When it comes to “where babies come from” some tales of impending parenthood can be pretty farfetched: babies delivered via stork, tots turning up under cabbage leaves, infants arriving on the subway.
But as hard as it might be to believe, that last one’s true—at least in part.
In August of 2000, Danny Stewart was rushing to make dinner date with his partner, Pete Mercurio, and was running late when he spied a suspicious bundle on a New York City subway platform. Thinking at first that it was just a doll, Stewart hurried on—until something caught his eye.
The doll wasn’t a doll at all. It was a baby boy—a newborn, with the remnants of an umbilical cord still attached.
While cell phone technology wasn’t new a couple of decades ago, it still wasn’t ubiquitous back then. So Stewart was forced to seek out a payphone on the street to alert the police of his find.
After going back to check on the baby, he made a second trip to the phone to alert his partner. Mercurio was out the door in a flash, arriving just moments after the cops had taken the baby into their custody.
“I remember turning to Danny and saying to him on the sidewalk 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,’” Mercurio recalled to the BBC.
“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?’”
Stewart and Mercurio were both in their early thirties, and neither had any plans to start a family at that point, but fate had other ideas. While they didn’t know it yet, the abandoned baby was soon to become a permanent fixture in their lives.
In December, Danny was asked to attend a hearing in family court to offer testimony on how he’d first found the infant. At the end of the procedure, the judge shocked him by asking if he’d be interested in adopting the little boy.
He shocked himself—and Mercurio—by saying yes.
It was a decision that initially caused major dissension in their relationship. The couple admits the situation almost broke them up, but eventually, Mercurio found himself committed to bringing home the baby as well.
In addition to having the authority to speed up the adoption process, Mercurio believes the judge also showed keen insight that day.
“[She] said that all babies needed a connection to somebody. And so when Danny was testifying in the courtroom about finding the baby, in her mind his most serious connection in the world was to Danny, so why not just ask him?” Mercurio told the BBC. “It was almost as simple as that. She saw a connection that was already made, and had a hunch that it would be the right connection.”
The baby boy, whom the couple named Kevin—in honor of a stillborn sibling Mercurio’s parents lost when he was a child—was given into their care just prior to the Christmas holidays. Now 20, he’s been with them ever since.
In 2011, when gay marriage became legal in New York, it was Kevin who asked if the judge responsible for his adoption might be willing to perform his parents’ wedding ceremony. She was only too happy to officiate.
While traditionally the vows come before a baby, even when a baby comes before the vows—and was found on a New York City subway platform to boot—as Kevin and his two dads can tell you, the true meaning of family isn’t bound by convention, it’s defined by love.