When Down syndrome (DS) makes my Facebook trending sidebar, I click the link. By now you’ve likely seen the article on Sam Forrest heroically taking his son when his wife allegedly abandoned him. And the internet exploded with outrage followed by the desire to “do something to help.” As of this morning Forrest’s Go Fund Me account has raised over 475K. Please let that sit for a moment. Complete strangers who heard the initial story of Forrest’s desire to move his child to his native New Zealand following resulted in nearly half a million dollars in funding in 12 days.
Seriously. Red flags were everywhere before Forrest’s wife and baby Leo’s mother, Ruzan Badalyan, went public with her side:
– “Forced to choose” wife over child resulting in divorce. Within a week of the child’s birth.
– Father’s desire to relocate to his native New Zealand, “get a part-time job, take care of Leo, and contribute to the Down syndrome children in Armenia who are not as fortunate as Leo.”
Haters gonna hate and that’s what happened online.
This story did not occur in the United States and it is an unfortunate reality that many parents in Eastern Europe choose to place their children with disabilities in orphanages. Baby’s Leo’s mother Ruzan Badalyan spoke out several days later: “As a mother who has faced this severe situation, being in the hospital under stress and depression, experiencing enormous pressure from every side, not finding any support from my husband’s part on any possibilities of giving a child decent life in Armenia, I faced two options: to take care of the child on my own in Armenia, or to abandon my maternal instincts and extend the baby an opportunity to enjoy a decent life with his father in New Zealand. I went for the second option.”
Badalyan further explains the family’s financial situation: “I understood that in Armenia, where is no extensive social infrastructure to help children with developmental disabilities, no governmental support, with the continuous hard economic situation in the country, with the possibility of renewed war with our hostile neighbour–with whom the fragile cease-fire seems to be deteriorating over time–always looming in the background, with my salary of 180$ being partly supported by my sister and living in my mother’s place and having no other income, as my husband did not work, I would not be able to raise my child with special needs (emphasis mine)”
So, let’s get this right. Before the baby was born the mother was working, the father was not, and they were living with family to support them. Red flags people! I question Forrest’s outspoken desire to work part-time in order to care for his child. Who wouldn’t want to work part-time to raise their child? This sentiment expressed by the father further reinforces the narrative that children with Down syndrome require more parental time and attention than other children. Yes, many times children with DS require more medical support especially in the first year of life, but this does not necessitate part-time employment. What occurred here was a baby was born in country with nonexistent infrastructure to care for child with a disability. The diagnosis delivered in a way consistent with the country’s view of disability.
Instead of being outraged and focusing our monetary giving on this one individual, the Down syndrome community and others interested in supporting children with disabilities could instead*:
– Support organizations who provide information about diagnosis
– Support your local disability organization. Many have outreach programs that educate the community about what it means to have a specific diagnosis
– Call your representatives when legislation for disability rights is proposed
– Support organizations internationally who work to change cultural perceptions of disability such as Down Syndrome International
– Support organizations who work on developing adoption plans for families who make this choice
– Volunteer with disability organizations like Best Buddies There are many ways to support the lives of those with Down syndrome and other disabilities other than an individual Go Fund Me plea. A story that grabs at your heart shouldn’t be simultaneously grabbing your wallet.
*Suggestions do not imply endorsement and are given as ideas to get you thinking about ways to give of your time or money.