Meet a mom who made the 'gut-wrenching' choice to place a baby up for adoption when she was 17: 'It was a few years before I didn't think about it every day'

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  • Amy Coney Barrett
    Amy Coney Barrett
    American lawyer, judge, and academic
Shannon Paprocki
Shannon Paprocki placed a baby up for adoption when she was 17. "I knew it was the right decision but it was the most gut-wrenching thing."Courtesy Shannon Paprocki
  • Shannon Paprocki gave birth to a baby boy when she was 17 and placed him up for adoption.

  • She said it was a clear decision, but a difficult one that weighed on her for years.

  • But as a result, "I was able to go back to school and have a career," she said.

On January 6, 1989, Shannon Paprocki gave birth to a baby boy in Madison, Wisconsin. Two days later, she left the hospital without him. She was 17, a junior in high school, and she had decided to place him up for adoption.

It was a clear decision, but not an easy one. "I wanted more for me and I wanted more for the child," she told Insider in a recent interview. "I knew it was the right decision but it was the most gut-wrenching thing."

Two weeks later, her milk had come in. Her engorged breasts were a "constant reminder" of what had happened. 

"I couldn't even leave it behind," she said. "I had stretch marks on my belly. Just everything was a constant reminder, every day."

"The darkness was a lot," she added. "It was a few years before I didn't think about it every day."

This week, when Justice Amy Coney Barrett suggested that instead of seeking abortions, women could carry a pregnancy to term and then give a baby up for adoption, Paprocki was stunned. Justice Barrett's comments came during oral arguments for the Supreme Court case that could overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that secured abortion rights in the United States.

Video: How giving birth changes your brain

Paprocki was one of many people offended by Justice Barrett's suggestion that adoption is an easy alternative to aborting a pregnancy.

"I don't know if she's just never been exposed to any situation like this that makes her think a mom could just walk away and return to her normal life as is, with no regard to what huge undertaking and stress has just occurred," Paprocki told Insider.

What especially bothered Paprocki was the suggestion that a woman could just go on with her life afterward. She said her case was lucky, despite the heartache. Her parents were emotionally supportive. They also had union jobs with good health insurance, so there were no out-of-pocket costs for the pregnancy other than a few maternity clothes. 

"I was able to go back to school and have a career," she said. Many women wouldn't get out so financially unscathed. Roughly 28 million Americans did not have health insurance in 2020, and union jobs in the US have dropped six percentage points since 1988. A study by the American Public Health Association found that women who were denied abortions were more likely to experience years of economic hardship and insecurity than those who were able to have the procedure.

Even without a financial strain, Paprocki said it was hard to move on. "Not if you're not a robot. You're a thinking breathing feeling human being. Those are huge connections that child has made with you in the womb."

Sociologist Gretchen Sisson has studied abortion and adoption extensively and found that most people who receive abortions do not consider adoptions as an alternative. In her research, she's found that 90% of women who choose to finish a pregnancy then go on to parent the child. Roughly 18,000 babies are put up for adoption each year by people who "turn to adoption when parenting does not seem tenable to them," she said in a recent interview with New York Magazine.

Paprocki said she hadn't really considered getting an abortion because she was still processing the trauma of becoming pregnant. 

In late March 1988, she says she was sexually assaulted by an older classmate in her small town of about 700 people. She wasn't on any birth control because she hadn't planned to have sex.

"My mind was so not in the right place from how it happened and in denial in a way that I couldn't make that decision," she said about the option of getting an abortion. "I just couldn't."

"I put it in a separate box in my mind and just kept living my life and hoping it wasn't true," Paprocki said. "I'm a very strong, intelligent person, but it put me in a place where I didn't even recognize myself."

When she finally worked up the courage to tell her parents what happened, she was about five months pregnant and beginning to show. 

At that point, the only available option was carrying the fetus to term. She said Lutheran Social Services helped arrange the adoption.

Paprocki said she would have had the resources to raise the baby, but didn't feel that she could at her young age. "Financially, my parents would have been fine," she said. But she didn't want to be a burden on them, and she wanted the baby to grow up in a home with two parents.

Paprocki now works as an operating room nurse and lives in Eugene, Oregon, with her husband of 25 years. She has two children who are 20 and 23 years old.  

She said the adoption is "a chapter in my history that I draw strength from."

She left it open for her biological son to find her if he wanted to, and he did about five years ago. They have a good relationship. "If something came up and he needed a kidney, I would be there," she said. "I feel a mother's love towards him."

"We're supposed to just produce children and walk away? It's not that easy," she said. "It's mental cruelty"

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