When Julie McConnel found out she was pregnant with a rare set of twins with Down syndrome, she considered giving them up for adoption.
But now Charlie and Milo, of Nampa, Idaho, are the loves of her family's lives, and their mom wants people to know that bringing up kids with special needs doesn't have to be scary.
"I had no idea what we had in these two when I was pregnant, but I'm so grateful we chose to find out," McConnel said. "They're the bomb."
McConnel, 45, already had four children when she fell pregnant last August, with what she hoped was a little girl for her 3-year-old son Andy. But when she learned that she was carrying twin boys, both with Down syndrome, she was shocked and considered putting them up for adoption.
"It was a terrible day and the months afterwards were the most stressful and agonizing time in our lives," she recalled.
Due to her age, she and her husband Dan, 46, knew of the increased likelihood that she could end up having a child with Down syndrome.
"We decided to do pre-natal testing at 11 weeks, where they can tell you with 99 percent accuracy whether your child has Down syndrome," she told Caters News.
"The test came back positive, but they couldn't tell us if it was one or both of the boys, so we decided to do an amniocentesis at 15 weeks, where they go through the abdomen with a needle and take a DNA sample from the amniotic sac. It's invasive, but we wanted to know what we were dealing with.
"The procedure was nerve-wracking and the ultrasound already showed several problems, including spots on their hearts and extra fluid build-up, so we weren't that surprised when we received the news two weeks later that both of the boys had Down syndrome."
By the time a woman is 40, her chances of having a baby with Down syndrome rise to 1 in 100, according to the U.S. National Down Syndrome Society. But the chances of having non-identical twins with Down syndrome like Milo and Charlie is nearly 14 in a 1,000,000.
McConnel feared she and Dan would not be able to care for two kids with special needs, but she couldn't face having an abortion.
With the help of the National Down Syndrome Adoption Network, they found a family to raise the boys but put off completing the paperwork for months. Instead, they began educating themselves and got in touch with a local Down syndrome association.
"They were hosting a picnic, so we went and met with some wonderful families who shared their experiences with us," she said. "It was hard for me to hear it all when I was pregnant, but I've learned exactly what they told me… which is that it's not scary."
She continued: "You love your kids no matter what. When we finally decided that we weren't going to let our fear stand in our way, it was easy to make our decision."
By the start of their third trimester, the couple had decided they would be keeping the boys, and when she gave birth at 37 weeks, McConnel immediately knew she'd made the right choice.
"My heart came out of my chest when I saw them," she said. "I was so smitten. They reached out and grabbed my heart and they just looked like perfect little babies."
The rest of their family felt the same.
"Our other kids are so protective of them and Andy, our 3-year-old, loves introducing his twins to everyone. He even carries around two dolls with him," she said.
Everyone who meets the boys is smitten.
"There's no end to how entertaining they are," she said. "They both love being goofy…which is why we call them the Goofball Brothers, like from the film The Wedding Singer."
Still, she admits that she's concerned about how people will treat them as they get older.
"My biggest fear is that they may be mistreated, ridiculed, or rejected," she said. "I want them to grow up and have friends and I want them to be appreciated and understood."
"I want people to see that there are people out there who are different, but it doesn't make them any less valuable," she said. "They're just the way they're supposed to be."