Ae Ran Won

Seong-Lim's Mother

A Move to Jeju (a chapter from Dreaming a World)

(baby born in 1997)

Hello, I’m Seong-Lim’s mother. Let me introduce my story. My father passed away when I was thirteen years old. I have three older brothers and two older sisters. I’m the youngest daughter. Even though my father died early, my grandmother, mother, and siblings loved me very much, and I grew up happy. My family wasn’t rich, but there were no financial problems. I lived in Kang-leung, Kangwon province in Korea until I finished middle school. I moved to Bucheon to go to a high school that is located in Kyungkido, because my mother and grandmother wanted me to continue to study close to Seoul.

I was a very self-sufficient girl when I was seventeen. I started doing part time work such as babysitting, working at a pharmacy and a store, and tutoring during every vacation. I did my tutoring work until the third semester of college. However, on the fourth semester vacation, I went back to my hometown because I was feeling weak. During my resting time, I met my old friends, and one day we went to a restaurant. I met Seong-Lim’s father there. He was a part-time cook. Even though he had a father, a mother, and his siblings, for some reason he did not receive enough love from his family. That was why I had motherly affection for him, because he looked lonely. We were getting close very fast, and wanted to get married. However I could not tell my family. I was still a college student, and my boyfriend was not ready to support a family. There was no way to get married.

But I got pregnant. At that time, the anti-abortion policy of the Catholic Church crossed my mind, and my family is Catholic. Because they are Catholic, I believed that my family would allow us to marry if we had a baby. I thought that I could use that. But Seong-Lim’s dad rejected the idea of going to meet my family to ask if we could get married. Besides, I had severe morning sickness during my pregnancy, so I had to interrupt my education as well, because I couldn’t stay at home any longer. Finally I began to live at my boyfriend’s home. Even though it was a brief time, we were quite happy. I told my mother that we lived together at his place, but I didn’t tell my siblings. My mom didn’t know about my pregnancy at that time. I started preparing for an examination to be a public office worker, and he got a new job at an automobile service center. I was happy, but that lasted only a month and half. Then, for four months, we had lots of problems, and I used to faint because of the stress of the conflicts with him. He always projected a vague attitude and never said anything about our future and our baby. Therefore, we always kept on arguing over those issues.

It was unavoidable that I should return to my home alone. I told my mother that we broke up because of personal differences. I couldn’t stay in my home, because my neighbors didn’t know yet about my pregnancy, and they would probably shun me when they figured out that my body shape was changing. I didn’t want my family to get into serious trouble because I was having a baby without marriage. So I decided to go to my friend’s home in order to protect my family. Fortunately, my friend’s neighbor introduced me to Holt Children’s Services, which is an adoption agency, and they also introduced me to Ae Ran Won. In almost my ninth month, I entered Ae Ran Won.

If I had not had the chance to enter Ae Ran Won, I couldn’t imagine my present life here and now. During the time before I entered Ae Ran Won, I was insecure, so I couldn’t do any good prenatal care for Seong-Lim. However, my life was getting stable in Ae Ran Won for a month before Seong-Lim was born. Ae Ran Won was such a paradise to Seong-Lim and me.

What made me to decide keep my baby? I love babies, and it was my intention to raise Seong-Lim. It would be natural to bring him up. I had some money that I had saved from my part-time salaries, and I was confident that I could raise my baby by myself. However, it was urgent that I find a place where I could live and get childcare. It wasn’t easy. Ae Ran Won provided a place where the mothers who keep their child can stay after they give birth at Ae Ran Won. But that place was already full with unmarried mothers and babies, so I couldn’t stay there. A social worker at Ae Ran Won helped me move to another group home, another social welfare facility for women like me, but we couldn’t stay there after about two weeks. The place was too cold—there was no heating system for the residents—and Seong-Lim was getting sick. We moved to my friend’s home where I had lived before.

I let my family know about Seong-Lim’s one-hundredth day. Even though my family members are religious as Catholics, they wanted Seong-Lim to be adopted. However, I stubbornly resisted the adoption issue, until finally they agreed with me. But I also agreed to an option that I should give Seong-Lim’s father one more chance. So we lived together for two months, even though I realized that he neglected his duty as a dad and husband. After all that, my family approved of my decision to be separated from him.

Officially, my family accepted Seong-Lim and me as a family. I was very happy and appreciated my family. However, I didn’t ask for any help from them. I wanted them to see that I could be stable and could live well as an unmarried mother. I didn’t tell my family that we were moving to Jeju province, which is an island in Korea. It was possible to move to Jeju because my best friend lives there.

That was the time that I felt God helped us. My plan was well on its way to success. An acquaintance introduced me to a foreign company that had less prejudice towards unwed mothers. (At a job interview, the interviewers liked my attitude, which is dignified and bright even though I am an unmarried mother.) I found a childcare facility near my office that would take care of Seong-Lim while I worked.

Since then I’ve been working very hard. As I worked for the company, it was necessary to speak Japanese. I started learning Japanese. For a while, I couldn’t get more than three hours sleep each night. But three years later, I could speak Japanese quite well and also contribute to my company. Fortunately, my efforts came to be recognized by senior officials and coworkers. My salary was increased, so I could be self-reliant economically, physically, and mentally.

I am satisfied with my life with my son. Seong-Lim is a nice, healthy five-year-old boy. Life is more stable than ever before. Of course, Jeju province is a unique place to stay, and it was very beneficial for me to move here. “Three abundance” is a famous saying in Jeju province. It refers to the three things that are abundant in Jeju Province: wind, rocks, and women. Here, people assume that women have more vital energies than men. Generally, women have the responsibility for their family finances. They have been involved in farming, or working as shellfish divers. On the other hand, men have been taking charge of households, and the care of their children. Jeju province has quite different customs compare to the main part of Korea.

As a result of working hard, I bought a house and a car. These days, I have a big change in my life. A man whom I’ve known for quite a while wants to marry me. He told me it is beautiful that I’ve been trying hard to keep my family healthy in such a difficult situation. My son also likes him a lot, and says he wants him to be his daddy. Because he understands, he will love me the way I am. What makes me think about marrying him more than anything is that he treats my son as his own.

I want to say thank you very much to Ae Ran Won, where there was support for me to give birth and raise my son, Seong-Lim. Thank you very much.

    A note from Sangsoon Han
In August, 2002, when Ae Ran Won held a conference called “How Can We Support Unwed Mothers and Their Children?”, I asked this birth mother to be one of six mothers who would make presentations. She was very happy to do that. She came to Seoul, and spoke publicly about her story for the first time. She brought along her son, who was about sixteen months old at the time; her baby was on her back during her talk. Everyone there was very impressed by her and her confident attitude, and how she cared for her son. She helped them realize that unwed mothers can, indeed, raise their children. Now she is a strong supporter of Ae Ran Won. Three years ago she married, and now also has a daughter with her new husband, and they live happily together.