When mom of four Julie McConnel from Boise, Idaho, became pregnant at 45, she knew that the likelihood of having multiples or a child with Down syndrome would be greater--but she never expected both to happen.
Yet after a series of medical tests, she learned she was expecting twins whose ultrasound already showed several problems, including spots on their hearts and extra fluid build-up.
"We weren't that surprised when we received the news two weeks later that both of the boys had Down syndrome," said Julie. "Still, it was a terrible day and the months afterwards were the most stressful and agonizing time in our lives."
Overwhelmed at the thought of caring for special needs children as older parents, she and her husband, Dan, considered putting the twins up for adoption. They even found a couple interested in raising the boys, but then the adoptive family never completed the paperwork.
Around the same time, Julie and Dan attended a picnic hosted by the local Down syndrome association, where they met several parents of children with the genetic disorder. There they were met with kindness and compassion from the other families, who encouraged the couple to raise their sons.
"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," Julie said. "When we finally decided that we weren't going to let our fear stand in our way, it was easy to make our decision."
Now that their sons--Charlie and Milo, two adorable babies with bright, happy smiles--are here, Julie and Dan are thrilled and hoping other families can learn from their experience.
"I have more compassion than I ever had before," said Julie. "It's hard to imagine life without them. You love your kids no matter what."
Though she's so happy with her choice, she knows that the family of 8 will face more challenges as the boys--whom she's nicknamed the 'Goofball brothers'--get older.
"Everywhere we go, people love the boys because they're special, but I know this won't always be the case when they're older and it hurts to think about... I feel grateful that we live in a world where people with Down syndrome have more opportunities than they've ever had. I hope that by sharing our story I can open people's eyes a bit."
We hope so, too.