Just before a gestational surrogate gave birth to their son in Kingston, Ontario, a midwife screamed “shirts off” so new dads Frank Nelson and BJ Barone would be ready to hold their baby against their bare chests for skin-to-skin bonding.
Photographer Lindsay Foster was shooting the birth as a gift to her friend, Kathy Frenette, the couple’s surrogate. Foster caught the instant when baby Milo was held by his fathers for the first time, even before the umbilical cord had been cut.
In the photos, a shirtless Nelson, 44, holds Milo to his chest, and Barone, 34, has an arm around each of them, as the new dads shed tears of happiness.
“She absolutely captured the most beautiful moment,” Nelson told TODAY Parents in a phone interview Monday. “I was completely overwhelmed. I was so scared of dropping the baby. Mostly, the feeling was of joy and love and amazement.”
The raw emotion Foster captured, he said, “represents unconditional love to us and pure happiness.”
Barone added: “I was so excited, so overjoyed, so overcome with emotion, it was an incredible moment I will never forget. The fact we have this photo, it’s a reminder of how much love we have for him.”
(Why are the dads shirtless? Skin-to-skin contact has been shown to have many health benefits for newborns, from temperature regulation to pain management, so it's standard practice at many births now.)
The couple took a few photos of Milo with a cellphone camera, and Nelson joked that they were happy with the 200 “likes” that one received on Facebook. But that was nothing compared to the response that two of Foster’s photos got when she posted them on Facebook, and they quickly went viral.
“The fact that she got that picture was amazing,” Nelson said. “We are so grateful to her.”
The couple are still in disbelief when they stare at the photos and see exactly how they looked.
“As soon as I saw it, I started crying because you can see such emotion on everyone’s face, especially Frank’s,” Barone said. “It instantly brought me to tears. I couldn’t believe it.”
The Toronto couple, married for nearly four years, say Milo has great timing. Their first attempt at having a child failed, and Milo, the son of two high school teachers, was born at the end of the school year. He arrived on June 27, during the World Pride gay rights festival in Toronto.
“He’s definitely our pride baby,” Nelson said. “We’re so proud of him. That picture, to us, represents what pride is all about and how far the LGBT community has come. Love is love, and that’s what pride is all about.”
As the photos went around the Internet, the comments poured in. Some posted negative jabs, but most were positive. One man wrote that the photos “had opened his heart to acceptance, and that the love shown for a child has no boundaries,” Barone said.
“That brought me to tears,” he added. “We’re not trying to change the world. The fact that we’re able to bring awareness to people and hopefully inspire people, it’s quite a feeling.”
Their photo was shared by actor George Takei, an original "Star Trek" cast member turned gay rights advocate with a huge Facebook following, who wrote, "Congratulations, new fathers. These photos are a wonderful reminder that love is what makes a family." Nelson said he was pleased that the photo had launched an online discussion about gay rights and what it takes to be a good parent.
“This can open the minds of people, and start a conversation, that all that a child needs is unconditional love, be it from a man or a woman or anything in between,” he said.
For Foster, it was the first time she had photographed a surrogate birth. While she is used to the pregnant woman needing support during labor and delivery, this time, she felt there were three parents who needed a boost.
“Every pain that she had, they were crying along with her,” Foster said. “When she’d scream, they’d scream. I wanted to take a picture and hug them at the same time.”
She learned a month before the birth that the intended parents were a gay couple, which she said made it special because it’s so unusual.
“What made it even better was the emotion from them,” she said. “It was just absolutely amazing. I’m shocked that I have any pictures in focus, I was crying so hard with them.”
The couple are back home in Toronto, still staring at those first photos and enjoying the newborn days.
“Milo has been a great baby,” Nelson said. “He sleeps a lot, he poops a lot and he’s been very good for his Daddies.”
Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter.