Kelley Baumgartner was born on Feb. 3, 1987, in the Elkhart/Goshen area, to a hairdresser in her early 20s with seven siblings. Two months later, Becky and Sam Huston adopted her through Catholic Social Services.
That’s all she knows about the first weeks of her life.
Last Saturday, the Jacksonville, Fla., resident put those details on a sign, took a photo of herself with it and posted it to Facebook, hoping someone could come forward with details about her birth family. Over the next five days, the post was shared nearly 14,000 times.
Baumgartner’s social media campaign is the latest step in an eight-year search for her birth mother. She knew she was adopted from a young age. When she was 3 years old, she moved with her parents and older brother, Kevin, also adopted, from Indiana to Jacksonville, where she said her childhood was idyllic.
“I had a wonderful, normal childhood,” she said. “I played soccer growing up; I went to school. There wasn’t a single negative moment.”
Still, Baumgartner wanted to know more about her birth mother. In 2006, she hired a company to help track her down, but after two years, the search turned up nothing. She joined the Indiana Adoption Registry, checked with Catholic Social Services — now part of Catholic Charities of Fort Wayne — and called around to area hospitals looking for birth records, but with no luck.
A continual obstacle was Indiana’s adoption laws, which seal records for adoptees born between 1941 through 1993 unless birth parents give permission for their release. Baumgartner hopes that will soon change: SB352, which passed the Indiana Senate on Jan. 22 and was referred to the House on Tuesday, would give adoptees access to some records, unless birth parents request to keep them sealed.
Sen. Jim Buck (R-Kokomo) said he voted for the bill in the Judiciary Committee because he believed it would allow adoptees to access their medical histories more easily.
“If they have some kind of a medical history, so that the child or the adult that’s trying to find out what their parents had propensity to through their genetic code for different illnesses, that they’d have information on it,” he said. “It still provides protection to the birth mother, that if she doesn’t want to be contacted, or birth father. They’d have to give written consent.”
State Sen. John Broden, D-South Bend, who voted against the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he opposes SB352 because Indiana already has a procedure for adoptees or birth mothers to request a mediator, and because changing the law may bring birth mothers unwanted contact.
“When the birth mother signed her consent, there was no provision under Indiana law for the birth mother to indicate whether she wanted to be contacted or not,” he said. “I’m concerned about retroactively changing the law. With the time factor, she has no opportunity whatsoever to indicate that she does not want to be contacted.”
Though she cannot access her records, Baumgartner continued to look for her birth mother, but for several years, she was stuck.
“I thought maybe it was not meant to be,” she said. “I was running into brick walls everywhere. I didn’t know where to start or where to end.”
Since Saturday, however, support has poured in. Baumgartner said the post has cropped up in Arizona, California, Massachusetts and the Philippines, and she’s received messages of support from both well-wishers and fellow adoptees.
“Hundreds of people message me everyday, saying, good luck on your search, here’s how I’ve done it,” she said.
One woman, she said, gave her access to an ancestry.com account, so she can search through more public records.
“These people, they don’t get paid for it or anything,” Baumgartner said. “They sit down, they sit with you and search with you.”
Throughout the process, Baumgartner, who has a husband and three kids of her own, said her parents have been nothing but supportive — her mother helped her make the sign detailing her early life, and her father took the viral photo.
“My parents are my best friends,” she said.
So far, Baumgartner said she has had several leads through social media, though none of them took her anywhere. She fields hundreds of emails, posts several times a day on Facebook and recently created a Twitter account. What she hopes, she said, is that her birth mother or someone who knows her will simply see the posts and come forward.
“There can’t be that many hairdressers in their early 20s with seven siblings,” she said.
Even if her birth mother does not want to build a relationship with her, Baumgartner says she wants to ask her questions and show her appreciation for the life she has.
“My family went through infertility and years of waiting,” she said. “I owe a lot to her. I want to tell her thank you.”