Mother abandons child with Down syndrome only to reunite a while later
In January 2015, Ruzan Badalyan from Armenia gave birth to her long-awaited child, Leo. But when the doctors examined the baby, they made a diagnosis that the young mother was unprepared for: Leo was born with a genetic disorder called trisomy 21, also known as Down syndrome.
— Gregory Sloan (@GSloanMDK) February 6, 2015
In Armenian culture there is a social stigma attached to having a child with a condition like Leo's — it brings shame on the entire family. Ruzan was a victim of this social norm and refused to look at or even touch her own son when he was born.
Samuel Forrest, Leo's father and Ruzan's husband, was faced with the devastating choice of giving up his wife or his newborn son. For Samuel, all it took was one glance at his baby and the chance to hold him in his arms for the first time to know immediately that he wanted to keep him. In Samuel's eyes, his son was beautiful and perfect. He decided to leave his wife and take his child back to his home country New Zealand.
With the help of an online donation campaign on GoFundMe, Samuel launched his "Bring Leo Home" initiative, which provoked a great deal of media interest and even celebrity endorsements. Samuel succeeded in raising over $500,000 for little Leo and their life together in New Zealand. Meanwhile, Ruzan received heavy criticism for being a bad mother and filing for divorce just one week after her baby was born. In an effort to defend her actions, she turned to Facebook saying, "Sam has never suggested joining him and bringing up the child together in his country".
— Stuff.co.nz News (@NZStuff) 25. Juli 2015
Her version of the story did indeed sound quite different. She claimed she loved her son but knew what sort of hardships they would face in Armenia. At the time she felt abandoned by her husband and was struggling with postnatal depression. She knew that with her salary she would never be able to provide for her son properly and that Leo would be much better off living in New Zealand. So with a heavy heart, she consented to her son going and at the same time also let go of her husband.
When Leo was about a month old, the couple reconciled. Ruzan deeply regretted her decision. It had been the toughest decision of her life, one she was forced to make under the most difficult circumstances and while still in complete shock. She canceled the divorce before it was finalized and moved to New Zealand to live with her husband and son.
At the time, it was a move that people across the world vilified her for. However, Samuel has forgiven his wife. Now Ruzan is a changed person and can't imagine her life without Leo, "I love him very much. One year ago, I couldn't imagine life with him and now, I can't really imagine my life without him. He's changed me so much. I can say I'm a different person now," she said in an interview.
Ruzan finally relocated to New Zealand in June 2015, where she now takes care of her son. Leo is her everything and she treasures him more than anything. "It was the happiest day," she said. "He was so small, so cute. I remember I hugged him. He started making some noises. He was so cute. I was very happy".
— Fundación UNO MÁS (@fundacionunomas) 16. Januar 2017
Leo is making excellent progress with his therapy programs, developing well both intellectually and physically. He is a lively, active boy, with two very proud parents. And to enable other parents to experience this same happiness, the couple is also working to reduce prejudice against people with Down syndrome in Armenia.
Leo really is such a cutie! Any parent would be proud of such a child.
What an emotional roller coaster ride! It's good to know that everything worked out well for this family in the end, even though they faced such hard obstacles along the way. But one thing's for sure, everyone in this family deserves to be happy. It just goes to show that there are always two sides to a story and everyone has the right to be heard out.