The gay couple who adopted a newborn baby abandoned in a New York City subway station is about to celebrate their son’s 21st birthday this year, and one of them has now written a children’s book, Our Subway Baby, about how they came to be a family in such an unusual way.
Around eight o’clock on August 28, 2000, just after the frenzy of New York rush hour, Danny Stewart, 34, was on his way to meet his partner, Pete Mercurio for dinner, as Danny was rushing out of the station, something caught his eye, something. “I noticed what I thought was a baby doll on the floor tucked up against the wall,” he says.
Why would a child abandon a doll on the floor, he wondered? But he continued up the stairwell to the exit, and somewhere along the way, he caught another glimpse of the doll, and it was then that he realized his legs had moved.
He dashed back down the stairs, only to discover that the doll was a baby boy, wrapped in a dark sweatshirt with his tiny legs protruding. He wasn’t dressed at all; he was just wrapped up in a sweatshirt. His umbilical cord was still partially attached, indicating that he was still a newborn, possibly a day or two old.
Pete and Danny met through a friend on Pete’s softball team. Danny had later moved in with Pete and his flatmate, but on this summer evening, he had returned to his Harlem sublet apartment to pick up the mail.
He ran down the stairs only to discover the doll was actually a baby boy, wrapped in a dark sweatshirt with his tiny legs protruding. He was just dressed in a sweatshirt and was totally naked. He had a partially attached umbilical cord, indicating that he was a newborn, maybe a day or two old.
“He did raise his head, and I stroked his hair, and he whimpered a little. The whole situation seemed surreal at the time, and I tried to alert people to what was going on but couldn’t get anyone’s attention.”
Danny told someone to call the police, but almost no one listened to him. However, he managed to get a woman’s attention, but she didn’t speak English, so she had no idea what Danny was speaking, even when he tried to point at the baby, she clearly didn’t understand what he wanted to say, “I believe she assumed I was insane,” he says.
Danny was afraid of hurting the baby if he picked him up, this was before everyone had a phone. So Danny rushed up the stairs to the street and dialed 911 from a payphone. He exclaimed, “I found a baby.” Then he told the cops where he found the baby and returned to see if the baby was still alive. He had been waiting for what seemed like an eternity.
Despite the fact that it was only a few minutes, the time seemed to be passing very slowly. Danny wondered if they thought he was prank calling and wouldn’t show up. As a result, he instructed Pete to contact them.
He grabbed a quarter from his pocket and dashed back to the payphone to dial his number.”‘I found a baby,’ I exclaimed once more. I don’t think the cops believe me, so please contact them right away”. Pete knew that Danny doesn’t joke, so if it wasn’t true, he wouldn’t say it, Pete then called 911.
He bolted out of the apartment and arrived at the underground station when the police took the child away and took him to the hospital for a check-up. The two of them left after Danny made a statement.
“When the police car was driving away, I remember turning to Danny on the sidewalk and saying, ‘You know, for the rest of your life, you will be connected to that baby,” Pete explained. ‘It’s not the end,’ Peter told Danny at the time, ‘A child can’t just fall into your life this way and disappear.
Pete explained to Danny that one day the child will grow up and want to know about the night he was discovered, and he might wish to see you, the person who saved him from a busy NYC subway. And if we can find out about his birthday and send him presents.
The next day the baby’s news was all over the news. “The baby is Hispanic with brown hair patches on top of his head,” another one said. “The Good Samaritan who found the baby of seven pounds was Danny Stewart,” one reporter said, while Danny was being interviewed for TV.
Danny went to the hospital where he had been taken to find out how the baby was doing, but he was unable to get any information. So Danny and Pete went back to their jobs as social workers and playwrights and web designers, respectively.
Danny was soon summoned by the Administration for Children’s Services to testify in a family court hearing about how he had discovered the baby. The judge asked Danny if he could stay for the entire hearing when it happened in December 2000. He waited for the police to finish their testimony before speaking to Danny again.
“‘Mr Stewart, I want to let you know what’s going on here,’ she says. ‘In cases where we have an abandoned baby, we want to place them in pre-adoptive foster care as soon as possible.’
“I’m thinking to myself, ‘Well, that makes sense,'” Danny says. “And then she said, ‘Would you be interested in adopting this baby?'” All eyes were on Danny.
“I believe most of the mouths in the courtroom, including mine, dropped open. ‘Yes, but I don’t believe it’s that simple,’ I said, and the judge smiled and said, ‘Well, it can be.'”
