The father who claims his wife abandoned their newborn son because he has Down syndrome has four other children from a previous marriage, including a girl with the same condition, Daily Mail Australia reveals.
Samuel Forrest and his wife Ruzan Badalyan split just a week after their son Leo was born with Down syndrome in Armenia on January 21.
Mr Forrest, who says his wife of 18 months abandoned their son because her family were ashamed of his condition, has made global headlines since he started crowd fundraising to bring Leo to his native New Zealand.
More details of Mr Forrest’s background are emerging, including that he left New Zealand four years ago following a messy divorce that saw him lose his three daughters and one son.
His youngest daughter was born with Down syndrome – the same condition affecting three-week-old son Leo.
Mr Forrest, who lived with his wife and children in Whanganui on New Zealand’s north island, was brought up as a member of the Exclusive Brethren church.
He was ex-communicated from the church when he divorced his wife and was banned from seeing his four children, now aged between six and 15 years old.
In a series of emails around the time he left the church, Mr Forrest repeatedly says he ‘lost four innocent children’ and blames the Exclusive Brethren for the ‘deliberate break-up of a family’.
Daily Mail Australia has obtained a photo of Mr Forrest with his four children before he lost contact with them in 2011.
‘All his extended family are also members of the Exclusive Brethren and are still forbidden by their religion to have any contact with him,’ a source said.
‘It was one of the reasons why he left in the first place and went to Armenia. He had no contact with his children and saw no future for himself in New Zealand. It was all very sad.’
Mr Forrest married his Armenian wife Ruzan Badalyan 18 months ago and they divorced a week after baby Leo was born.
At the time, Mr Forrest said his wife refused to look at or even touch Leo because Armenian culture believes a child with a condition like Down syndrome brings shame on the entire family.
She has been under scrutiny since her decision to give up Leo was made public.
Mr Forrest wrote on his crowd-funding website on Monday that he ‘still feels a great deal of love’ for his ex-wife despite her decision to give up their son.
‘I can assure you that I have tried my best to convince my wife we could keep the baby, but in her family, an orphanage seemed a safer option for Armenia,’ he wrote.
‘I did everything I could to keep our family together, including suggesting we all go to New Zealand together. Her family also spent time trying to persuade me to surrender our son to an orphanage.
‘Ruzan should not be the target of all of the frustrations that this situation has created. Our paths may be moving in different directions, but she is Leo’s mother and I still feel a great deal of love for her.’
It comes after Ms Badalyan hit back at her ex-husband’s claims she abandoned her baby, instead saying she had to make a ‘ruthless decision’ in the best interests of Leo.
She released a statement via Facebook saying the long-awaited birth of her son was the happiest day, but when she woke she could only see alarmed faces around her.
‘My first question was about the whereabouts of my child. I remember the sad faces of my relatives and the doctors and the diagnosis that sounded like a verdict: “Your child was born with a Down Syndrome.” One can never imagine my feelings at that moment,’ she wrote.
‘Hardly had I recovered from the first shock, when the doctor approached me and told me to voice my decision whether I was going to keep Leo or not. I had to make the most ruthless decision in my life within several hours.
‘The first thing that came to my mind after the diagnosis was that I don’t want my child to live in a country where certain stereotypes dominate the lives of people with DS and no opportunities at all. I want him to be involved and well-received in society, an integration that will require years and years for our society to adjust to.
‘I saw the evasive looks of the doctors, my relatives’ tear-stained faces, received calls of condolences and realised that only a move to a country with such standards as New Zealand would entitle my son to a decent life.’
Leo’s mother said the cost of raising a children with a disability also weighed on her.
‘In Armenia every child is loved and respected and family is a high value, but in this country children with special needs do require special attention, huge financial resources and dedication,’ she said.
‘In the hardest moment of my life when my husband should be next to me and support and help to take the right decision, I could not find any support from his side.
‘After that incident, he left the hospital notifying me hours later that he was taking the kid with him, that he is going to leave the country for New Zealand and I do not have anything to do with the situation.’
Mr Forrest’s crowd funding website has already raised more than $490,000 in his bid to bring up baby Leo in Auckland where he can have access to established disability services and adequate support.
But it is unclear how much family support he will receive when he returns.
‘It’s well known within the Exclusive Brethren community that Sam has been cut off by everyone because of divorcing his wife. He has no one to come back to,’ a source said.
‘You would hope that he’d get some support but it’s very unlikely.’