As we prepare to launch our next life adventure – a baby food business – we've been taking time to reflect on our journey. From softball in Chelsea, to flying 5,000 miles for the birth of our son, to turning our passion for childhood nutrition into a company, it's been nothing short of an epic fairytale.
How We Met
The two of us met playing softball on the NYC LGBTQ league 15 years ago. During tryouts (or is it auditions?) in Chelsea, David literally hit the ball out of the park -- to his surprise and everyone else's awe. Then he did what he always does when attention turns towards him, he did a high kick extending his right foot passed his head and dropped into a split across home plate. Danny, who was a manager in need of players, was more impressed by David's playfulness than his home run. He wanted David on his team.
After the season ended, we finally took our first official date. Like any normal first date, the conversation slowly turned to…children? David rattled off not only the gender of his three future children, but also their names. When Danny challenged the names and argued that he should have a say in the names since they would be his children too, David shared that one son had to be named after his brother who died of leukemia before David was born. Danny compassionately accepted, but only after ensuring they would choose the other two kids' names together! Danny would later argue that he had never promised they would have three, but rather two, children and David would always refer to "our first date" when we emphatically agreed to three kids. So, with just a few hours into a first date, we had skipped dating, a wedding, shopping for a home, and just planned our whole family!
When we began our journey to fatherhood, we researched the process, attended meetings and conferences organized by NYC's Men Having Babies and ultimately decided that gestational surrogacy was the best option for us. Without much convincing, our long-time friend offered to carry for us, which was wonderful news. Except she lived in Honolulu, HI. We lived about as far away from Hawaii as possible in New Jersey. But 5,000 miles can't stop fatherhood!
During the pregnancy, the new adventure took on a whole new meaning. Our friends and family met our excitement and threw us an overwhelmingly lovely baby shower. Their support and enthusiasm meant the world to us. After the last guests had left, we sat together hand-in-hand relaxing in front of the firepit in our suburban backyard. Now, we're prompt party cleaners, but this night we just sat still. We discussed our babymoon to Germany only a few days away before heading to Hawaii, well in advance of our child's due date, completely uninformed and unaware of how much life was about to change. Then, unexpectedly, the phone rang. It was our surrogate on the other line. "Hey Gurl!" we answered by pressing the speaker phone button, only she didn't respond. It was a doctor from Kapiolani Medical Center in Honolulu. "Hello, this is Dr. (incoherent), D wanted me to call you. She has preeclampsia, the baby is coming now. Come now."
Our mouths dropped. For several seconds, we. were. silent. "What did they say? Are they coming? Are they okay?" D said in the background.
"Hello, are you coming now?" The doctor said.
"Huh? What? What are you talking about?" Danny fumbled out.
"The baby! … is coming." The Dr. replied.
"How soon?" Danny asked. "Like, this week?"
"Now-wah." The doctor slowly enunciated. "She needs to deliver now to protect her and the baby. We are inducing. She must deliver now." In the background, we could hear D asking questions, "What did they say? Are they upset? Are they coming?"
"We live in NJ." David blurted out.
"Then you need to get on a plane," The brilliant Dr. responded.
Then David jumped into action. "We got it. Can we talk to D?" he asked.
The doctor put D on the phone. "We will be there. We will be there." David reiterated as Danny froze.
D sighed. "Oh, thank you. Hurry. I'm sorry. Please hurry," she said with an air of desperation, and slight relief knowing we were going to do what we could to get there.
"We will be there," David reiterated and after saying goodbye, the call ended. We sat there staring out, not at the fire, not at anything, just staring, sitting, not moving, or even breathing.
David broke the silence. "We've got to clean the house!" While we cleaned the backyard, the house and put things away, David jumped on the phone with United Customer Service. Danny tried to keep cleaning, but mostly paced back and forth. Thankfully, we were able to catch a connecting flight to San Francisco and Honolulu and in 22 hours from the call we landed all before the baby was born!!
5,000 Miles to See Our Son
During the travel to Honolulu, we kept checking in with D, and she was updating the nurses. When they heard our story and saw how desperately D wanted us there for the birth, there for her, there for the unborn baby in her womb, not her baby as she had to keep explaining to the doctors, but our baby, the baby of these two men desperately racing across the country to witness and support this birth, they, the nurses not the doctors, reduced her Pitocin. When the nurses heard that we were leaving San Francisco, they monitored D and her Pitocin. Once we landed in Honolulu they increased it to move her closer to labor.
