“We have a three-day-old baby boy in Brooklyn in need of adoptive parents.”
That call was enough to stir away the remnants of a fairly decent hangover earned during a particularly indulgent Memorial Day weekend on Fire Island. It was 2009, and Ferd and I had returned home to our apartment in Hell’s Kitchen on Monday night. I’d been working from home for several years by then, so when I got the call late Tuesday morning I was in our living room trying to get back into work-mode. The laptop was turned on, but I was mostly tuned-out languishing on the couch.
We planned to start our family through adoption, but our hopes of adopting were growing dimmer over time, especially after experiencing one particularly painful false start. So we began to investigate other options, which eventually led to surrogacy. Only a few days before that Memorial Day weekend we signed a contract with a surrogacy agency accompanied by a sizeable non-refundable deposit.
I hung up from the adoption agency with the expectation that they’d get back to us in the next day or two with confirmation that this newborn baby would be ours.
The last of the cobwebs still lingering in my brain from the weekend’s activities were completely swept away as my mind whirled into overdrive with excitement. Ferd and I couldn’t fathom that it was all happening so fast! Barely able to contain ourselves, we did have the presence of mind to agree that it was best not to share the news until there was certainty. Neither of us wanted another instance of having to explain to family and friends that things didn’t work out, again.
So I waited almost a full hour before bursting it out to my parents, my siblings, and a couple of my closest friends. “I think we’re going to be dads,” I told them during succeeding phone calls, swearing each to secrecy. “Please don’t tell anyone until I tell you that I've heard back from the adoption agency.”
The next day we received confirmation that the baby was ours, he was healthy, and that we should plan to pick him up from the hospital the very next morning on what would be the fifth day of his life.
During the past couple of years, I had spent considerable time imagining what it would be like to bring home our very own baby. In each scenario, I contemplated the circumstances of how the baby entered our lives differed, but one thing remained consistent throughout: By the time we became dads, I knew we’d be fully stocked and prepared.
We’d have a crib set-up with requisite mobile hanging over the top and pull-down musical animal strapped to one side. We’d have a matching dresser, crib, and rocking chair. Closets would be overflowing with all the clothes and necessities to bathe, dress, and keep our baby warm, clean, and comfortable until we no longer needed diapers or a crib. The certificates we earned from the recent baby first aid training course would provide us with confidence that we could respond to any emergency that may arise. Finally, I imagined we’d have lots of help from doting grandparents and extremely qualified baby nurses.
But none of this planning had taken place, so we had absolutely nothing even remotely related to the caring of an infant. There had been no infant CPR course, and neither of us had spent any time with a newborn. Further, long-distance travel kept my folks and Ferd’s mom unable to join us for several days. We couldn’t even find a baby nurse available to help us until after the first couple of days.
So I panicked.
I could not believe that this innocent child not yet a week into this world would be completely entrusted to our care. I seriously wondered how our adoption agency could be so irresponsible as to leave him with us.
Editing my thoughts, I did vocalize my concerns with the agency that we were a bit ill-prepared. The response I got didn’t allay my fears. “All you really need is lots of love. And a suitcase or a drawer.” The latter, of course, was meant to act as a temporary sleeping place.
Ferd took the adoption agency’s advice to heart and remained extremely calm. His serenity freaked me out even more. Not only was I dealing with a negligent adoption agency, but now I also had to contend with a naïve co-parent.
Ignoring the agency’s advice, the first thing we did after learning we’d be bringing our son home the next day was to head to Buy, Buy, Baby, a super-store for everything baby, ironically located in Chelsea, Manhattan’s gay-borhood.
We set out to purchase at least a few urgent things to prepare for our permanent visitor’s arrival the next day. Two hours, three clerks, and several thousand dollars later, we left the store with an incredible assortment of boxes, bags and baby wazzits that were soon delivered to our unsuspecting doorman.
I’ve got a life-time's worth of experience calling in experts for help, from contractors to architects to painters to gardeners to tutors to dog-trainers. And so while I felt better that we had the necessary supplies, I knew that we needed an actual person, a baby expert, to assist us with getting Levi through the first 48 hours before help would arrive.
I recalled walking by a new storefront not far from where we lived called Bump to Baby, so I walked over. The friendly clerk provided me with a list of doulas.
Fortunately, Ferd and I were avid Frasier fans or I would have had no idea what a doula was. But I immediately recalled the episode from the final season during which a very pregnant Daphne and Niles had hired a doula, a woman to help guide them through a natural childbirth. We didn’t need help with the childbirth, but we did need help with holding, feeding, burping, bathing, swaddling, and diaper changing. I figured if a doula worked for Niles, who was incidentally played by gay actor David Hyde Pierce, then a doula would work for gay dads Brian and Ferd.
The doula arrived at our apartment door early the next morning. She arranged for a car service to take us home from the hospital, showed us how to change a diaper on a life-sized baby, and reminded us to take our adoption paperwork, baby carriage, and a change of clothes for Levi to the hospital, all of which were pre-requisites to taking him home with us. Most importantly, she kept us calm.
In hindsight, even if we had time to prepare for Levi’s arrival as I had imagined so often in my daddy daydreams, the truth is that nothing could have properly prepared us for the enormity of bringing home our very own baby. From the first moment I set eyes on Levi, I rightfully sensed that this baby boy would have a profound impact on my life too huge to be able to comprehend at the time. My dormant paternal instincts were immediately awakened, and all that mattered was that Ferd, Levi and I were now a family.