A heartbroken father has been forced to choose between his wife and his Down syndrome son because her family are too ashamed of the newborn’s condition.
On January 21, Samuel Forrest’s wife Ruzan Badalyan gave birth to their first child Leo in an Armenian hospital.
But just hours after Leo was born, his New Zealand born father was given an ultimatum by his wife of 18 months – the woman he loved or his newborn son.
Soon after Leo was born, his mother and her family abandoned him due to his Down syndrome.
According to Samuel, his wife didn’t look at or even touch her son because Armenian culture believes a child with a condition like Leo’s brings shame on the entire family.
When Leo was born, Samuel said he wasn’t immediately allowed to see his son or wife.
‘This paediatrician walks out of the room with a little bundle… She had his face covered up and hospital authorities wouldn’t let me see him or my wife,’ he told ABC News.
‘When the doctor came out, he said “there’s a real problem with your son”.’
Samuel said he was shocked when doctors initially told him of Leo’s Down syndrome, but it never crossed his mind to abandon him.
‘They took me in to see him and I looked at this guy and I said, he’s beautiful, he’s perfect and I’m absolutely keeping him,’ he said.
When he carried Leo in to meet his wife, she threatened to leave him if he kept his son.
‘What happens when a baby like this is born here, they will tell you that you don’t have to keep them,’ he told ABC News.
‘My wife had already decided, so all of this was done behind my back.’
A week later, Samuel’s wife filed for divorce.
The first-time father is now desperately making effort to crowd fund to flee the eastern European country so he can raise Leo back in his native New Zealand.
The fundraising page, titled Bring Leo Home, has already raised more than $100,000 in less than 24 hours.
Samuel has been left stunned by the outpouring of support.
‘Leo and I found out in the wee hours of the morning that we had crossed our target. He is a lucky guy to have the support of thousands of friends around the world,’ he said.
The money will be used find a house in Auckland and to give Leo education opportunities.
Samuel also plans to use some of the funds to support parents in Armenia who are raising children with disabilities.
‘We’d also like to share the surplus funds with the only orphanage in Armenia that regularly takes abandoned Down syndrome babies as well as other organisations that can help these children,’ he said.
The initial goal for Samuel and Leo was to raise enough for a year so he could get part-time work and care for his son.