In Thailand: A Chance to be Mothers Again
March 5, 2008
Last year I wrote an In Asia piece about mothers in Thailand who were made childless by the Indian Ocean Tsunami of December 24, 2004. It was an issue very close to my heart; as a mother of two daughters I can not even begin to imagine the pain of separation that these mothers have gone through, and must still be going through every day.
In the two years since The Asia Foundation’s Tsunami Rights & Legal Aid Referral Center (T-LAC) began providing legal aid to people in tsunami-affected areas, I have met many women whose children were swept away by the waves. The tragedy is further compounded for some of these women as they are not able to conceive again due to having had a tubal ligation operation ” a surgical contraceptive supported by the Thai government’s family-planning campaign.
Along with a number of women’s groups, I have encouraged these mothers to form a support group and advocate for government assistance in obtaining a tubal ligation reversal surgery which might give them a chance to have more children. As the surgery can cost up to 50,000 Baht (approximately US$1,560), it is beyond the reach of most women ” in Thailand a minimum daily wage earners receives just over US$6 ” and many families live hand-to-mouth in provinces still recovering psychologically and economically from the devastating effects of the tsunami.
I am so delighted to report that this networking has had successful results. As reported in the January 25 edition of The Bangkok Post, an offer was recently made by Siriraj Hospital, one of Thailand’s leading hospitals, to provide free reversal surgery for an unlimited number of mothers who lost their children to the tsunami.
The first group of ten women underwent their procedures last week. As the mothers were not even able to afford the journey to Bangkok, T-LAC provided financial support to cover their travel costs.
One of these ten women is Ketsara Chanaseuk, who works as a paralegal volunteer for T-LAC and is better-known to her colleagues by her nickname, Poom. Despite holding down two jobs (one as a beach-side masseuse to visiting tourists and another doing laundry) Poom works tirelessly in her community for T-LAC. In fact, she worked right up until the last day before traveling to Bangkok for her surgery. And it was she who alerted us to the difficulty some mothers were facing in covering their travel costs to Bangkok.
Poom lost her two sons to the tsunami. They were aged four and six when they died. It was over two weeks before they found the body of the youngest son; and seven months before her eldest boy’s body was identified. During that time, she was hospitalized due to her extreme grief. Not knowing who to talk to or how to cope, she wrote letters to her sons. The letters have since been published in booklet form ” a heart-breaking document of a mother’s loss.
Here is a rough translation from Thai of one of her letters, which was written on January 10, 2005, just two weeks after the tsunami when Poom was still searching for her sons:
My sons, do you know that your mother is missing you? If you have any awareness of your father and I thinking of you, send us some inspiration. My sons, your mother is about to go crazy. Do you know that your father and I have been looking for you all day? Where are you? Everyone else has been found They’ve all been found. There’s only you boys left Where are you? Tell me; tell your mother. Come to your mother. Come and tell me, my sons.
I don’t know who to talk to. I can’t even talk. The words don’t come out right.
Right now, I’m thinking you two must be missing your father and I. You must be hungry by now, and very cold. You’re probably afraid, too. I think that you are suffering very much. And you, my little one, don’t even know how to swim. If you’re missing your mother too, come to me, won’t you? I’ll come and get you, wherever you are
I love you as much as life itself,
Your Mother, who has lost all hope
Though Poom has one surviving daughter from a previous marriage, she yearns to have more children with her current husband. She is only 32 years old, and I believe she has a right to try and re-build her family. Of course, nothing can bring back her two sons but now that she has had the reversal surgery, she at least has a chance to have more children. I hope that she will find joy and comfort in creating a new family and becoming a mother again.
I went to visit Poom in the hospital just after her surgery. All she said about the operation was, “Finally, it has become a reality.” We talked quietly of other things. She was tired after her operation and not too talkative, but I saw in her eyes a sparkle of hope that I had never seen before.
Ruengrawee Ketphol is a Senior Program Coordinator for The Asia Foundation’s Tsunami Rights & Legal Aid Referral Center (T-LAC) project in Thailand.
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