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My Abortion in Korea

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By Melissa Salvatore

This is a story of my experience with abortion as an expat in Busan, South Korea. I understand this is a controversial issue, and I am neither trying to encourage nor discourage abortion to other women. I simply want to use my story as an example of having this experience here and to provide other women with options and resources available to them. It is said that abortion is one of the loneliest experiences a woman can ever go through. I want women here to know that they are not alone, and have support.


BUSAN, South Korea -- While abortion in Korea is illegal, it is a widespread procedure with upwards of 350,000 abortions performed each year according to a government report. Whether it’s and unwanted child, or an unwanted gender, abortion  touches the lives of people from all walks of life on the peninsula. And while it is federally banned the procedure is performed safely in clinics and hospitals, both public and private everywhere. I had come across this contradiction while researching Busan prior to my arrival. I took note of the information with the hope that I would never find myself in such a situation.

No words I can write about the experience would adequately illustrate the shock, fear, and sorrow I experienced at that moment I discovered I was pregnant. I  went on auto-pilot. I had recently heard of a local hospital which offered translation services for foreigners, and contacted them right away. The woman in charge of handling translation cases had me send her an email with my basic information and asked me to come in immediately. She was a godsend fore me, sticking with me and giving me support through the entire ordeal.

I met with the doctor. An ultrasound was performed, confirming I was pregnant. Based on the dates of my last cycle, we determined that I’d conceived about three weeks earlier. I asked about abortion and at first – the doctor said it was illegal, then the translator said something to her in Korean and suddenly they were telling me how it could be done.  There was initially a chance I would be referred elsewhere, but, in the end, the right strings were pulled and I was allowed to schedule an appointment for the following Saturday at the hospital. I still wasn’t sure I would go through with it, but knew that if I were to make that choice, I would want it done before the fetus could develop any further.

I contacted the father right away. I knew ultimately this would be my choice, but wanted us both to be on the same page. He tried hard to say the right thing and told me he would support me with whatever I decided. We spoke once the day I found out, and once after the pregnancy was terminated. Our phone conversations were peaceful and ended well. He said he was sorry for what I had to go through which was really important for me to hear, but in retrospect I think I allowed him to separate himself too much from the situation. He offered to help pay for the $500 in medical fees but never followed through, de-friended me on Facebook, and essentially cut off all ties.

While I understand why he disassociated himself, my concern is that cognitive avoidance is a primary cause of risk-taking in sexual activity.  Biology dictated that I had to confront the situation head-on, and from this I learned several lessons I have since applied to every facet of my life. My only wish for him is that he learned similar lessons, for his sake and especially the sake of his future sexual partners.

I’ve come to realize that choosing whether or not to give life is the most powerful decision in the world, but also its greatest burden. It all fell to me, and either way my life was forever changed. This was not a clear cut choice for me; I instantly felt love for it.

Coincidentally, during the weeks I was pregnant, I had gone on a strict training diet, was eating healthier than ever and had given up alcohol entirely. It was like my body was taking care of the fetus before I even knew it was there. This choice came down to nurture over nature; my mind fighting my instinctual desire to keep it. In the end, I had to focus on what I believed would, at present, be the best thing for me to do. This was my life, and my chance to really take charge of it through this choice.

The surgery itself was horrible. The woman in charge of foreigners/translations and a close friend were with me the whole way through, and I am eternally grateful to them for that. The doctor was a funny Korean man who tried to make me feel comfortable, but was also fascinated with my lady parts. He asked me why I chose to be hairless and if my vaginal piercing made sex more pleasurable as he poked at it.

He was the only doctor in the hospital who could perform the procedure, and since it was illegal, I felt like I had no choices when it came to anaesthetics and treatments. I had to trust that they knew what they were doing.

I was given a local anaesthetic, but was awake and felt everything, which was like my insides were being butchered. I was also in the Labor/Delivery unit, and therefore surrounded by expectant mothers, hearing babies being born as I gave up my own. At the time, I didn’t know that the fetus could not experience pain (nerve endings are only developed in the third trimester) and was petrified that it could feel what was happening. I sobbed uncontrollably while the doctor tapped my legs and told me to relax. I prayed. I said sorry a million times, I felt the weight of permanence in this decision and asked him to stop, knowing it was too late. It was like a scene out of a very graphic, sad movie, only it was real and I was living it.

The first two hours after surgery were painful and uncomfortable. By the time I left, though, I felt okay. Physically the recovery was quick. I didn’t have to miss work nor did I experience any more pain, and it took about a month for my cycle and hormone’s to regulate. I went to a women’s clinic closer to my home with a wonderful woman doctor for follow-ups and there were no complications. Emotionally, it was more difficult for me to cope, especially when my hormone levels were still up. Over the phone, I sought out decision counselling before the abortion, as well as post-abortioncounselling through the following Canadian organizations:

Choice in Health: 416-975-9300; 1-866-565-9300; www.choiceinhealth.ca
Planned Parenthood Ottawa: 613-226-3234; www.ppottawa.ca

I highly recommend these to any foreigner women who become pregnant and need support. If you are not Canadian, I suggest seeking out similar resources from your own country/state (read this article: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/844997--deception-used-in-cou... and be sure to obtain background information/referrals on any organization you choose to consult) but if no such resources are available, then contact the ones I did. The first offers counselling by appointment and is very good for medically relevant information, while the second provides social support, but has phone counsellors available anytime during their office hours as well as email support. I was referred by them to this article http://pregnancyoptions.info/emotional&spiritual.htm which offers exercises that were extremely helpful in the process of making peace with my decision.

I published this article about four months after my abortion, and it has now been three years since it all happened. I still think about it often, but knowing that I made the right choice for myself. Although the circumstances were not ideal, I thank my lucky stars that I was in a place where I had options, and that the procedure I chose was performed safely. I am also grateful for the counselling support I received from the above-mentioned organizations, and my close family of friends in Busan who I could confide in.

I want to especially give credit to Korean women. South Korea can be viewed as a patriarchal society, but I think women fight back from this by banding together through thick and thin. The bonds between women here are like nothing I have ever seen. I encountered many health care workers in this process and every woman nurse, receptionist, coordinator, pharmacist, and doctor was 100% sympathetic, respectful, and non-judgemental. Throughout the surgery, a nurse held my hand, dried my tears, and gave me comfort without being able to communicate through words.

I have now established a career supporting women in need because of those who helped me.


If you unexpectedly become pregnant while in South Korea, even when you are far away from your family, friends, and everything familiar to you, you are not alone. Whatever path you decide is best for you to take, you have support, you have options, and you have resources right here for you in Busan.

For any questions or referrals you can also contact me through  melissa_salvatore58@yahoo.ca


An Abortions rights protest last year in Korea (read more at The Grand Narrative)


charlie85
Offline
Joined: 06/16/2011
Re: My Abortion in Korea

Thank you for posting this article. I had an abortion in Korea also, around the same time as you. I had only been here a short time and was scared to talk to anyone because I knew that abortion was illegal and I was worried about what people would think of me. In hindsight I wish I had spoken to my friends about this decision first. I did not have such a positive experience as you did at the hospital. I did not seek counselling though, I tried to put it behind me but have found it impossible.

My relationship with my boyfriend broke down quickly after because I was so depressed and he could not understand me. I told some of my friends after and I definitely agree with that part of your article -Korean women are amazing. I couldn't have lived through the last few months without them. The physical affects did not last long but sometimes I am worried I can never recover in other ways. I don't feel like the same person as before. I know I made the right decision for me in many ways but that doesn't stop me feeling guilty and regretful.

Thanks for posting this. In spite of how amazing my friends have been, noone can really understand what this feels like. It was good to hear your story. Sorry for what you went through.

Emma Kim
Offline
Joined: 08/16/2010
Re: My Abortion in Korea

thank you for that beautiful article. Hope it can help improve the situation and give women the right to choose without having to be outside of the law. Well, glad it went well at the hospital and indeed Korean women know how to stick together. Experienced that solidarity and understanding not by getting something serious like an abortion but just at a regular exam at the gynecologist. They know how to comfort you and make you feel better. For the first time of my life I left the doctor's office laughing! About the abortion, I think you are really brave to share such a personnal story and feelings. It's good to know that there are women ready to help! Good luck for the following and truly respect your choice.

samson76
Offline
Joined: 07/04/2011
Re: My Abortion in Korea

Thanks for this. Brave and interesting.

Anonymous
Re: My Abortion in Korea

Hello and thanks so much for sharing your story.  Would you be so kind as to send me the name of the hospital/clinic that aided you?  I would be very grateful.  I have enclused my contact information.  Thank you very much.. and once again, thank you for sharing your experience.

