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Jewish World Review
Dec. 18, 2009 / 1 Teves 5770
Giving Thanks for Life
Mia's story is good holiday fare. That must have been what the
Washington Post editors were thinking when they put her smiling face on
the front page. Whether they considered the deeper implications is not
so clear, as we shall see.
Mia Fleming is a 20-year-old college student who was adopted as an
infant. This year, she set out to find not her birthparents, but the two
teenagers who found her on a Fairfax, Va., townhouse's front steps.
Emily Yanich and Chris Astle were both 15 in 1989. They acknowledge that
on the afternoon in question, they "may" have walked to the 7-Eleven to
buy cigarettes. When they returned to their neighborhood, they heard a
baby crying. "I looked around and noticed that there weren't any moms
out there pushing their kids around in a stroller," Astle recalled. The
two teens followed the cries and found a bundle on the landing of a
townhouse "where it didn't seem anyone was at home." They found the
dark-eyed baby girl wrapped in orange towels, her umbilical cord still
After frantically knocking on the townhouse door without result, Astle
and Yanich, holding the crying infant, tried to decide on the best
course. The Post recounted their thinking: "Had someone forgotten the
baby? Was she hungry? Should they go back to the 7-Eleven and get some
food? Should they take her? Would they get in trouble?"
Shocked and uncertain, they took the baby to Yanich's stepfather, who
called the police. In short order the emergency vehicles arrived and the
baby (who was estimated to be 12 hours old) was whisked off to the
hospital. Later that day, a nurse called to tell them that the child was
healthy and was going to be just fine.
And she was. A couple who already had one adopted child eagerly embraced
the opportunity to adopt her. This month, 20 years later, Mia Fleming
managed to contact her two guardian angels through Facebook. Her message
was tentative: "Hi. I'm sorry to bother you, but if you are the Chris
Astle I was looking for then I just want to thank you. You and Ms.
Yanich found me on someone's doorstep when I was an infant. I don't
really know what else to say, but thank you."
Fleming speaks for millions of adopted children. It's pretty basic.
Everyone (excepting only the pathological) is grateful to have been
given a chance at life. Fleming's simple gratitude contrasts with the
fatuous nonsense often peddled in the media that adoption is always
traumatic. It isn't. Yet even if it were, isn't it better to be alive?
Yes, some adoptees struggle with questions of identity, but life is full
of challenges. In other ways, adoptees are actually better off than the
average American child. A Search Institute study found that 55 percent
of adopted teenagers reported high self-esteem compared with 45 percent
of others. This may be because adoptive families have lower-than-average
rates of divorce, and/or because adopting couples want children very
Fleming's birthmother abandoned her in a relatively safe place. The same
could not be said of many infants found in public restrooms, train
stations, and even dumpsters around the time she was born. In response,
all 50 states (but not the District of Columbia) have now adopted safe
haven or "Baby Moses" laws permitting women to relinquish newborns "no
questions asked" within a few days of birth a sad necessity.
Baby Moses has inspired one more entrant into the compassionate network
of organizations hoping to help women with crisis pregnancies. In the
past 35 years, thousands of such groups have sprouted around the country
like wildflowers. But until now, none was specifically focused on Jewish
women. The Bible (Exodus: Chapter I, verse 15) relates the story of
Shifra and Puah, the midwives who refused Pharaoh's order to kill the
male children of the Israelites. "But the midwives feared G-d, and did
not as the King of Egypt commanded them." December marked the debut of
"In Shifra's Arms" (Inshifrasarms.org), the first Jewish crisis
pregnancy group (in whose founding I played a small role). Here, Jewish
women struggling with life-and-death decisions will find support,
information, and resources on alternatives to abortion.
Mia's story is heartwarming. But one cannot read it without thinking of
something else the millions who cannot give thanks. Each year, 1.2
million children in America are aborted. If they were placed for
adoption, they'd presumably want to thank someone as well. The goal of
In Shifra's Arms, like its sister organizations, is to ensure that more
Mias get the chance to be grateful.
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