Originally published March 3, 2019
Santiago Gutierrez, a 29-year-old digital moderator, and Cesar Espinoza, a 38-year-old technician, met 10 years ago while Santiago was working as a server at a restaurant.
Cesar was there dining with friends, and even from afar, he was immediately taken by Santiago. He found out through another waiter that Santiago was single, so he left his name and number on a napkin, and a couple of days later Santiago texted him.
After some back and forth, they met up for their first date. On May 1, 2018, they were married.
Kids were always part of the plan for this San Antonio couple, but an opportunity to become dads came into view a little earlier than planned.
At the end of 2015, they found out that an acquaintance was pregnant, but did not want to be a parent. They raised the prospect of taking on that responsibility.
"We were living a comfortable life and we wanted to share that with kids and provide happiness and love," said Santiago.
Time passed and they never heard anything, after their initial inquiry. They knew the little boy had been born on January 26, 2016. Later, they found out later that he had been born testing positive of heroin.
In April, they received a call from Child Protection Services (CPS) asking if they were interested in caring for the little boy, named Zachariah. Without a moment's hesitation, they said yes. They began fostering Zachariah at the end of April.
The dads watched their son closely for any lingering signs of affects from the heroin.
"We had him tested for his cognitive and development and he passed," Santiago said. "He was a very healthy and active little boy. Today, he's three years old and he knows his primary colors, alphabet, and his numbers one through 15 in English and Spanish."
During this time caring for Zachariah, Santiago and Cesar were terrified of losing their son. CPS's goal is always to reunify children with their biological families, when possible, and Zachariah's birth father was fighting to have his son in his care. But the biological father wasn't able to comply with the court's requirements.
Santiago and Cesar also made a strong case to Zachariah's caseworker, showing their commitment to their son and their extensive support network.
On March 28, 2018, Zachariah's adoption was finalized and he officially became part of their family, legally. The adoption sign the dads created for their son read, "I stole their hearts, now I'm stealing their last name!"
But their family wasn't done growing. On October 13 of the same year, Zachariah's biological mom gave birth to a baby girl called Mariana.
"We didn't know the mom was pregnant again until we got a call from the grandma," said Cesar.
The husbands immediately went to visit their son's sister and found out she, too, was born testing positive for heroin, but thankfully without any signs of withdrawal.
With the biological grandmother already caring for four of her daughter's kids, she was unable to look after Mariana, so the dads quickly stepped in to foster her through a kinship arrangement.
They will continue to foster Mariana for a year to give her mother a chance to met the requirements set by the law. If after a year, this hasn't happened, the birth mom's rights will be terminated and the dads plan to enthusiastically and lovingly adopt Mariana.
"We are considered family since we have the siblings so at the point, so if the mom has more kids we get the call," said Santiago.
As of February 2019, Mariana is a healthy almost 5-month-old baby who is very alert and active, and the dads are now licensed foster parents and plan to continue growing their family. "Anything we can do to help out these kids that deserve love and attention," said Santiago.