Politics & Policy

Giving Thanks for Life

Thank goodness for adoption.

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 birth parents, 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 attached.

After frantically knocking on the townhouse door without result, Chris and Emily, 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 Emily’s stepfather, who called the police. In short order, the emergency vehicles arrived and the baby (who was estimated to be twelve 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.”

Mia 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. Mia’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 badly.

Mia’s birth mother 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 Mia 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 (Ex. 1:15) 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 God, and did not as the King of Egypt commanded them.” December marked the debut of In Shifra’s Arms, 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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