Adoption Stories: Miracle on 14th Street
The extraordinary tale of a man who found an abandoned baby in a subway station and ended up with the family of his dreams.
It was a warm August night in New York City, and Danny Stewart, a 34-year-old social worker, was on his way to meet his partner, Peter Mercurio, for dinner. He got off the Eighth Avenue subway at a deserted turnstile near 14th Street—not his usual exit, but the one closest to the train car he'd been on—and walked toward the stairs. It was in a dank, unswept corner that Danny saw a doll wrapped in a blanket with only its legs showing. As he started up the stairs, he felt a twinge of sympathy for the girl who had lost her toy. But something about the doll made him turn around to glance at it again. "That certainly is realistic-looking," he thought. And then the doll's legs moved.
Danny bolted down to the bundle, opened the blanket, and found himself face to face with a perfect newborn baby, umbilical cord neatly cut and tied. As Danny loosened the covering, the infant let out a little cry and then fell silent. Not daring to pick him up in case he was injured, Danny raced to the phone booth outside and dialed 911. "I found a baby," he shouted into the receiver.
After waiting for what seemed like hours, he ran upstairs to the phone booth again and called Peter. "I found a baby," he repeated breathlessly. "I called 911, but I think they thought it was a hoax. Please call them, and get down here. I need your help."
By the time Peter arrived, the squad car was already there. The detectives got there minutes later, followed by reporters, a camera crew, and a slew of bystanders. An ambulance whisked the baby away, while the cops questioned Danny and Peter.
Over dinner later that night, the couple analyzed the amazing events of the evening. "It's not the end," said Peter. "A child can't just fall into your life this way and disappear." Danny agreed. "Yeah. We'll probably think of him for the rest of our lives. We should keep track of him so we can send him a birthday card every year."
The next day, Danny stopped by the hospital to see the baby. "No one's allowed but family," said one of the nurses, brushing him aside. Danny protested that there wasn't any family, but the hospital staff was firm. The attending pediatrician explained that Baby Ace (so named by rescue workers because trains A, C, and E stop at the station where he was found) was being checked out, and that he'd be placed in foster care.
For the next few days, Danny and Peter pestered the hospital for information. Finally, through a friend of a friend who worked there, they heard that the child's grandmother had come forward to claim the baby. Relieved, they told friends that the story had ended happily after all.
A Call From the Court
The tale does have a happy ending, but that isn't it. A few months later, Danny received a call from a family-court attorney, who told him that the information they'd gotten was wrong and that no one had claimed the baby. Police had found the child's mother, but she wasn't interested in keeping her baby. Now the court needed to formally establish that Baby Ace, currently in foster care, had been the victim of criminal neglect. "Would you mind testifying at a hearing next week?" the lawyer asked Danny.
In the end, the hearing was postponed, so it wasn't until early December that Danny finally appeared in court. It took all of three minutes for him to tell officials everything he knew—and then an odd thing happened. The judge invited Danny to stay for the rest of the hearing. After the police officer and the social worker finished testifying, the judge turned to Danny and said, "I want to let you know what's going on. When we have an abandoned baby, we try to place him in a permanent home as quickly as possible." Danny nodded, not sure why she was telling him this. Then she dropped the bomb. "Do you have any interest in adopting this boy?" Danny could hardly believe what he was hearing—or what came out of his mouth. "Yes, but I know it's not that easy," he stuttered.
"A situation like this can take a long time," the judge told him. "But it doesn't have to. In cases where babies are abandoned, we're authorized to expedite the process." She set up an appointment for Danny to visit the child at his foster home, and another court date for two weeks later in case Danny decided to begin adoption proceedings.
A New Family
Danny called his partner. "Peter, you'll never guess what happened!" Peter did guess, though—it was exactly what he had dreaded, and the kind of impulsive leap that was so typical of Danny. They had talked about adopting a child one day, but as far as Peter was concerned, this wasn't the right time. His new play was about to be produced by an Off-Broadway theater. He and Danny had been together for three years, and the relationship was perfect just as it was. Adding a baby to the equation would definitely rock the boat.
But Danny was persuasive. "Let's just take the next step," he urged. "We can always change our minds later, but if we say no now, we'll lose the chance altogether."
A week later, they visited Baby Ace at the home where he'd been temporarily placed. When Danny took him from his foster mother's arms, the child stared at him with big, blank eyes. Danny held him for a few moments, then handed him to Peter, who nuzzled the baby's head, instantly feeling those I-can't-bear-to-let-you-go pangs of a new parent.
When they left a few hours later, Danny and Peter both knew what was going to happen next: They were going to name him Kevin.
Peter's life had been touched by several people named Kevin, but most profoundly by an older brother who had died at birth. Now he felt that Kevin's spirit had been reincarnated in this beautiful baby boy.
The Best Gift
When Peter and Danny arrived in court on December 20, the judge wasted no time. She explained that after a thorough background check, the court had deemed that the men would be ideal parents. Although there was still plenty of paperwork before the adoption could be finalized, she suggested that Peter and Danny take the baby home for the holiday weekend. "Can you pick him up from the foster agency on Friday?" she asked.
It was Wednesday. Their lives were busy, and they hadn't even been able to shop for a crib or pick out baby clothes. But with the help of Peter's family, they managed to put together a layette and a nursery overnight. On Friday, December 22, they picked Kevin up for the weekend and agreed to bring him back on Tuesday. But after their first joyous Christmas with the child, Danny and Peter knew they couldn't part with the little boy. When the social worker called on Wednesday afternoon, Peter simply said that they had decided to adopt Kevin and he wasn't going anywhere. The social worker was reluctant. "We don't have a full clearance—that could take weeks," she said. Finally, she agreed to give them another day with the baby while she checked on the paperwork. Against all odds, the clearance was issued the next day. Kevin was home.
Kevin, a lively, bright, and happy child, will celebrate his fifth Christmas with Peter and Danny this year. Since Kevin has been in their lives, the couple has faced the usual challenges all parents encounter—negotiating discipline styles, arguing over who does which chores—and a few that only same-sex couples deal with.
"The first thing everyone wants to know is what he calls us," says Danny. "It's an easy answer: I'm Daddy and Peter is Papi. We figured 'D' for Danny, 'P' for Peter." The couple knows that one day they'll have to explain to Kevin the story of how he came into their lives. And when that time comes, they'll be prepared: They are keeping a scrapbook of pictures and are making a storybook about Baby Ace. Danny tries to think kindly of Kevin's birth mom. "She must have been in a desperate situation to give her baby up," he says. Though the adoption is long since final, they sometimes walk down the street, catch a young woman staring at them, and wonder—then they tighten their grip on Kevin's hand.
As the holidays approach, Kevin rides his three-wheeler around the playground in their New York City neighborhood. "Watch me, Daddy. Watch me, Papi," he shouts, abandoning the bike and leaping for the monkey bars. It is such an ordinary scene that it's hard to believe how time and chance bent to this occasion, how the very warp of the universe distorted to bring these three into this family. Yet here they are, bound irrevocably by an extraordinary chain of events that led to a small but spectacular miracle of love.
Copyright © 2004. Reprinted with permission from the December 2004 issue of Parents magazine.