These men became dads to baby found abandoned at subway station
Unlikely discovery at a New York subway station led couple to unexpected adoption
"We never discussed family or kids or anything like that. That was just so far removed from our thoughts," Mercurio told Tapestry.
On Aug. 28, Stewart was taking the subway to meet Mercurio for dinner. As he climbed the stairs to exit the 14th Street station, something lying on the floor, tucked against a wall, caught his eye: a bundled sweatshirt with two small legs peeking out.
Stewart assumed it was a child's lost doll.
Until the legs moved.
"I rushed down. I loosened this sweatshirt that he was wrapped up in, made sure he was breathing OK. And when I did that, I could also tell that he appeared to be a newborn because he had his umbilical cord still partially intact," Stewart said.
"I was in shock. I couldn't believe it. I was like, how is there a baby on the ground here?"
Worried that the baby might be injured, Stewart decided not to pick him up. When he couldn't get the attention of anyone on the subway platform, he ran to call the police from a payphone on the street above and returned to wait with the baby.
"Time is standing still for me. And I'm thinking that, 'Oh, they probably thought this was a prank call. That's why they're not coming,'" he said.
"And that's when I called Pete and I blurted out, 'I found a baby!'"
I think you're going to be connected to this baby for the rest of your life.- Pete Mercurio to his partner, Danny Stewart
By the time Mercurio arrived, the police were already on the scene. Stewart spent hours retelling the details of his discovery to police and a reporter who interviewed Stewart for a nightly newscast.
After the chaos subsided and Stewart had been cleared to leave the scene, Mercurio told him, "I think you're going to be connected to this baby for the rest of your life."
Neither of them could have predicted then that the connection would entail becoming parents to the little boy, an event they'd commemorate two decades later in a picture book called Our Subway Baby.
Life after the discovery
The story of Stewart finding the baby and the subsequent search for the child's biological parents dominated the New York news cycle.
Over the next several days, Stewart tried to find out what happened to the baby and managed to connect with the baby's social worker, who shared he was doing OK but that she couldn't say more.
About six weeks later, Stewart received a call from a lawyer with New York City's Administration for Children's Services, asking if he would attend an upcoming hearing and provide testimony about the night he found the baby.
Stewart agreed and found himself at the court hearing in early December.
After Stewart testified about the events of that night back in August, the judge asked him if he would mind remaining for the rest of the hearing. After listening to testimony from the police officers, Stewart said the judge turned to him and said:
"Mr. Stewart, I want to let you know what's happening. In situations where we have a baby that's been abandoned, we want to place that baby in pre-adoptive foster care as quickly as possible.... Would you be interested in adopting this baby?"
He replied, "Yes, but I don't think it's that easy."
The judge smiled, with a little chuckle, and said, "Well, it can be."
"I don't know whether you call it fate or destiny or divine intervention, or just something greater than my control. But it just seemed like that was the compelling reason why I just said yes," Stewart said.
He then called Mercurio from a payphone in the train station after leaving the hearing.
Mercurio recalls pleading with Danny when he heard the news. "I said, 'No, no, no, don't don't get on the train. You go back to the courtroom and tell her no. We're not ready. You're not ready. Tell her no, that you misspoke.'"
The next week involved many "heated discussions," Mercurio said.
The tension came to a head one night when Stewart told his partner, "I'm going to follow through with this, whether you're on board or not."
"I said, 'Well, you're choosing a baby over our relationship," Mercurio said. "And I said something really snarky and mean, which was, 'Well, good luck being a single parent in New York City!'"
Mercurio stormed out of the apartment. When he returned, Stewart told him, "Fate is giving us this child; how can we say no?"
Mercurio agreed to go with Stewart to visit the baby at the foster home a couple of days later.
Holding the baby in his arms for the first time, Mercurio said he had a "transformative moment."
"It just felt right," he said.
The pair took turns snapping Polaroid photos of each other holding the baby that day and agreed to move forward with the adoption process.
They decided to name their baby boy Kevin, in honour of Mercurio's sibling who had died at birth.
When Mercurio and Stewart attended the next hearing on Dec. 20, the judge asked if they would like the baby for the holidays — a mere two days away.
What followed were 48 frantic hours as they tried to prepare themselves to care for a new baby.
When Friday arrived, the two new dads picked up Kevin from the foster care agency and carried him home in their arms, through the streets of New York — and even on to the subway.
"It was just sort of like this magical moment," Mercurio recalled.
The new family found a routine and built a cosy life together in their New York apartment.
Making a family
When same-sex marriage became legal in New York state in 2011, Mercurio and Stewart didn't rush out to tie the knot.
But a year later, Mercurio asked Kevin what he thought of the idea of his dads getting married and was met with resounding approval — and a question.
"He said, 'Don't judges marry people?' And I said, 'Yes, they do.' And I kind of knew where he was headed with this, and so I just asked him, I said, 'Would you like to meet the judge that finalized your adoption?' And he said, 'Yeah, yeah. That would be really cool.'"
Mercurio contacted Manhattan Family Court that same day, and within two hours he received email confirmation that the judge would be "delighted" to officiate their marriage.
In July 2012, the family found themselves back in the same courthouse and in front of the same judge.
More than 20 years since that fateful day on the New York subway, the couple still can't quite wrap their heads around the happenstance of it all.
"We still pinch ourselves that this happened to us and that we're parents. And that it turned out the way it turned out," Mercurio said.
He and Stewart penned an open letter to Kevin when he left for college in 2018.
In it they wrote, "Our unexpected and unplanned ride together has been, and still is, incredibly enchanting. Simply magical. The best trip we've ever taken."
Written by McKenna Hadley-Burke. Produced by McKenna Hadley-Burke, with Arman Aghbali.