Two parents from Yerevan, Armenia, were told that they could leave their newborn baby boy at the hospital if they felt unable to care for him.
Their baby son was born with birthmarks covering 80 percent of his body, putting him at hugely increased risk of skin cancer.
Baby Artyom Aristakesyan also needed surgery for spina bifida. But mom Mariam Petrosyan, 26, and dad Taron Aristakesyan, 28, were steadfast: their newborn was going home with them.
As soon as the baby's spina bifida was diagnosed, he was rushed away for a 90-minute surgery to correct his spine.
"It was all such a blur," Mariam said. "[I]t took five days of recovery before we could properly see him again."
The parents were forewarned by their doctors that Artyom may not have long to live. His nevus birthmarks, which manifest as oval-shaped patches of raised dark skin, are evidence that the baby's body has a melanin deficiency.
Yet, despite Artyom's health complications, Mariam and Taron never once considered giving up their child.
Recalling the painful conversation, Mariam told The Sun: "I remember [doctors] sitting us down. Artyom hadn’t opened his eyes yet, and they told us he might never open them due to the nevus birthmarks in that area. They also said ... that if we wanted to, we could refuse to bring him home because taking care of him would be too hard—we didn’t listen."
Five days after Artyom's surgery, his parents were finally allowed to enter his ward. Mariam recalled feeling nervous; her husband called Artyom’s name and the baby stirred, then opened his eyes.
Both parents knew there was no way their family unit would be divided.
After Artyom was discharged from the hospital, Mariam and Taron were faced with a new obstacle to navigate: judgment from others.
But while the baby is often stared at by shocked and curious strangers, his mother says that others have called him "a gift from God."
Artyom’s brothers—Narek, 3, and Artur, 2—innocently asked their mother why Artyom had "chocolate dabbed on his face" upon meeting the baby for the very first time, The Sun reported. However, the young brothers have since become Artyom’s biggest champions.
As the family of five forges ahead together, social media has become important to Mariam and Taron.
"Artyom has helped us and others feel less alone," Mariam told The Sun. "We can share his story and connect with people who are going through similar things."
Birthmarks, Mariam said, should not be hidden in shame; beauty comes in many different shapes and forms. "I hope to show that people like Artyom are unique and beautiful," she said.