Friends and acquaintances had already questioned why Danny and Pete had not taken the baby boy home the night he was discovered, despite the judge’s question being completely unexpected. You didn’t have to be a social worker like Danny to figure out that this wasn’t the way things worked.
Background checks and parenting training were part of the adoption process, which lasted six to nine months.
“I hadn’t considered adopting,” Danny explains, “but I couldn’t stop thinking about it… I felt connected as if this wasn’t even an opportunity, but rather a gift, and how can you refuse such a gift?”
They had tense conversations over the next week, according to Danny… Pete refers to them as “heated debates.”
When Danny said yes to the baby, they had no money, no space, and he still had a roommate who was upset with him for saying yes without consulting him.
Peter didn’t want to change his lie, he was happy the way there were and the baby was just going to change everything. The situation almost tore them apart.
‘I’m going ahead with this whether you’re on board or not,’ Danny said at one point, and Pete simply said, ‘You’re choosing a baby over our relationship?’
“He said, ‘I want us all to be a family, I want us to do this together, but if you’re not ready, I understand, and I’m going to do it with or without you.'”
Pete recalls saying to Danny “awful things” like, “Good luck being a single parent in New York.” Danny managed to persuade Pete to accompany him to the baby’s foster home.
They said they noticed right away that it wasn’t the best place for him to be when they arrived. From his belly button to his hips and thighs to his back, he had a painfully sore and infected nappy rash.
The caseworker sat down with the foster mother and pushed the baby seat with the little boy towards Danny and Pete. With wide eyes, the baby looked at them. Danny observed that he was not blinking and was extremely quiet.
Danny gently asked, “Remember me?” as he held the baby for the first time.
Pete says he felt a “instant wave of warmth” when it was his turn to hold the baby.
Pete recalls the baby squeezing his finger with his entire hand. “He was just staring up at me, and I was just staring at him, and it was almost like he found a pressure point in my finger that just opened up my heart to my head and showed me in that moment that I could be one of his parents, one of his dads,” says the author.
Following that, the adoption process moved forward quickly. Home visits, background checks, and a slew of questions were all part of the process. Danny and Pete were told that the baby would be placed in their home for months, giving them plenty of time to prepare.
They did, however, have to appear in court on December 20 to declare their intention to adopt the child. The same judge presided, and she looked down at her desk’s calendar. She asked if we would like the baby for Christmas? to which they both nodded yes!
Pete had already informed his family of his adoption plans and had received their full support.
Everyone was in a panic because they only had two days to prepare. Pete’s family went to the store to get the couple everything they needed. Danny and Pete began reading baby books like What to Expect When You’re Expecting at a breakneck speed. Their apartment was transformed into a nursery, complete with boxes of diapers and a cot.
Danny and Pete picked Kevin up from the foster care agency at 9:00 a.m. on Friday, December 22nd. They wrapped him in his blanket and rode the subway back to their apartment, as is customary.
Kevin was supposed to visit for the holidays and then return to his foster home, according to the judge’s plan. However, Danny and Pete asked if he could stay with them, and on December 27, the caseworker called with good news: Kevin could stay with them while they completed the home study and had their home certified.
Danny, Pete and Kevin soon settled into family life together. Danny remembers how Kevin loved books. Every night they would read bedtime stories or sing him to sleep while stroking his head.
Because the Manhattan Family Court is located near Ground Zero, the site of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the adoption process was delayed, but it was finally completed on December 17, 2002.
Pete created a picture book with the story of Kevin’s discovery that he embellished with clip art, and he and Danny read it to him every night before bedtime when Kevin was three or four years old.
Kevin didn’t realize this was his story for almost a year, according to Pete. But he was so proud and excited when he did that he took the book to his school for a show and tell. Kevin was also interested in learning more about his biological family.
In 2011, New York became the sixth state in the United States to legalize gay marriage. Danny claims he and Pete were already married “by default,” but this would make it official.
Kevin is now 20 years old and a mathematics and computer science student in college. The tiny baby boy who Danny discovered on the subway station who is now over six feet tall and taller than his fathers.
He enjoys playing ultimate Frisbee and has run many marathons. From the age of nine to fourteen, he performed with the National Dance Institute. Pete claims that when Kevin wants to learn something, he just goes out and does it, and that he has taught himself how to play the piano and the guitar.
Danny, now 55, says, “I can’t imagine my life if it hadn’t turned out this way.” “My life has become much richer and more fulfilling. It has altered my worldview, perspective, and entire perspective.”