I Would Buy You a Pair of Red Shoes
I posted the I Would Buy You a Pair of Red Shoes on my blog “You’re My Second Mama Aren’t You? last year. It tells the story of my questions and feelings about my children’s birth mothers, and also introduces to readers a book that is a collection of letters from Korean birth mothers, as they prepared to relinquish their children.
I’m having a similar experience publishing this magazine as I did when I was teaching. I learn as much as I teach. This edition of the magazine presents a lot of stories from birth mothers, so I wanted to share what I have learned about Korean birth mothers in today’s world. It is not surprising to me to learn that Korean unwed mothers are greatly discriminated against.
After all, the same thing happened here in the United States for years — it wasn’t that long ago when the fictional character on a TV show was debating this issue with a Vice Presidential candidate. Slowly over time, our culture has come to either embrace, or at least not discriminate against, unwed mothers. Some of them still live at or below the poverty line, but to my knowledge there is no blatant discrimination, but I could be wrong.
This isn’t true in Korea. According to Mee-kyong, a 33-year-old unwed mother, “Once you become an unwed mom, you’re branded as immoral and a failure. People treat you as if you committed a crime. You fall to the bottom rung of society.” The number of unwed mothers, who relinquished their babies to adoption, is estimated to be between 70 and 90%. That was the experience with my family. Stacee’s birth records show her mother was an unwed factory worker and her birth dad, a student.
There are several people who are trying to change this dynamic in Korea. One is an adoptive dad himself, Richard Boas, an Ophthalmologist from Connecticut who has begun the Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network and the other is Jane Jeong Trenka, a Korean adoptee who has returned to Korea and created the Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea (TRACK). Jane and others advocate for the rights of adoptees and unwed mothers, saying, “Culture is not an excuse to abuse human rights.”
Trying to change a culture that is thousands of years old is a daunting task, but as you read the letters from the birth mothers, there is no doubt in your mind about the overwhelming love and loss, these women feel.
I Would Buy You a Pair of Red Shoes
I know that many people believe that adoption is a joyous and a wonderful thing, and it is. But if you think deeply about the topic, it makes sense that one person’s happiness was the result of someone else’s loss.
I am going to start with the women who suffered the first loss, my children’s birth mothers. When adoptions are “closed adoptions,” as mine were, it is often times difficult to even think about the circumstances of your child’s birth mother. This is especially true when you have an international adoption and the birth mother lives in a completely different country.
I knew nothing about my children’s birth mothers, other than they were alive, and they were the ones who willingly relinquished my children to the Holt Children’s Services. I thought very deeply about this before my children came, and tried very hard to imagine what these two mothers were feeling when they made this fateful decision. Did my boys’ parents who already had two sons suffer from a health or financial situation they couldn’t solve? Was Stacee’s unwed mother made to feel the full weight of the Korean culture’s shame for being pregnant outside of a marriage? What led them to make such a huge, painful decision?
As I tried to tap into these women’s minds and hearts, I could only intuitively feel tremendous loss and love coming from them. Exactly on the boy’s first birthday, I actually felt like their birth mother was communicating to me across the ocean from Korea. As I sat quietly on the date of their first birthday, her emotions washed over me in a tidal wave of feelings — combining both incredible sadness and grief that she must feel and a wish that her circumstances had been different.
Later I found a book that helped me understand these women’s feelings. It’s called; I Wish for You a Beautiful Life, Letters from the Korean Birth Mothers of Ae Ran Won to Their Children.
I’m going to let one of these mothers tell the rest of the story, because it is their story to tell, not mine. Please enjoy this emotionally eye-opening and personal experience.
“I would buy a pair of red shoes for your feet.”
I cannot bear the thought of not seeing you when I imagine that somewhere you may be crying. You were born by Caesarian section. After I woke up from surgery I was able to see you once but I cannot remember your appearance very well. I try very hard to remember what you look like but it becomes difficult and sometimes I have to give up.
My loving daughter, when I first felt you within me I dreamt of many things. One dream was about red shoes. When my mother, your grandmother, was raising me, she had hoped to buy me a pair of red shoes. I guess at the time, because of her poverty, it was too difficult for her. My mother, your grandmother, passed away before she could do this for me.
When I knew that you would be born, I dreamt that after your birth I would buy a pair of red shoes for your feet and a pretty ribbon with lace to put in your hair. However, now I cannot hug you or buy you the red shoes or even buy you a ribbon, and I am very sad. At first I couldn’t accept this reality because I was so sad, but then I realized that you will have good adoptive parents. I believe they will be able to buy you the red shoes and ribbon, because you are like an angel given by God!
Daughter, even if I cannot see you or hug you right now because we are so far apart, I believe that you will grow up to be a cheerful and happy child. Let us always depend on God and we will meet each other in our hearts.