When we rushed to meet D at hospital she surged with confidence. She knew she could do it. So did we. As the Pitocin increased so did the contractions. D was amazing. She was emphatic that she would deliver without drugs and made us promise to support her -- even if she said otherwise when the contractions hit. We, her doula, and her nurses, witnessed her amazing strength and whispered small affirmations, like drops of an IV. As the contractions increased, the doctors began prepping for delivery. Members from the delivery unit, from the NICU (Neonatal Intensive-Care Unit) unit, and the AICU (Adult Intensive Care Unit) all descended on the room and doubly so because it was shift change! Nearly a dozen people were in the room discussing D and our baby. It was pretty overwhelming especially because D kept shouting, "The baby is coming! Baby's coming! I can't hold it anymore! I have to PUSHHHHHH! With each of us holding one of her hands, and the OB/GYN and nurse scrambling to get to her, D pushed our baby out! As Baby slid across the table, we watched in slow motion as the doctor struggled with a grip, nearly dropping baby. Baby was long, lean, and despite the cold and shaking hands, its arms stretched open. David snuck the first peek… a boy. David turned to Danny and our surrogate, "A boy! We have a boy! And," he paused. "He came into the world with Jazz Hands!!" he exclaimed as tears formed in his eyes.
Feeding a Preemie
The next several days were extremely intense, followed by weeks that were slightly less, but still, intense. We were learning how to care for a child, but not just any child, a preemie, who needed all the nourishment, rest and love he could get. We were up for the challenge!
Given his fragile condition, we turned into nutritional gurus. We learned everything we could about early childhood nutrition. We were particular about everything he consumed. And believe us, it's no easy thing to determine which strategies and foods are the best for your kids. The glut of information, particularly conflicting information, especially for two dads, was frustrating.
When we learned that today's younger generations will be the first generations to live shorter than their elders because of health – namely, nutrition – we knew we had to do something different.
But as food lovers, we savored the research. We relished steaming and stewing and pureeing. We delighted sharing in this nutritional journey with our son. A new family pastime, you could say.
When other parents ask us how we nourished our son – and why he's such an adventurous eater – we reply with a few key principles:
Savory over Salty or Sugary – We hoped he would appreciate savory foods because we knew if he did, he wouldn't prefer the high-salt, high-sugar empty calories that are decreasing the health of these young generations.
Scratch = Control – After turning to the ingredients list on every baby food in the store, David realized he needed to make all of our son's food from scratch to control the sugar, salt and unidentifable content.
Variety = Adventure – David's research led him to borrow ideas from scientific research and traditions around the world. He used herbs like tarragon, spices like cardamom, and unique root vegetables like burdock root, ginger, and turmeric.
Not only did these herbs, roots, and spices come with amazing nutritional qualities, but they expanded our son's palate. The research shows that taste preferences are formed early on.
As fathers of a fast-growing preemie, we felt like food was one of the things we could control for our son. Who knows what the world will be like when he graduates high school, but at least we know we gave him an appreciation for unique flavors. And maybe, just maybe, the antioxidants, brain-healthy fats, and gut-supportive foods will give him the resilience to make his way in the future.
The Newest Adventure - Kekoa Foods
Our son is 5, and mealtime is still a keystone for our family. Once we realized how food shaped our fatherhood, and the health of our son, we wanted to help other parents transform how children eat. So, we've spent the last three years dialing in recipes, testing, and meeting with parents. The culmination of all that hard work is our new company, Kekoa Foods, which means "Brave Warrior" in Hawaiian, our son's middle name.
David and Danny are father and founders. Their company, Kekoa Foods, is pre-selling their bold new baby foods on Kickstarter. Backers without kids can have their rewards sent family, friends, or the Newark YMCA, which is home to over 320 families, 80 of whom are infants and would greatly benefit from healthy nutritious options like Kekoa pouches.
Learn more here:
Even if you don't want to pre-order products, please follow their journey at https://www.facebook.com/kekoafoods) or Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/kekoafoods).