Last week, the parenting community was gripped by the story of a New Zealand father who claimed his wife forced him to choose between their marriage and their son, who was born with Down syndrome last month in Armenia. The original story paints a pretty one-sided picture of a mom who cold-heartedly cast aside her husband and child, while portraying the father as the victim. The early media reports linked to the dad’s fundraising campaign, where he wrote about how he wants to build a better life for his son, Leo, and is currently trying to decide what to do with the donations—more than $488,000 and counting. In the days that followed the release of the story, the Armenian mother responded via Facebook to share her side of the saga.
If you're the parent of a child with special needs you’ve probably received well-intentioned comments from friends and strangers alike about how “God only gives special kids to special parents,” or any other variation of that theme. When someone asks me how I do it my answer is simple: I just do, because I’m Syona’s mom. The only other choice my husband and I had was not do it—which would have meant giving up my child. But this simply was never an option for us. My heart couldn't bear it. Syona is my heart.
It’d be easy to read this story online and pass judgement on the mom. But, like every other aspect of parenting, it doesn’t do us any good to judge one another. In this case, we don’t know the whole story. We have no knowledge of the mom’s support system, or lack thereof. However, this decision—perhaps the most difficult one she’s ever made—has gone viral and is on public display for everyone to criticize.
And consider this: In Armenia, where the baby was born, there is a strong stigma towards people with special needs. Hospitals have policies in place that allow parents the opportunity to give up their child upon learning a certain diagnosis. Add to that the chaotic range of emotions that come with having just given birth—not to mention a shocking diagnosis—and this mother could have believed that her baby would have a better future in New Zealand with his father.
If I could talk to this mom, I would tell her about all the positives that come from parenting a child with special needs. You learn true joy. You celebrate the little things. You gain perspective on what’s important in life. You meet an entire community of other parents who get exactly what you're going through. It helps you become a better parent. The early years are especially tough and, at the beginning, it feels as though your life revolves around your child’s diagnosis. But, over time, you and your child become so much more than a diagnosis.
Lastly, I would tell this mom to do what she thinks is best for her and her child. If her decision is to give up her newborn son, that’s her choice to make—whether we agree or not. And if I were her, I'd do what any mother would do and hope that her beautiful child lives a good life filled with joy, happiness and love.
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