Hello up there. How’s that horse treating you?
A current news story is trending about Samuel Forrest and his wife Ruzan Badalyan, who were surprised to find that their baby was born with Down Syndrome. Samuel was eager to keep the baby boy (Leo), while Ruzan was not. She gave him an ultimatum: if he chose the baby, she would divorce him. Leo would be given to an orphanage if Samuel agreed. Samuel took Leo and Ruzan left them. Samuel has set up a GoFundMe page which already has tons of support. He intends to bring Leo to Auckland, New Zealand, where Samuel is originally from.
The response to this story is typical. What a wonderful father! What a terrible mother! I would never! There has been a lot of finger wagging and hiking up of judgment pants, and I’m here to smack that finger down and suggest a more flattering pair of slacks. First things first, yes, Samuel fathering his baby is wonderful, but that’s what he’s supposed to do. We do this with fathers all the time. I even found myself thinking, Now that’s a good dad. Don’t you think it’s a little sad that our bar is so low for fathers that we clap for them being there for the first week of their baby’s life, while branding any mother for leaving her child as a heartless monster?
The mother is not a monster. Is she a good mom? Well, obviously not, but I’m not comparing her to Godzilla anytime soon. You can call her dead-beat or a scrub, just like we do with absent fathers. But to put things into a bit of perspective, the Down Syndrome diagnosis clearly came as a shock. A lot of mothers discover a DS diagnosis months before a birth with a screening. If she had been screened, at least she’d be prepped for such big news. Taking care of a newborn without DS is a daunting task – can you imagine being smacked with the reality that it was about to get a whole lot harder?
Ruzan hasn’t elaborated to the news about her decision, so we can only guess why she didn’t want to keep Leo. She may not have been prepared for the amount of work that a child with special needs brings. They require constant care, which can make parents reduce hours or quit their jobs in order to be there for their child. An adult with Down Syndrome usually is developmentally about 8-9 years old, which means even as they grow older they will need a caretaker. Financial, medical, and sometimes physical support might be needed for their entire lives. The average newborn costs about $12,000 to care for. Okay, that’s a lot. A child with DS costs 12 to 13 times more than a child without. If the child with DS has a congenital heart defect (40% possibility), it’s even more. Do you have more than $156,000 dollars just lying around? That must be nice.
Samuel admitted that he didn’t have tons money coming in from his job as a freelance business contractor: “I don’t have a lot, I have very little in fact.” This explains the GoFundMe page to help him move back to New Zealand. Along with the cost of moving, the cost of a newborn with DS and the cost of Samuel’s own living, the price of a healthy life is pretty high.
Also, people are looking at this from within their own bubble. I’m from Toronto. I know that if I ever had to deal with that hard decision, living in an urban space in Canada is a good place to be. I have a good healthcare and child education system to fall back on. I’d have lots of support with special needs programs. Leo was born in Armenia. Armenia’s healthcare, childcare and education systems are completely different. There are not a lot of benefits available for special needs children. Armenia is also a place that has a less welcoming view of special needs children. Ruzan and her family likely have the cultural idea ingrained in them. Even if she fought against that belief that is so foreign to us, her family and homeplace would make it difficult to raise a child that has special needs. Leo and his family would likely feel isolated and frustrated with their situation. I’m not saying it’s an impossible situation, but that’s a lot of weight to be thrust onto someone’s shoulders.
Fine. Maybe you still think she should suck it up and deal with her baby because mommies always love their babies and you would do anything for your baby. You’d sacrifice your home and family and beliefs and arms and legs for your baby. Good for you, you brave selfless archangel. You can vow that your determination would never waver for one millisecond, but I don’t believe you. It’s easy to sacrifice in the realm of the hypothetical. In 11 studies published in 2012, they found that when asking prospective parents in the general population if they would abort if their child was at risk for DS, 23-33% said they would terminate. They asked pregnant women who had an increased risk of giving birth to a child with DS and 46-86% said they would abort. Finally they asked women who had actually received a positive diagnosis of DS during pregnancy, and 89-97% chose to terminate. That’s right. It’s easy to say you’ll take the bullet until you’re staring down the barrel of the gun.
Side note: the greatest commenters say that women in Africa (that mysterious homogenous land used as example for everything depressing) don’t abandon their children. This is a terrible argument and you’re terrible if you event think those words. It’s not even close to being true and maybe they always birth children no matter what obstacles they have to endure in situations of poverty/sickness/unrest because abortion is strictly illegal in most African countries. It’s safe to assume your knowledge of Africa is fairly low since you like to describe a huge, diverse continent with a population of over a billion like it’s a really sad town.
Again, am I saying that this woman is a great person for leaving her child? No. Am I saying that Down Syndrome is the worst thing in the world? No, of course not. It’s an obstacle, but many families with a child with DS live happy lives. I’m happy that Leo’s father is willing to take on this obstacle and has a family willing to support him in New Zealand. I’m saying that people being up in arms about this woman’s decision being unbelievable are naive. Sometimes it’s hard to admit that things are complicated. It’s easier to say “I’d never!” and sit side-saddle on that metaphorical Clydesdale.