Samuel Forrest is a new dad. The biggest challenge he should have had was which way a diaper goes on or how long it takes to heat up a bottle. Instead, Sam was faced with the daunting task of finding his way back home to New Zealand with his son. Leo was born January 21 in Armenia. He had a mother and a father and what should have been the beginning of a very happy life.
Instead, Leo’s mother forced Samuel to make a grueling choice; put Leo in an orphanage or expect divorce papers. What could cause such a visceral reaction by a mother? What, after carrying a child for nine months, could harden a woman’s heart so much that she’d toss a baby aside like garbage? Leo was born with ten fingers, ten toes, and 47 chromosomes. Leo has Down syndrome.
True to her word, his wife filed for divorce and washed her hands of Leo. Samuel and his team of supporters started a GoFundMe page, “Bring Leo Home”. His goal was to raise the necessary funds to move back to New Zealand and work part time for the first year of Leo’s life. In nine days, he surpassed his $60,000 goal several times over. At just over $220,000 and counting, Samuel has some new ideas.
Some of the additional funds that we have raised will be used to secure better living conditions in Auckland, and to give Leo higher quality opportunities when it comes to education — a good home and school cost money, but Leo will have all that and more, thanks to you.
We will use some of the money you’ve given to fund facilities and programs here in Armenia that will support future parents to keep their kids despite all disabilities, and to help better care for the special ones who end up away from their Mom & Dad. 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 – thanks to your support we can start to make a difference already.
I think Samuel’s story is a bittersweet one. He’s going to face challenges this year, both as a single parent and a brand new one. I’m happy to help by offering a few bucks. What irks me about this story isn’t Samuel. It isn’t even the wife that couldn’t bring herself to be a mother, though I have a few words for her. As the story has made its way around the world, the public’s reaction toward Samuel has left me puzzled. His actions have been described as “amazing” and “unbelievable”. Yet, he didn’t do anything special. Have we really lowered our expectations of fatherhood that much? He’s being a father; Leo’s father. It’s an expected outcome at the end of a pregnancy. That the general public finds it “remarkable” disturbs me. What the hell did they expect him to do? Run away screaming?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lovely story. As far as I’m concerned, he should count his blessings that his wife divorced him and he can get back to New Zealand. I don’t take issue with him asking for help and support. His intentions are motivated by raw paternal instinct. We, as the general public, can choose to give to this charity or any other. What bothers me is the media’s spin. The story should really be about what Samuel talked about from the beginning; the deplorable treatment of people with disabilities in countries like Armenia.
Leo’s incubator for the last nine months reacted to the news of Leo’s disability in the way she saw mirrored by her country. I’m so glad Leo and his father can offer the world a glimpse of the realities of raising a child with Down syndrome. (I’ll give you a hint, it’s a lot like raising a child without Down syndrome). I pity his mother. She’ll miss so much because she was uneducated and afraid.
I’d like to vilify her. I’d like to shake her until she understands what she’s just cast aside. In my imperfect, cynical human heart I’d like to make the story about her and what a horrible person I think she is. And what a horrible country Armenia is for giving her the resources to cast Leo aside. Until I thought of the United States and our own actions.
It’s worth noting the deplorable treatment of people with Down syndrome in this country as well. Namely, that over 90% of them won’t make it out of their “mother’s” wombs.
How’s that for a glimpse of reality?