Ae Ran Won

The Lesson We Learn from Pains

by Han Sangsoon, Director of Ae Ran Won

Recently, I had an opportunity to listen to a lecture given by a celebrity. He is one of the three most influential speakers in Korea and I listened to him with great anticipation. As an example of the loss of values of Koreans, he cited unwed mothers who resume their lives normally with no shame after giving birth to a baby. These words surprised me. Wondering about others' reactions, I looked around and found many of them nodding their heads in agreement. I was not sure whether I should say something to him. I could have expressed my opinion as that of an individual. However, after considering his influence on people, I decided to write him not in protest, but to educate him on the real situation of unwed mothers.

As I wrote the above, I thought of the many misconceptions about unwed mothers and the prejudice they endure. Most of the misconceptions sound like this: unwed mothers are too selfish and egotistic to take responsibility for their own children. These may be the words of someone who witnessed unwed mothers, who endured the pain of delivery, and placed their child up for adoption after a short counseling session with social workers. The mothers may look blank, or as if they were avoiding their responsibility to their children. Or perhaps they might have seen mothers who ran away without a trace or abandoned their babies.

For many years, I have shared with unwed mothers, whether she is fourteen or thirty-four years old. the moment she had to part with her baby. That moment is always filled with much grief and pain. Pregnancy and delivery are big moments for them. Adding to the difficulty, they have to deal with the blame from their family members and face a relationship with the baby's birth father that is forever changed by their pregnancy. Mothers are prone to become frustrated by the fact that they have to disappoint the people they love. All of these issues are too big for a single young woman to face alone, which is normally the case.

Here is a story of one girl from our facility. Like many other unwed mothers, she was not able to face reality and spent much time in agony.

From childhood, she had always chosen to avoid reality and lived in a fantasy world. This worked when she was young. While in this difficult situation, she straddled both her fantasy world and reality. She chose sleeping as a defensive measure and fell into a deep sleep to forget all that had happened.

However, the baby made her realize that this approach was not appropriate. Understanding that she could not remain in her fantasy world, she came to our office, more mature.

She decided to keep her baby and take care of her baby for one hundred days. In order to raise more money for a better life for both of them, she planned to entrust the baby with an orphanage for just one year. However, as the baby's health began to deteriorate, she finally relinquished and placed him for adoption as it was the best choice for the baby.

Every day at Ae Ran Won, We get countless phone calls from all over the country. One day, a woman from a small town called. She had seen a program about us on television and called to see if she could get some counseling. Ten years ago, as a seventeen-year-old- girl, she got pregnant. With the aid of people she knew, she managed to give birth to her baby and placed it for adoption through the adoption agency the clinic had introduced to her. At that time, she was very afraid of the fact that she had given birth to a baby and was scared that more people would find out. Because of the enormous fear she had, she was grateful for the fact that someone else could take care of her child. Afterwards, she tried to forget what she had done and got married and had two children. Thinking she needed some counseling, I asked, "many birth mothers tend to feel a sense of guilt, which negatively affects their relationship with the second child. What about you?"

The answer was terrible. Her first baby, whom she placed for adoption, was a boy. After she got married, when she found out that the sex of her fetus was a male, she aborted it. Her two children are girls. Surprised, I asked how this could be, considering Koreans' preference for sons. Painfully holding back tears, she said she could never ever raise a son. My heart ached as I heard her gut-wrenching crying. She said, "I thought I really had forgotten about him. But, in an instant, my memory became very clear and it haunts me all the time and I've begun to lose my will to live."

She said, "I am terrible, aren't I? I drove him out of my life but now I am trying to locate him" and burst into tears.

We easily judge that only those birth mothers who show deep grief have a sense of responsibility while those who seem unconcerned or seem to be withdrawn don't care. I believe the difference lies in the ability to face reality. One day, one of my friends, who is involved in social welfare, mentioned, "It is clear that the separation from the birth child is painful. However, some birth mothers show no responsibility or even seem indifferent. Isn't it necessary to help them express their pain by making them aware?"

The first reaction to the trauma of loss is the numbness from shock, which is followed by denial and evasion. Neuroses are the prices we pay for escaping from pain that deserves attention, said psychologist Carl G. Jung. In other words, all mental diseases are derived from our efforts to avoid emotional agony. Most of us have this tendency, so we can say we all have mental problems to some degree. Some people are likely to go too far from the simple solution of facing reality and make up exaggerated fantasies. As a result, the price of evasion is much more than the actual pain that they are trying to avoid. When we avoid a certain amount of pain, we are, at the same time, refusing to grow this same amount. This will consequently make our souls whither.

Most birth mothers experience a feeling of helplessness after the relinquishment of their child. The depth of this helplessness lies in the desire to run away from the feelings of loss, and feelings of incompetence for not taking responsibility for her life and problems, At first, avoiding problems seems successful. However, this is not true. When our minds are filled with lies, we are confused by misunderstandings and fantasies which affect our judgement of what is right and how to face reality. That requires painful efforts and emotions from them. This sometimes makes many birth mothers feel scared and overwhelmed. In this process, social workers should continue their efforts to teach birth mothers how to attain mental growth. It is very necessary to help them learn to face the problems directly and cope with them constructively. Fortunately, some people have the courage to face reality and learn to accept their pain. After this process, one can learn something and live a different life. One can live a more peaceful life than ever before.

Social workers should be aware that trauma is not a "state" which can be solved by escape or denial, but is a "process" that the client has to go through at least once. Social workers should understand the changing feelings of their clients, which range from shock to denial, evasion, anger, depression and reorganization. They should help them arrive in a safe place so that they can finish their unstable journey. Social workers should help them face the psychological problems in their lives by helping them wake up from their avoidance and passivity. To do all of this, it is required of social workers to have deep insight and training. However, the most essential factor of all is having an open mind to love and a willingness to go through the painful journey with them.

In the new year, I hope more birth mothers achieve mental and spiritual growth with the help of Ae Ran Won.