Omone (Mother)

The South Korea economy currently ranks 15th in the world. The little Asian country of 50 million people is also a member of the OECD and the G20 group of major economies.

South Korea has not always been so economically strong, though, and its current status has been won through a lot of hard work and sacrifice. The Korean war (1950 to 1953) took a terrible toll on the country, as did the extreme poverty that followed. Those tough times have had a lasting effect on the many children who were put up for adoption by parents who couldn’t afford to keep them. During the 70s and the 80s, South Korea exported more children than any other country. According to the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare, 150,944 were adopted between 1953 and 2006, 104,319 by American citizens).

I was one of them, later on adopted by French parents.

A number of essays have been dedicated to the issue of adoption and to the challenges faced by South Korean children who were uprooted and forced to accept a new identity –but to my knowledge, no one has yet given a voice to the birth mothers.

Over the course of a year, I met some of those mothers as part of my “Omone” (Korean of “mother”) photography project, visiting my country of birth armed with revived childhood fantasies and a camera.

A clearer picture slowly emerged of how Korea was 30 years ago. The circumstances they faced and the reasons for doing what they did paint a portrait of a harsh, poor and ultra conservative society. South Korean children are still put up for adoption abroad, but 90 per cent of them are now born to single mothers. Those parents from an earlier time who had fewer choices, or none at all, are victims of massive and irrevocable trauma. They have for decades carried their burden –sorrow, regret and shame – with little or no support.

In their hearts, they remain mothers to their vanished offspring. Even if they see their children again, it does not compensate for the lost years, nor assuage feelings of guilt. They remain destitute and deprived, facing the uncertainties of severed bloodlines.

Discovering the country of my origin through these trouble meetings, often in beautiful, peaceful places, confirmed that, in spite of the outward banality of international adoption, the act of abandonment remains an extraordinary event for all involved.

 

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Omone (Mother)

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Father and Mother Unknown - Paris July 2013. My file of pre-adoption from South Korea. My parents gave it to me when I turned teenager. It has very few information, mainly medical reports and this note: father and mother unknown.
Bubbles of Soap 23rd of June 2013
4th of July 2013Mrs. Yang and Laure, her daughter adopted in France compare their hands. Excerpts of a letter from Laure to Agnès Dherbeys: "It took me some time to give her a name that would please me, because I can’t either call her mother, nor mummy
My husband who have passed away, would have been ashamed when my daughter found me”.Seoul, 4th of July 2013Mrs. Yang, Hay Suk 59 years old, with her daughter Laure and her boy friend Romain, who came from Switzerland to visit her. Laure calls her biolog
En route for Incheon 4th of July 2013
My husband took our 11th daughter to the midwife's.Geoncheon, 27th of June 2013. Mrs Park (the salt vendor as they call her around the village), 79 years old, didn't want to talk to me.
My husband took our 11th daughter to the midwife”. Geoncheon, 27th of June 2013. Lunch offered by Mrs. Park.Mrs Park (the salt vendor as they call her around the village), 79 years old, didn’t want to talk to me.
€œI have no idea at all of how to find her”Seoul First of July 2013. In the coffee shop she asked me to meet her, Mrs. Lee Suk Yun, 58 years old, shows me some photos of herself and her daughter born in 1979. “My husband was not a good husband. I got
I have no idea at all of how to find her”Seoul First of July 2013. In the coffee shop she asked me to meet her, Mrs. Lee Suk Yun, 58 years old, shows me some photos of herself and her daughter born in 1979. “My husband was not a good husband. I got di
I have no idea at all of how to find her in Seoul First of July 2013. In the coffee shop she asked me to meet her, Mrs. Lee Suk Yun, 58 years old, shows me some photos of herself and her daughter born in 1979.
“In spite of our shame, we feel it is our duty to share our story”Seoul, Dobongsan July 2013. Mrs. Choi Soon Im in her restaurant. « I got pregnant very Young. Our son is born in 1983. We were not married. We had no idea of what to do. Some members o
€œI wonder if she is still alive, if she was well. I wanted to help her”Seoul 22d of June 2013, Lee Man Woo, 59 years old, works in computer industry. Here in Mrs. Choi restaurant in Dobongsan. Few years ago, he found his daughter who had been adopted i
I have nothing to offer to my son now. I am just old and poor”. Pyongtaek, 19th of June 2013. Mrs. Kim Jihee, former comfort woman for the American GIs, 64 years old smokes in her little apartment near Camp David, the red area of the huge US military ba
« My parents wanted me to get an abortion. For me, it was just impossible ».Seoul, 3rd of July 2013. Yunmin Lee, 25 years old and her daughter Enoch, born in 2011. « I was already pregnant when i left my boy friend. I was not in love for him
Car park, Dobongsan, Seoul South Korea 6th of May 2013
Daegu 24th of June 2013. The nuns kept all the archives of the 11 000 orphans who went through the White Lily Orphanage (now closed). My file resumes into one sheet with one name and one address: those of the midwife who brought me to the orphanage on my
View from Mrs. Song house, today deceased midwife who sent 13 children from Geoncheon to the white Lily Orphanage in Daegu --including myself, Geoncheon South Korea 27th of June 2013
Around Geoncheon 24th of June 2013. Mrs Park Sook Ha and Mr Cho Sang-Hwan wanted a boy. When her fourth daughter is born, they took the decision to let her with Mrs Song, the village mid wife.
Around Geoncheon 24th of June 2013. Mrs Park Sook Ha and Mr Cho Sang-Hwan wanted a boy. When her fourth daughter is born, they took the decision to let her with Mrs Song, the village mid wife. They so wanted to forget their act they don’t even remember
I am about to pass a DNA test (free of charges) at the Police station Daegu, South Korea 26th of June 2013. In August 2013 I will find out the result is negative.
Street of Seoul, South Korea 4/27/2013. Fantasies of finding my birth family fading away
Buddhist lanterns, Seoul 11th of May 2013
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