Samuel Forrest, a new dad living in Armenia, was waiting outside the hospital delivery room when he heard the sounds of his newborn child crying. He was nervous and excited to be a father, but everything became very complicated quickly.
“This pediatrician walks out of the room with a little bundle that was Leo,” Forrest said. “She had his face covered up and hospital authorities wouldn’t let me see him or my wife. When the doctor came out, he said ‘there’s a real problem with your son.'”
Forrest followed doctors and nurses into a room where they told him that his baby Leo has Down syndrome and that he has the option of putting him up for adoption. While the father was initially shocked, he then held his son for the first time and told the doctors, “He’s beautiful, he’s perfect and I’m absolutely keeping him.”
Soon Forrest walked into his wife’s hospital room with Leo in his arms, and then got another shock.
His wife gave him an ultimatum on the spot and told him that if he kept the baby, she would file for divorce.
He chose his son, and one week after Leo’s birth, Forrest’s wife filed for divorce.
“It’s not what I want,” Forrest said. “I didn’t even have a chance to speak with her in privately about it.”
Forrest, who’s from Auckland, New Zealand, said he was completely unaware of the hospital practices in Armenia when it came to children. He now realizes that Armenia abandons scores of babies each year for physical or intellectual disabilities and minor ‘imperfections’. 98% of all Down Syndrome babies born in Armenia are abandoned every year because the culture refuses to accept human defects. The mother, Ruzan Badalyan, who did confirm with ABC News that she did have a child with Down syndrome and she has left her husband, refused to even look at or touch the newborn for fear of getting attached in a society where defects are not accepted, often bringing shame on the family involved.
Forrest, who works as a freelance business contractor, has plans for he and Leo to move to his native country of New Zealand where he said they’ll receive support from loved ones.
In the meantime, he’s enlisted for some help on his GoFundMe page titled “Bring Leo Home,” which has already raised $400,000 as of this Friday evening.
“This really came out of the blue for me,” he said. “I don’t have a lot, I have very little in fact. The goal is to raise enough for a year so I can get a part-time job so Leo doesn’t have to be in daycare and I can help care for him. He’s lost a lot in two weeks. It’d be different if he had his mommy.”
Forrest has recently been working with disability awareness groups to share his story in the hopes that parents will become better educated on children with special needs.