Froggie needs to be washed, and Jackson Foo Wong isn’t happy. “It’s a bath, honey,” actor B.D. Wong reassures his nearly 3-year-old son. “You take a bath every night. Don t you want Froggie to get a bath too?” Hesitant to part with his favorite stuffed toy, Jackson shakes his head, so Wong adds, “I could’ve done the thing where I didn’t tell you and did it anyway—but we’re going to be honest in this family, right?”
Where Dad and his son are concerned, honesty is the watchword. Born via surrogate to Wong and his longtime partner Richie Jackson in May 2000, baby Jackson almost didn’t survive; he and his identical twin brother, Boaz, arrived 11 weeks premature, and Boaz died soon afterward. To help ease his anguish, Wong chronicled Jackson’s struggles in long e-mails to family and friends (including actors John Lithgow and Jill Clayburgh), who shared his messages with hundreds of others. “They were painful to read,” says Clayburgh. “Every segment was a cliff-hanger.” But sharing helped. Says Richie, 37, a talent agent: “It’s like we were on this roller coaster, and we looked behind and everyone we knew was on the roller coaster too.”
Now Wong, 42, who plays Dr. George Huang on NBC’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, has gathered the correspondence into a memoir, Following Foo (The Electronic Adventures of the Chestnut Man). Richie likes the book—as long as he doesn’t have to read it. “I can look at a few pages, and then I have to put it down,” he says. “I start going through those times again.”
The odyssey began in August 1998, when Wong and Richie, who met through friends in 1988, decided it was time to have a child. “We both wanted to be fathers,” Richie says simply. After researching surrogacy, they asked Richie’s married sister Sue Barez, who has two sons, if she would donate an egg. “I didn’t think twice,” says Barez, now 41. “I would do anything for them.” Even carrying their babies—though she’s glad she wasn’t asked. “It would’ve been too hard giving them up,” she admits.
Instead, in late 1999, Shauna Barringer, a surrogate Wong found through Growing Generations, was implanted with embryos—Barez’s eggs fertilized by Wong’s sperm. The 22-year-old Delhi, Calif., resident’s pregnancy progressed normally until a false labor on May 19. Nine days later she went into labor for real. Wong, visiting his parents in San Francisco, rushed Barringer to the hospital. Boaz, pale and listless, came out first. Jackson, bright red and yelping, followed 16 minutes later. Doctors whisked them to intensive care but three hours later told Wong that Boaz had died. “It was a devastating night,” Wong says.
Jackson, who weighed less than 3 lbs. at birth, battled pneumonia and underwent surgery for a perforated bowel, remaining in intensive care until he was released from the hospital on August 21. For two months afterward, he was on an oxygen tank and took medications to strengthen his lungs. “It was crazy,” Richie says. “On our first stroll we had the tank tucked in there with him.”
Today Jackson is a healthy toddler, the only evidence of his rough start a 2-in. surgical scar on his belly. In time he’ll learn about Boaz, whose ashes rest on a shelf in the living room of the family’s Manhattan apartment. “I didn’t want to bury them,” Wong says. “I wanted them with us.”
For now Jackson knows he has Wong (“Dad”), Richie (“Daddy”) and a host of loving relatives including Aunt Sue, whom he sees often. He also has Froggie, who emerged from the spin cycle unscathed. Not that his dads were ever worried. “Jackson could survive the loss of Froggie,” Wong says. “Jackson Foo Wong can survive anything.”