy and one year after birth; after that there is no more support.

"Resilience" focuses on the personal stories of birthmothers and how they unwillingly gave up their baby or child for international adoption. A preliminary version of the documentary was shown at the 3rd anniversary party of Koroot in July and the Global Overseas Adoptee's Link (G.O.A'.L) adoption conference, last August in Seoul. "We are still interviewing birthmothers. The documentary should be finished at the end of February 2007". They plan to present "Resilience" worldwide through film festivals and television broadcasts. The Rev. Kim tells about all the people he hopes to reach with "Resilience". "I hope this documentary can also help and inform adoptive parents in western countries, social workers and Korean and western society". However, "In the first place the documentary is for adoptees and birthmothers. For the premiere we want to invite many birthmothers and we plan to travel with "Resilience" to Europe and America to screen it to adoptee organizations. I hope it will help adoptees with a question to find an answer".

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