INDIANAPOLIS — Katie Balding remembers facing a lot of judgment during her pregnancy.
“I had one man tell me ‘Well why didn’t you keep your legs closed?’ I just looked at him, and it broke my heart that people saw me like that because I wasn’t like that. I’m not like that,” said Balding.
She was 18 when she found out she was pregnant with her daughter. Young and scared, she said abortion was the first option in mind.
It was during a visit at the Women’s Care Center where she learned about other options, like adoption. She says that visit led her to Adoptions of Indiana, where she ultimately found her daughter’s adoptive parents.
As part of their open adoption, Balding sees her daughter at least once a month and is very involved in her life. However, she says there are boundaries.
“People are always saying ‘you’re still her mom’, or ‘you’re still her parent,'” she said. “I have to correct them because I’m not. I don’t parent for her, I don’t make any of the decisions. I have a motherly instinct and a love for her, but I don’t make decisions for her. That’s how it’s supposed to be, and how I wanted it to be.”
It’s been nearly four years since Balding chose adoption, and while she says it’s been easier to manage her feelings — she says some days are harder than others.
“Tomorrow I could be sobbing and really upset and missing her, especially towards her birthday,” said Balding. “Those feelings of depression hit, I go back to how it was almost four years ago, but then the next day I could be how I am today and be completely fine and ok with the adoption.”
Balding says part of her therapy includes sharing her story in hopes of reaching others and letting them know they’re not alone.
Amy Nicholas, with Adoptions of Indiana, agrees more can be done to increase access for resources, education and support for expectant and birth mothers.
“This is a very huge, very difficult decision,” said Nicholas, “and we really believe that expectant and birth parents need to understand their rights and responsibilities.”
“They need qualified professionals, who’ve been educated on how to provide these services, and respect their journey,” she added.
Nicholas, who serves as the director of placement services, outreach, education and birth & expectant parent services, works with hospitals, pregnancy centers, schools, medical providers and other facilities to let them know AOI is available.
The non-profit, full-service adoption agency offers a variety of free resources for expectant and birth parents including options counseling.
Options counseling allows prospective birth parents to learn more about the process, and their options, before making any decisions. Because it’s not a requirement in the state, Nicholas says many women are uneducated about the adoption process and rights as a birth parent.
“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of women in our state that are not being educated about their rights and responsibilities,” Nicholas said. “Sometimes we meet those women down the road. They may have worked with other organizations, and they don’t understand the grief and loss issues of adoption. They don’t understand open adoption.”
Nicholas says more education could help eliminate the stigma behind birth mothers and their decision to choose adoption for their child.
Adoptions of Indiana also offers resources in helping birth parents cope with life after adoption. Part of their services include post-placement counseling, as well as a Birth Parent Support Network that includes a private Facebook group for expectant and birth moms to share their stories.
Nicholas says support is one of the main drivers in making it through the birth parent journey. That’s as it comes with a variety of emotions, like grief, anger or even confusion.
AOI usually holds a Birth Mother’s Day event every year. Though it was canceled due to COVID, Nicholas says they’re still planning for more social events for birth moms to connect as restrictions loosen.
One form of support is Birth Mother’s Day, which always falls on the Saturday before Mother’s Day. The day is meant to bring awareness, education and reflection for birth mothers and their families.
“These women don’t forget and they love their children,” said Nicholas, “Even if they’re not having an open adoption, there’s very likely not a day that goes by where they don’t think about them. So they need to be honored, respected and heard.”
For Balding, celebrating Birth Mother’s Day is part of her weekend plans with her daughter, as they also prepare to celebrate her adoptive mother on Sunday.