Student abandoned as newborn thanks pair who found her

By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 28, 2009; B01

Mia Fleming walked down the curving staircase to the foyer of her father's house in Northern Virginia. She stood nervously for a few moments by the front door, and then, to the jingling of the holiday bells on the doorknob, greeted the two people who had once saved her life.

Chris Astle, 35, entered first and gave her a hug, something he said he's been wanting to do ever since he found her as an infant, wrapped in orange towels and left on a doorstep in Fairfax County 20 years ago.

Behind him was Emily Yanich-Fithian, 35, who had been with Chris that Wednesday in 1989 and who had cradled Mia and managed to quiet her crying. Emily, carrying her purse and camera, was overcome as they embraced. "Sorry," she said, waving away her tears.

At last, all three noted, their story had come full circle.

Mia, now a 20-year-old college junior, was the abandoned newborn, left on the landing of a townhouse. Emily and Chris were the two teenagers who happened to be passing by and heard a crying baby.

The story of how the teens had found Mia that day in 1989, and how using Facebook 20 years later she found them, struck a chord with those who heard it.

At 5 p.m. Sunday, as the sun set on the waning days of the decades that bracketed the story, their emotional reunion took place in the elegant home of Mia's parents.

The three couldn't seem to get over one another.

"So how are you?" Emily asked.

"I'm good," Mia said. "Thanks."

Emily and Chris gave Mia a framed poem that Emily wrote a week or so ago, titled "Angel." Chris read it as they sat together in the family den.

"May you never forget the piece you have of our hearts," the poem concludes.

They told Mia how she had been in their thoughts all these years.

They spoke of the passing of time, and how people can change, but how their hearts stay the same.

"The phases of life that you go through," Emily told Mia. "From a 15-year-old to a 35-year-old. It's crazy. . . . It's just weird. What I was back then. I'm a totally different person, [although] my heart is still the same."

Mia, a shy and reserved young woman who wants someday to be an illustrator, told them about how she kept the teddy bear they had bought for her so long ago. She said she had tried to picture them over the years but had so little information that it was almost impossible.

Then they drank champagne and remarked that theirs was the kind of story you don't hear every day.

"I feel like my heart's complete," Emily said. "There's always been a spot missing."

Chris told Mia: "I'm just so glad that you're healthy and happy."

Chris, a software engineer who lives in South Riding, and Emily, a mother of two who lives in Lewisberry, Pa., had been invited by Mia and her family around the time their story was publicized this month.

Chris came by Sunday with his wife, Sara. Emily drove down from Pennsylvania with her husband, Brian, two children and other family members.

A baby's cry

The saga began about 4 p.m. on Sept. 6, 1989.

Chris and Emily, both 15-year-old high school students, were returning to their Fairfax County townhouse community, Tysontowne, from a local 7-Eleven. They had just started back to school, and the temperature was still in the summery 80s.

They were cutting through someone's back yard when they heard the baby crying. They traced the sound to the front landing of a townhouse, where it looked as if no one was home. They climbed the steps to take a look.

Chris spotted the bundle of orange and carefully unfolded the towels to see what was inside. There was a naked, crying infant, only a few hours old, with part of its umbilical cord still attached.

The two teens banged on the door. No one answered.

What should they do?

They wondered if someone had gone out and forgotten the baby. Should they leave it? Should they take it? Was the baby hungry? Would they get in trouble if they took the baby? They were only kids themselves. They'd had to ask permission to go to the 7-Eleven.

Chris's mother was out getting her nails done. But Emily's stepfather, Bill DeLancey, was working in their garage. The teens decided to take the baby to DeLancey. He immediately called 911, and the police were there in no time.

The police interviewed the teens. So did a newspaper reporter, who wrote a story in The Washington Post. The baby was taken to a hospital.

She was less than 12 hours old, weighed 6 pounds, 10 1/2 ounces, and was 19 inches long. She had olive skin, dark eyes and dark hair, and was in excellent health. Her mother was nowhere to be found.

Chris and Emily bought the baby a teddy bear, visited her in the hospital and went back to high school.

Emily's family moved to Pennsylvania about a year later. There, she eventually married, had two kids and got a job driving a school bus. Chris stayed in the area, became a computer engineer and also got married. The two shared a bond, though, through the child.

They always wondered who had left her, and why. Emily often cried when she recounted the story. And they often called each other on Sept. 6 to reminisce and wish happy birthday to this mysterious child. Both later got a letter and a picture of the baby sent by the adoptive mother a year or two after she was found. Emily framed the picture and kept it with her family photos.

Mia had been adopted by a British couple living in Northern Virginia. The couple, who asked that their names not be used to maintain their privacy, had previously adopted a daughter from Thailand and wanted a sibling for her. They said that Mia was a wonderful daughter, although they put off telling her the story of her abandonment, for fear it might upset her.

A child's discovery

Mia uncovered the story herself when she was about 9. She found a copy of the newspaper story while going through the scrapbook her mother kept about her early childhood. Her parents explained what happened.

At first, Mia said, it bothered her that she had been abandoned. At the same time, she was intrigued by the two teenagers who had saved her -- and whose teddy bear she still had.

She knew their names from the newspaper and said she began trying to find them on Facebook when she was in high school. On Dec. 1, she discovered on Facebook a person who looked as though she might be Emily.

She scrolled through Emily's list of friends and spotted the name Chris Astle.

Late that night, she "friended" both on Facebook. Neither recognized her name. The next day, both messaged back asking, essentially, "Who are you?"

That evening, sitting on her bed at the college she attends in Florida, Mia wrote back.

She explained her story. She said wasn't even sure she had the right people. But if she did, she just wanted to say one thing.

"Thank you."

She had found those who had once found her.

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