Pete Mercurio and Danny Stewart weren’t looking to be parents, but parenthood found them nonetheless.
“The way we became parents was like having an unplanned pregnancy, as much as two gay men can,” Pete laughed.
Finding Each Other
In August 2000, social worker Danny was riding the New York City subway to meet his boyfriend Pete for dinner. But as Danny walked up the stairs to exit the 14th Street station, something caught his eye.
At first, he thought it was a child’s doll that had been wrapped up and left on the floor. But as he looked back, he saw two tiny legs start kicking.
Danny rushed back down the stairs to unwrap the bundled-up sweatshirt by the wall. A pair of big brown eyes peered back up at him. There, tucked into the corner of the bustling subway station, was a newborn baby boy with his umbilical cord still attached. Danny estimated he was probably about a day old at the time.
“He looked up, and I stroked his head and then he whimpered a little bit,” Danny recalled. “It seemed really unreal, the whole situation. At that point, I was trying to alert people to what was happening, but I couldn't get anybody's attention."
Despite his calls for help to passers-by, Danny said the only person who responded was a woman who didn’t speak English. Afraid to move the baby, he raced up the staircase, found a payphone, and called 911 to report that he had found an abandoned baby. Then, he went back down the stairs to check on the newborn.
As he approached the wriggling bundle again, Danny felt his heart racing. After waiting a few minutes, which he said felt like forever at the time, he became concerned that the police might think his call was a prank. So he ran back to the payphone, and called Pete to tell him what had happened.
“Danny said, ‘I found a baby.’ And I think I said… ‘What?!’” Pete laughed. “Danny doesn’t joke about serious stuff like that, so I knew it was for real. I said, ‘Where are you?’ and I just ran down there.”
Pete arrived at the subway station just as a police officer was bringing the baby above ground to be taken to a nearby hospital for a checkup. In the book Pete later wrote about their family story, he says the first time he saw the baby, he looked “like an angel” in the police officer’s arms.
"For a moment, it was just me and Danny, the officer, and the baby,” Pete recalled. “Before the crowd formed, it was just us. Then I remember turning to Danny and saying to him as the police car was driving away, 'You know, you're going to be connected to that baby in some way for the rest of your life.’ Danny was like, 'What do you mean?' I said, 'Well, eventually, this child is going to learn of the night he was found, and he may want to find the person who discovered him. Maybe there's a way that we can find out where he ends up, and send a birthday gift every year on this date.'”
They stood on the sidewalk and watched the police cruiser drive away. Then, the couple went to get dinner, and swiftly ordered a round of margaritas.
Of course, word of the abandoned baby was all over the news the next day, including Danny’s name as the Good Samaritan who had found him. The couple tried to find out how the baby was doing, but they were unable to get any information from the hospital where he had been taken. So, for a while, they simply returned to their normal lives.
A Life-Changing Question
Within a few months, Danny received a call from the Administration for Children's Services asking him to attend a family court hearing, where he could testify about how he had found the baby. So in December 2000, Danny went to court to explain what had happened that night.
After his testimony, the judge asked Danny a question that shocked not only him, but the rest of the people in the courtroom too.
"She says, 'Mr Stewart, I want to let you know what's happening here, in instances where we have a baby that has been abandoned, we want to place them in pre-adoptive foster care as quickly as possible,’” and in my head, I'm thinking, 'Well that makes sense,'" Danny said.
"And then the next thing out of her mouth was, 'Would you be interested in adopting this baby?' I think most of the mouths dropped in the courtroom, including mine,” Danny continued. “I said, 'Yes. But I don't think it's that easy.' And the judge smiled and she said, 'Well, it can be.'"
With a flurry of transition orders from the judge suddenly in the works, Danny left the hearing, found another payphone, and called Pete to tell him the news.
“I had serious doubts.” Pete said. “We lived in a small one-bedroom apartment with a roommate behind a partition in the living room. We had no money. I didn't see how we could logistically bring a baby into our lives.”
Pete said they talked, argued, and had “heated debates” for about a week. Then, they had to state their intentions in family court.
“During these conversations, Danny would say, ‘Fate is giving us a son, how can we refuse?’ He was right, of course. But I still was unsure,” Pete admitted. “When we visited with the baby and I got to hold him, that was it. I fell in love. I said ‘this is our son,’ and I knew we were meant to be a family.”
They broke the news to some friends at a holiday party, explaining their plans to foster and eventually adopt the baby they had found three months prior. Then, they told their families. They said everyone was incredibly supportive, with friends and family helping them prepare for the baby’s arrival at their home.
Home For The Holidays
At the next court hearing on December 20th, the couple stated their intention to adopt the baby. They expected it to take several months before he would be in their care, but the judge asked if they would be willing to take the baby home for the holidays.
"I think we both nodded yes,” Pete said. “But internally, I'm thinking, 'What holiday? I hope she's not meaning Christmas, because that's in a couple of days!'"
That’s exactly what she meant. The judge ordered the case workers to have the baby ready to be picked up from the foster care agency within two days. Shocked all over again, the couple went home and started gearing up to take the baby much sooner than they had initially planned.
Pete immediately called his family to tell them the news, and he told his mom they’d chosen a name for the baby.
"I said we're going to name him Kevin, and my mom just started bawling, because she had a baby before me that died on birth, and they were naming that baby Kevin," Pete explained. "So this was just sort of a weird way of their baby Kevin coming back to them again as a grandchild from their gay son, who was probably never meant to even have kids. And here he was. Kevin.”
Although Kevin’s situation was essentially a foster-to-adoption case, the couple said the adoption part of the process began quickly.
“The judge issued directives to expedite the process to ensure we became a family,” Danny said. “Amazingly, even in 2000, we encountered no obstacles in becoming a pre-adoptive foster home. Everything ran so smoothly. Even when our son's adoption was finalized in 2002, both of our names appeared on his birth certificate, which was rare at the time.”
At 9 a.m. on December 22nd, as the snow began to fall across the city, the couple arrived to pick up their new son from the foster agency. Appropriately, their new chapter continued where their last one had left off; they took Kevin back down to the subway, and rode it all the way to his new home.
As Kevin grew older, he started to love books. When he was about four years old, then-graphic designer Pete made a little book using clip-art that told Kevin's origin story, from the subway to the judge’s decision to place him with his dads. They would read it together every night before bed.
About a year later, when Kevin eventually made the connection that his new favorite book was about him, he was so thrilled he decided to take it to school for show-and-tell.
“We'd often catch Kevin flipping through the pages by himself and mouthing the words he had memorized,” Pete said. “This was the sweetest thing in the world to witness.”
Pete has since written Our Subway Baby, a storybook for kids based on the original book he made for Kevin.
In 2011, New York became the sixth state to legalize gay marriage. Although they had long felt like a married couple, they decided to make it official. When they told Kevin, he excitedly asked if their union would involve a judge.
Pete emailed the Manhattan Family Court to ask if the same judge who had asked them to adopt Kevin would be able to officiate at their marriage. Within two hours, she replied that she would be delighted.
"This woman, the very reason we're a family, is once again, the very reason we're getting married,” Danny smiled. “It was like coming full circle.”
Now 20-years-old, Kevin is studying mathematics and computer science. He loves to play ultimate frisbee, run marathons, and he’s taught himself piano and guitar.
While their situation was very different from most foster-to-adopt cases, Pete and Danny said it still involved the same concerns as a normal foster case might, like finances, experience, and support. But they said raising their son has undoubtedly been the most fulfilling part of their lives, and they feel blessed that he was brought into their family.
Listen to Pete and Danny tell their story on GWK the Podcast: