How One NY Couple Found Their Son in the Subway: A Family Made by Fate

People often say that there's no such thing as coincidence, and there are plenty of romantic stories about those who feel they have found true love simply by being in the right place at the right time. But for one New York couple, fate took them a step further: They already had each other, and being in the right place at the right time -- a busy Manhattan subway station at rush hour -- they found their son.

A Young Mom Photographs Her Baby's Adoption Process

It was December 2000, and the baby boy was just three hours old when his mother wrapped him in a dark sweatshirt and left him on the ground, in a corner behind the turnstiles at the 14th Street subway station. As Danny Stewart, then 34, got off the C train, he headed toward an exit he didn't usually take. It was closest to the train car he was on, though, and as he made his way out of the station he saw a pair of tiny, pale legs sticking out from the dark fabric.

"I glanced down and saw what I thought was just a baby doll," Stewart told Channel 11 News at the time. "As I started to go up the stairs, I noticed that he started to move, so I knew that he was alive."

"Danny called me that day, frantic," his partner, Peter Mercurio, wrote in an essay for The New York Times. " 'I found a baby!' he shouted. 'I called 911, but I don't think they believed me. No one's coming. I don't want to leave the baby alone. Get down here and flag down a police car or something.' By nature Danny is a remarkably calm person, so when I felt his heart pounding through the phone line I knew I had to run."

The baby was quiet and docile; authorities say that part of his umbilical cord was still attached, nearly cut and tied. He was healthy. By the time Mercurio got to the A/C/E station, the police had arrived, and soon an ambulance took the infant -- nicknamed "Baby ACE" -- to St. Vincent's Hospital. Though the couple tried, they were not allowed to visit the baby; eventually, hospital workers told them that the baby's grandmother had claimed him, and that was the end of the story.

Except, it wasn't. A few months later, Stewart got a phone call, asking him to appear in court; the baby's mother had been found, but she didn't want to keep him, and the baby was in foster care. They needed Stewart to testify about the way he found the child.

Stewart told his story, and the police officer and a social worker gave their testimony. And then, Mercurio writes, the judge turned to Stewart and asked, out of the blue, "Would you be interested in adopting this baby?"

Stewart didn't hesitate. "Yes," he said. "But I know it's not that easy."

"Well, it can be," Mercurio says the judge replied.

Mercurio, who was not in court that day, wasn't exactly pleased. "In three years as a couple, we had never discussed adopting a child," he wrote in his essay. "Why would we? Our lives were not geared for child rearing. I was an aspiring playwright working as a part-time word processor and Danny was a respected yet wildly underpaid social worker. We had a roommate sleeping behind a partition in our living room to help pay the rent. Even if our financial and logistical circumstances had been different, we knew how many challenges gay couples usually faced when they want to adopt. And while Danny had patience and selflessness galore, I didn't. I didn't know how to change a diaper, let alone nurture a child."

"My first reaction, when I heard, went something like: 'Are you insane? How could you say yes without consulting me?'" Mercurio admitted in his essay. "Let's just say, I nailed the 'jerk' part of knee-jerk."

But when the visited the baby at his temporary foster home, Mercurio was smitten. Within a few hours, the men decided that they would adopt the child, whom they named Kevin (after Mercurio's older brother, who died at birth, they told Parents Magazine). The adoption process could take months, so they figured the'd have plenty of time to get used to the idea of welcoming a baby into their lives.

But fate works in funny ways. On December 20, when they came to court to officially state their intention to adopt, the judge suggested that they take the baby home that weekend, for Christmas. They both said yes immediately.

"Before we could say, 'What's Desitin,' we were nursing a third-degree, untreated diaper rash (left over from his foster home), changing diapers, and boiling nipples," Mercurio wrote in 2003 essay for And Baby Magazine. Overnight, these two men ran the gantlet of new parenthood -- messy diapers, sleepless nights, tummy bugs and all.

"The quieter Kevin slept, the more we woke to check on him," Mercurio remembered. "Placing a hand on his back, or a finger under his nose, would calm our nerves until the next check." He learned to crawl -- scooting backwards, confounding his parents -- and filled his hands with frosting at his first birthday party, held in Mercurio's parents' backyard in New Jersey.

"The first thing everyone wants to know is what he calls us," Stewart told Parents magazine in 2004. "It's an easy answer: I'm Daddy and Peter is Papi. We figured 'D' for Danny, 'P' for Peter."

They spent that first year as foster parents, watching Kevin grow and wondering why the judge had chosen them. At the final adoption hearing, Mercurio raised his hand and asked her.

"'I had a hunch,' she just said. 'Was I wrong?'" Mercurio wrote in the New York Times. "And with that she rose from her chair, congratulated us, and exited the courtroom."

In 2011, when New York State legalized gay marriage, it was Kevin, by then 11, who suggested that his dads ask the same judge to marry them.

"When we ventured back to family court for the first time in over 10 years, I imagined that the judge might be nervous to come face to face with the results of one of her placement decisions - what if Kevin wasn't happy and wished he had different parents?" Mercurio recounted. "Kevin was nervous too. When he was a toddler, Danny and I made him a storybook that explained how we became a family, and it included an illustration of the judge, gavel in hand. A character from his book was about to jump off the page as a real person. What if she didn't approve of the way he turned out?"

His fears were unfounded: Not only did she approve of Kevin, she happily performed his dads' marriage.

"We weren't supposed to be there, two men, with a son we had never dreamed of by our side, getting married by a woman who changed and enriched our lives more than she would ever know," Mercurio reflected in his essay. (He has written a screenplay about his family's amazing story, called "Found.") "But there we were, thanks to a fateful discovery and a judicious hunch."

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The Day I Found Out My Father Was Gay
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