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How adoption impacted the emotional health of a person who gave up her baby

A 16-year-old rape survivor put her baby up for adoption decades ago. That decision has stuck with her ever since.

A warning: this interview describes incidents of physical and sexual abuse that may be upsetting to some readers.

As Texas clinics stop providing abortions, more people with unwanted pregnancies will be faced with a narrow choice: raise the baby under often difficult circumstances or put the child up for adoption.

Houston Public Media Health Reporter Sara Willa Ernst spoke with Conroe resident Bonnie Radavich, who faced that decision when she was 16 years old.

Listen or read the interview below, edited for length and clarity.

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You live in the Houston area now, but 28 years ago you were a teenager in Northern Idaho. What was life like for you then?

My parents divorced when I was 13. My mom was not really wanting to be a mother anymore too much. And my dad was out of control and would come home and hit his family. And so I didn’t trust my parents and I was trying my best to get out of living with either of them as quickly as I could.

Another thing I learned about you is that you're a survivor of rape. The rapist was later convicted, but the assaults got you pregnant at 16. You were a kid at the time. Who did you turn to? Did you have anyone to go to for support?

I didn’t have — yeah, I really didn’t have much for support.

And so when I approached my father and I told him about what had happened. He stood in the room when I told him and he folded his hands against his chest and he said “don’t you think you egged him on?” And I couldn’t believe it. There wasn’t any kind of, “are you OK?” There was nothing comforting that ever came out of him about that whole situation.

My dad was somebody who had a very strong religious belief and the woman was always at fault. If you wore something that might cause a man to think anything sexual about you, then it was you who were causing him to sin. He had that kind of view on women.

Was abortion something you at all considered?

My folks weren’t interested in abortion as an option for me. I knew that telling my dad I wanted an abortion — he would have laughed at me and looked at me weird and said, you know, “why in the world do you want something like that?” There was really no personal choice that was there for me, was my feeling about it.

Roe was in place, but abortion just wasn't accessible to you. So you approached a couple at your church, who were having difficulty conceiving. They ended up adopting the child. How did you make that decision?

It wasn’t that I didn’t want him. I really wanted to have the ability to give him something that at 16 I couldn’t. I didn’t give him up because it gave me great pleasure or because I just didn’t want responsibility. It was because I knew at that point in my life that there was no way for me to give him a love that I would have wanted for him.

Love without food is not going to cut it. Love without being there is not going to cut it. You can’t say, “well, hey, baby, I love you. But I don’t have anybody to take care of you. So watch yourself for a few hours while I go to work.”

I wanted him to have opportunities. I didn’t want him to eat grocery store dumpster food, like I did. And I didn’t want to leave that as a reality for my child. I mean, what am I going to invite you into? What kind of a possible future could I give you?

I want to get an understanding of how your pregnancy affected your life even after you had your baby. You left Idaho, eventually moved thousands of miles away to Texas. Is this something that has stuck with you throughout the years? How has it affected you?

I spent a lot of time really feeling that loss emotionally. Even today there are times that I — there are times that I hear a young child crying in a grocery store and I have to put my groceries down and leave in a real hurry so that people don’t see me cry, because it reminds me of my own emptiness. Even though I know my son has grown and I know that he’s a healthy adult, young adult. I still very much hurt for that little baby who’s never going to come back. It doesn’t go away.

We're talking right now in a really specific moment, a historical moment. What is it like for you to experience Roe getting overturned, as someone who hasn't just had one unwanted pregnancy, but actually two? The other one was when you were around 27 and the baby's father had left.

I did have an abortion, because I was in no kind of a condition to financially or otherwise raise a baby all by myself. And I’ve never, ever felt bad for it. I have no emotional trouble from it.

And so having stood on both sides of that fence, my experience with Roe v. Wade having been taken away from women is that (people who haven't had unwanted pregnancies are), generally speaking, males and females who have never had to stand on any kind of actual experience and deal with the isolation it creates for you for the rest of your life. And it made me feel angry.

We're talking about your second pregnancy and how there’s really no negative feelings from having chosen abortion. Your first pregnancy, however, was a really difficult situation. You were a teenager without emotional and not much financial support. When we talk about that pregnancy, we’re talking about a real person right now — an adult living their life. But when you think back to that situation where an abortion wasn’t available to you, if it were, do you think the choices you would have made would have been different? Do you think your life trajectory would have been different too?

Yes. I would almost say yes and no, but I think yes. If I had, for instance, a person who was more — if that had been an option, and I had somebody who said, “listen, this is going to be the best choice for you and here’s why,” or even who said “you can make whichever choice you want, but I’m going to support you in whatever choice you want to make,” then I think I would have been able to have made a choice that wouldn’t have in some ways very much crippled my life.

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