 

joseflopez@hotmail.com

melissasalvatore
Offline
Joined: 06/13/2011
Re: My Abortion in Korea

Hi Jose,

Thank you so much for your feedback! I just replied to your email.

All the best,

Melissa

Anonymous
Re: My Abortion in Korea

I just want to let you know how strong I think you are.

I happened to stumble upon this article only a few minutes ago, and I am very shocked and amazed at your experience.

Also worrying about the possibility of needing an abortion while here in Korea (it's only been just over a month for myself, yet my boyfriend has been unsympathetic of the idea that I could potentially get pregnant and be entirely unprepared for such a life changing event).

It's so good to know that after having found and gone through the procedure here that you are well. That kind of decision is a very difficult one to make, but I can understand why one makes that decision.

Hopefully, I will be able to make close female friends here to aid me in serious times of need as well.

I wish you the best of luck.

 

Ayanna :) (chamna200@gmail.com)

Anonymous
Re: My Abortion in Korea
This article gives me hope. I've felt very trapped. Thank you for sharing your story. I emailed you about specifics but also wanted to say how brave ypu are and helping a lot of people. Thank you so much. Melissa
melissasalvatore
Offline
Joined: 06/13/2011
Re: My Abortion in Korea

Hello!

I generally prefer to send private messages but just want to say a general thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read this article, as well as for all the feedback I have received which means more to me than I can ever put into words.

Over a year from when this article was first posted I still continuously get emails asking for support/referrals and try to help as best I can with the information I have. Please do not hesitate to contact me anytime and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

I also invite anyone who knows of hospitals/clinics in Korea that provide abortion services, and is comfortable sharing, to email me the contact information of these places so I can give as many resources as possible to those who ask (correspondence is always kept confidential and I never disclose where I get this information from).

Thank you, KoreaBridge, for your willingness to publish this article, thus creating a venue through which women can connect and support each other in what can be such a lonely, difficult experience.

Kind Regards

Melissa

macmac
Offline
Joined: 06/30/2013
Re: My Abortion in Korea

Melissa

I want to talk to you but the email wont go through to you.

 

Can you please email me at johnson_tillie@yahoo.com

 

 

melissasalvatore
Offline
Joined: 06/13/2011
Re: My Abortion in Korea

Hi! I just emailed you, please let me know if there are any more issues. 

All the best

Melissa

Aces959
Offline
Joined: 11/05/2013
Re: My Abortion in Korea

Hi Melissa -

I sent you a private email, hoping to get some information and I was just wondering if you'd had a chance to read it yet.  I'm sorry to push but, as I'm sure you remember, my situation is a very anxious one.  Any information about clinics/hospitals in my area would be so greaty appreciated (or even the information about the place in Busan that you went to).

 

Thank you so much!

 

Ann

melissasalvatore
Offline
Joined: 06/13/2011
Re: My Abortion in Korea

Hi Ann, I'm sorry for the delay as I am in a different time zone; I definitely understand the anxiety! I just replied to your email with information I hope will be helpful to you. 

All the best,

Melissa

moongchi9103
Offline
Joined: 01/09/2014
Re: My Abortion in Korea

Thank you so much for your post.

 

I am a student living in Seoul with a similar situation and would really appreciate some help.

I have sent you an email, but in case you see this first, my email is moongchi9103@gmail.com and would be extremely grateful for some information about hospitals in Seoul that can perform the procedure.

Thanks so much.

ver1nica
Offline
Joined: 01/31/2014
Re: My Abortion in Korea

Contact me, please verono1nica@gmail.com

scimminni
Offline
Joined: 02/12/2014
Re: My Abortion in Korea

I would also really appreciate any information you may have: scimminni@hotmail.com Thank you so much

Paddy0Connor
Offline
Joined: 02/14/2014
Re: My Abortion in Korea

Hi there Melissa,

I just emailed you at the address given in the article, just want to check that it's still current/relevant. If not, could you please email me - josephiosullivan@gmail.com

 

Thank you.

melissasalvatore
Offline
Joined: 06/13/2011
Re: My Abortion in Korea

Hi! I just replied to your email. I hope it helps! 

For those who read this in the future and would like information, the best way to reach me is by emailing me directly at melissa_salvatore58@yahoo.ca. I still continuously correspond with women and couples regarding this article/subject matter and am happy to help in whatever way I can. As I am in a different time zone I try my best to reply within 24-48hours. 

All the best

Melissa

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