A kind-hearted mother who gave birth to a child with Down’s Syndrome went on to adopt five other children with the condition.
Inspirational Leah Spring, 51, took five youngsters into her family in five years and felt perfectly placed to care for them after raising her daughter Angela Spring, 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 pal 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 Down’s Syndrome and permanently moved in with the family in January.
All the children bar one were adopted from Serbia, where Leah says they were”institutionalized” 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 armor specialist in the army, described raising them as “a joy” and said she and Dean feel “blessed” to be part of their lives.
The former sign language instructor, from Eagan, Minnesota, said: “Adoption isn’t about doing for yourself, it is about doing for someone else.
“Adopting older, institutionalized 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.”
Leah’s first experience of raising a child with special needs was when she gave birth to her daughter Angela with her second husband.
The tot, who was born in 1996, 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: ‘She’s 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 Down 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 didn’t want children because he thought they were too old.
But seven years later, in 2010, Leah was invited to Bulgaria by her friend, who was traveling 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 characterized 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 their hopes were dashed when they 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 specialist needs.
Leah said: “Life isn’t always easy.
“Our life is all about routine.
“Every morning it is my job to get everyone up and dressed and Dean’s 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.
“Aubrey was only 28lbs when we brought her home and she was nine years old.”
Leah said it has been a delight to watch her children grow and prosper since becoming part of their family.
She said: “Angela is 22 now and she graduated in May. She is in a day training program, and works with a theater organization five days a week.
“But it’s really apparent that she grew up in a supportive and loving family when you compare her to my other children.
“Axel is going to graduate high school in May which is such a big moment for him and we’re so proud.
“He’s so caring and compassionate. He’s non-verbal and only has a handful of words but it’s amazing how far he’s come.
“We’re 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.”
To follow Leah’s blog visit gardenofeagan.blogspot.com