- Associated Press - Thursday, April 9, 2015

ELKHART, Ind. (AP) - Kelley Baumgartner was at a stoplight on March 16 in Jacksonville, Florida, when she got an email that changed her life.

“It was from my biological mother, who said she was 99.9 percent sure,” Baumgartner said. “I had to pull over, and I was in complete shock.”

Baumgartner, who was born in Elkhart or Goshen, adopted in South Bend and lives in Jacksonville, Florida, posted a photo of herself and a message asking for help finding her biological mother on Facebook Jan. 31.

The photo quickly went viral, with more than 16,000 shares on the original photo and close to 200,000 total shares on other Facebook pages and websites.

Baumgartner has been searching for her biological mother for as long as she can remember, she said during a February interview with The Elkhart Truth (http://bit.ly/1ydcEjD ). After her photo was shared thousands of times, Baumgartner said she was overwhelmed with emails, messages and some clues that looked promising, but none of which went anywhere.

Her next hope for a lead was by petitioning the state, she said, as Indiana law doesn’t entitle adoptees to access original birth certificates or identifying information in closed adoptions.

The mystery that some spend their whole lives trying to solve took Baumgartner 44 days from the moment she posted the photo in January to when she got the email, she said.

Baumgartner’s story has been one of success so far, but it’s by no means a typical outcome in Indiana. Adoptees like Baumgartner aren’t privy to a lot of information in closed adoptions, and accessing records involves petitioning the court, according to previous Elkhart Truth reporting.

As state law stands, records from Indiana adoptions between 1941 and 1993 are sealed. Anyone born during those years must request access to birth records through the Indiana Adoption Matching Registry, which starts the process of tracking down biological parents and asking for permission to release the records.

“For 350,000 adult adoptees from the closed records period in Indiana, it is justice denied, again,” Pam Kroskie, president of Hoosiers for Equal Access to Records (HEAR), said in a statement. “Every year that we delay, it is another year that adoptees die or experience serious medical complications because they don’t have access to their medical histories.”

There was a legislative effort - Indiana Senate bill 352 - to open up the records this year, which would have made them available to adoptees unless biological parents signed a form prohibiting the release of that information. It was authored by Sens. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, and Michael Delph, R-Carmel.

Though the bill passed 46-3 in the Senate on Jan. 22, it didn’t get seen in time by the House judiciary committee to move forward this year.

Baumgartner and her adoptive mother, Becky Huston, said they were disappointed to see the bill die in the legislature but will continue to advocate for adoptees gaining access to records - if for no other reason than to know their medical histories.

And in any case, it wasn’t the legislature’s workings that led Baumgartner to her mother. It was her photo on social media.

“Even in a closed adoption like Kelley’s, you can still be found,” Huston said. “Thinking that sealing the records will stop people like Kelley is crazy. … I don’t think it’s a political issue, it’s a family issue.”

During the process of sharing her story and trying to access her records, Baumgartner said she knew there was a chance her biological mother might not see it, or that she might see it and tell her to stop.

Moreover, the amount of times her photo was resurfaced on the Internet caused some backlash and negative comments, Baumgartner said

“It really mentally got to me for a while,” she said. “But I wasn’t going to let someone else determine my fate.”

In addition to the three clues Baumgartner posted about her biological mom - she was a hairdresser, she had seven siblings and she was in her early 20s - Baumgartner said she had two other clues she kept secret.

When her biological mother knew of the secret clues and mentioned a few other confirming details, Baumgartner said it was “100 percent validation.”

Huston said the news was better than they could have dreamed.

“When Kelley told me … I started crying,” Huston said. “Both of us just said it didn’t seem real. If it was April 1, it would have been the worst joke we could have pulled. You go through so many emotions in five minutes - just a release of feelings to sitting back and going, ‘We did it.’”

Baumgartner’s family and her biological mother’s family will meet for the first time in Florida during - wait for it - Mother’s Day weekend.

Baumgartner wants to maintain her biological mother’s privacy and didn’t share many details about her in an April 7 interview, but she said the amount of love, acceptance and support from her biological mother, cousins, aunts and uncles has been nothing short of overwhelming.

“It feels like first-date jitters,” Baumgartner said. “I am so nervous, but so excited. She told everyone during Easter weekend and just the outpouring of love and emails is so beyond accepting, it’s more than I could have ever dreamed. I am overwhelmed with the family I have.”

Huston and her adoptive daughter tried to prepare for the long haul when their quest began via Facebook.

“Kelley and I talked about it and anticipated it could take six months to a year or even longer,” she said. “Even when birth parents see it, that takes a while to process and make contact back. Once you make contact, you can’t take that back. That’s a pretty big step.”

Baumgartner said she is already planning another trip to visit her biological mother in the winter, and though this missing piece in her life has been found, she said she will never stop advocating for adoptees just like her.

In February, Baumgartner said she was ready for her happy ending in this journey, but as it turns out, it has just begun.

___

Information from: The Elkhart Truth, http://www.elkharttruth.com

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