In Korea, unwed motherhood is one of the leading reasons for child abandonment. When a single woman becomes pregnant, she could lose everything — her family, friends, career, education, housing and the hope of these things in the future. This stigma is so strong and enduring that often women feel like they don’t have a choice except to relinquish their child for adoption.
Through our partner agency in Korea, we work to empower women and show them that they do have a choice. Holt Korea operates several shelters for mothers and their children where they can receive free housing, nutritious food, counseling and educational support in a safe and positive environment. The overall mission of the shelters is to help each mother gain the skills she needs to successfully parent, provide for her child and care for herself. The following story is written by a woman who lives with her son at the Holt Morning Garden unwed mother and child shelter. Because of the support she and her son, Ji-ho, receive, this young woman decided not only to parent her son — but also to pursue higher education despite the discrimination she would likely face in the admissions process. Defying all odds, she was accepted to college and is now studying to become a social worker so she can help other unwed mothers like herself as they work to overcome the stigma that is so firmly entrenched in Korean culture.
I am currently a single mother raising a 15-month-old son.
For whatever reason, when I was younger my parents separated, and because of that, I began living on my own a little earlier than others. I had a hard time being independent. At a time when you need to be studying and working hard in school, my grades were dropping. Through the introduction of friends, I met my future child’s father. And during our relationship I unexpectedly became pregnant. Because we were not ready for this, our relationship became difficult and we began to fight with one another. As my belly grew with my son, an obvious sign of my pregnancy, it limited the things that we could do. My boyfriend drifted away from me and began a relationship with another woman. I broke up with him, and found myself alone with my baby. I did not inform my parents, as I could not bear the guilt, and my mind was overflowing with anxiety.
It was during this time of great difficulty that I found Holt’s Morning Garden unwed mother and child’s shelter. After I came into their care, I was finally able to feel a sense of relief and well-being.
With warm and understanding hearts, the staff members, teachers and the other families (mothers and their children) who shared my circumstances at Morning Garden helped me. Here we are able to ease our fears, take part in many programs and begin to again celebrate our lives. I participated in the art therapy, horticulture therapy, cinema therapy and several other counseling and arts programs during my pregnancy. Through them, I was able to find stability in my mind and understand how to better my life. Ah! I fondly remember preparing for our “family celebration” for Christmas in 2014. For me it was such a significant party.
On January 1, 2015, my son was born and all of the anxiety and distress that I had carried was unleashed. The birth of my son brought up worry — how would I be able to care for another? For three months, I was drowning in my thoughts. I received counseling and considered adoption. Time marched on and my son grew and grew. When he was hungry he cried, when he felt good he laughed, and by the time of his 100-day celebration (a significant milestone in Korean culture), he was turning himself over.
I also came to understand that I was the one person my child believed in. For some reason this made me anxious and made me question whether I could do this alone. But knowing that my child fully trusted me and depended on me gave me the confidence to continue on.
As I cared for my child, the love and care of the teachers and staff and other families helped carry me through, and I was able to regain my confidence.
I put aside all distractions, and with eyes only on my child, I did my best and worked hard.
With the help of my teachers, I resumed my studies. I was determined to earn my high school diploma. During that time, I also took part in a vocational training program to earn certification as a barista. The program was very interesting and I learned quite a bit. Now I often enjoy making coffee for myself. I learned that if you work hard, a good path will open for you and it will be great.
It was then that my past dream of becoming a social worker re-emerged. Even though I knew that it was a grand dream, I was encouraged by everyone at Morning Garden and I studied hard to pass the university entrance exam to study social work. I was successful and now I am studying hard at a university. As I raise my son, studying is truly difficult work. I feel it in my body and I feel it in my mind. However, for the welfare of my son and me, I continue to work toward my goals of graduating, becoming a social worker and being a smart and proud mom.
For those who have believed in me to make this path to get here, the teachers and staff at Morning Garden and the sponsors who have lifted me up, I wish to express my sincere gratitude.
Thank you so much,