A mother who gave birth to a child with Downs Syndrome has adopted five other kids with the condition.
51-year-old Leah Spring took the five children into her family over the space of five years, and felt perfectly placed to care for them after raising her own biological daughter Angela, 22.
The US Army veteran had a hysterectomy after giving birth to Angela, her third biological child, but always had a desire to have another baby.
She was inspired to adopt after accompanying a friend on a trip to Serbia and Bulgaria in 2010, during which her friend adopted a child with special needs.
Leah and her partner Dean Ellingson, 61, went on to become parents to Axel, 18, Abel, 15, Audrey, 14, Asher, 14 and Amos, 14, between 2010 and 2015.
They are also legal guardians to Roman Garza, 15, who also lives with Downs Syndrome and permanently moved in with the family in January.
All the children bar one were adopted from Serbia, where Leah says they were institutionalised and housed in poor living conditions.
Leah – who must adopt as a single mother because she and Dean are not married – adopted Amos, who was born in Ukraine, from another US state in 2015.
All the children except Angela and Roman are non-verbal and some also have autism.
Despite the obstacles, Leah, an ex-supply and armour specialist in the army, described raising them as a joy and said she and Dean feel blessed to be a part of their lives.
Leah said: Adoption isnt about doing for yourself, it is about doing for someone else.
Adopting older, institutionalised kids is not something you should do because you want to do something that feels good.
You should do it because you see a need and you fill that need.
So that is what we did. We filled a need.
There are small rewards that come with that. Some of those present clearly, by making us laugh, smile, or feel pride in one of the kids accomplishments.
On the stressful days we may have to dig deep to find the rewards in the day.
Leahs first experience of raising a child with special needs was when she gave birth to her daughter Angela with her second husband.
She was born in 1996, and was delivered via emergency C-section following a difficult pregnancy.
Leah, who is also mum to Noah Harazin, 31, and Tyler Harazin, 30, said: When my husband came into the room I knew there was something wrong.
I asked him how she was and he said: “Shes doing great”. His parents were there and there were tears in their eyes.
That was when he told me that the doctors thought she had Downs Syndrome.
When they brought her in she was tiny.
I looked at her tiny little palm, which had just one crease – a telltale sign – and I could see the image of an angel kissing her palm.
After Angela I had a hysterectomy because it was such a difficult pregnancy but I always felt a desire to have another child. I felt a little bit robbed.
Angela later separated from her husband and went on to meet Dean in 2003, who initially didnt want children because he thought he was too old.
But seven years later, in 2010, Leah was invited to Bulgaria by her friend, who was travelling to the Eastern European country to adopt a boy with special needs.
There, she fell in love with a girl with Apert Syndrome, a genetic disorder characterised by the premature fusion of the skull.
She and Dean, who has a son from a previous relationship, put plans in place to adopt the child, but they then learned she was legally unavailable.
Leah, who writes a blog, Garden of Eagen, about her adoption journey, said: It was devastating but it opened my eyes to the conditions these children are living in with little support.
We felt like we knew and understood Down Syndrome and could offer these children a home. We felt for them because they were very unlikely to be adopted.
The trip inspired Leah and Dean to expand their family, and in the five years that followed they adopted their five children.
She said she has spent in excess of $60,000 adopting the children from Serbian institutions, $13,200 of which was raised through a GoFundMe campaign.
Although the parents say life can be busy, they have never felt overwhelmed by their growing family, despite their special needs.
Leah said: Life isnt always easy.
Our life is all about routine.
Every morning it is my job to get everyone up and dressed and Deans job to get them out to the bus.
The biggest challenge is that they are attached and indiscriminate with their affections. They would go with everyone.
Audrey and Abel were so food deprived in the institutions that they are obsessed with food.
Audrey was only 28lbs when we brought her home and she was nine years old.
Leah says it has been amazing to watch her children grow, with Angela having graduated in May. She is also in a day training program, and works with a theatre organisation five days a week.
She adds that it is very apparent that her daughter grew up in a supportive and loving family.
Leah continued: Axel is going to graduate high school in May which is such a big moment for him and were so proud.
Hes so caring and compassionate. Hes non-verbal and only has a handful of words but its amazing how far hes come.
Were watching developmental light bulbs turn on in our kids every day. They are such a joy.
Audrey has recently started communicating verbally. Just yesterday we were eating breakfast, when she brought her bowl to the kitchen and said: “More?”
That is a huge milestone.
When Asher first came home he had no communication and now he has recently started to non-verbally express himself.
Amos has recently started singing about Christmas, the Christmas tree, and that Santa is coming soon.
We feel very blessed.
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