Julie was already 40 when she married her second husband, Dan. Despite their age, the two wanted children of their own. But their journey sent them down a path they never expected. Julie became pregnant with a rare set of twins that put her entire life in question. Learn how she and her children became an inspiration to tens of thousands of people.
A Devoted Couple
Dan and Julie McConnel met in their hometown in Boise, Idaho. Both of them participated in church communities and always put family first. However, this was not Julie’s first relationship.
Julie had been married once before and had three kids from that marriage: Gabrielle (22), Carson (17), and Hailey (15). She was wary about a second marriage, especially how it would affect her children. After all, the eldest two were in college and would rarely see him.
Dan Accepted Julie’s Kids Into His Family
Although Julie was hesitant, she knew that Dan was the one. The two constantly spent time together, and despite not having any kids himself, Dan loved his girlfriend’s family. The two eventually took the next step and tied the knot.
Julie’s children were happy to include Dan. Although he had loving stepchildren, Dan also wanted a child of his own. Julie agreed with him; she also adored kids and would love to have one or two with him.
But Pregnancy Isn’t Easy For Older Women
However, Julie was already 41. This posed issues for the pregnancy. According to the U.S. National Birth Defects Prevention Study, women over 40 have a much higher chance of children with birth defects.
Not every woman can get pregnant at 40, either. By that age, the success rate of IVF is less than 20%. Many struggle with infertility and have difficult pregnancies. But despite knowing the risks, Julie and Dan both wanted to try for a child.
Miraculously, Julie Got Pregnant Quickly
Despite her age, Julie got pregnant surprisingly fast–the fastest she’s ever experienced. “It was really shocking,” she recounted. “I mean, I know we were trying but it was like, bam! You’re pregnant!”
Her pregnancy was also surprisingly easy, which is uncommon for middle-aged women. “It was by far my smoothest pregnancy. I felt very blessed at that moment.” And fortunately for her and Dan, the delivery would go off without a hitch, too. Everything seemed perfect.
Julie Gave Birth To Her Fourth Child, Andy
At age 42, Julie gave birth to a “darling, blond haired, blue eyed boy” named Andy. The family adjusted very quickly; his step-siblings loved him, and Andy had no major complications during his first few years.
Seeing how well the pregnancy went, Julie and Dan discussed having a fifth child. This time, they wanted Andy to have a little sister. “I pined for little tights, flowered dresses, and bows,” Julie recalled. So they tried again.
The Couple Had High Expectations For The Fifth Pregnancy
According to Julie, it didn’t take long for her to become pregnant again. By the time of the first ultrasound appointment, she and Dan were sure that they would see a healthy baby growing, just like last time.
“We also assumed that all would go much as it had the last pregnancy – smoothly and dodging all the ‘bullets’ that we knew could potentially hit us,” Julie said. However, the ultrasound defied all of their expectations.
Not One Child, But Two!
Julie and Dan weren’t just having one baby, but two. The ultrasound revealed that Julie was carrying fraternal twins. This was something that the couple knew was a high possibility, but they were still taken aback.
“As women get older, our eggs start firing off willy-nilly,” Julie told Caters. Older women produce more follicle-sticking hormones than younger women, meaning that more eggs can attach to the uterus at once. But the couple knew that this would come with complications.
But Twins Meant Twice The Risk
When the couple learned about their twins, they were “simultaneously elated and terrified.” They understood that older women have a higher likelihood of conceiving kids with genetic illnesses.
“We also knew that our chances of having a baby with Down syndrome were higher, so we decided to do pre-natal testing at 11 weeks,” Julie explained. Prenatal tests check up on the baby’s health during pregnancy, and they have a 99% success rate of predicting Down syndrome.
The Tests Delivered Jarring News
The prenatal tests revealed some complications, including abnormally thick nuchal folds (the skin of the back of a fetus’s neck). This is a common sign of fetal anomalies that might influence the baby.
Despite this, Julie and Dan held high hopes that their children would not have to struggle with any other conditions. They took the test and waited for the results with positive thoughts and prayers. “Our doctor’s call proved otherwise,” Julie said. “Down syndrome was present.”
One Or Both Twins?
Although Julie and Dan worried about caring for two kids with Down syndrome, they did not want to make any hasty decisions. The prenatal test only said that Down syndrome was present; it did not clarify which twins had the condition, or if they both did.
In order to find out, Julie would have to have an amniocentesis. Not only was this yet another test to pay for, but it was also a very uncomfortable process.
But Julie Feared The Invasive Procedure
An amniocentesis requires a doctor to insert a hollow needle into the uterus. It retrieves amniotic fluid, which protects the fetus and nourishes the womb. This liquid can tell doctors a lot of information about the baby, including sex, fetal infections, and of course, genetic conditions.
Julie spent several weeks debating the “heart wrenching experience” of taking an amniocentesis. It would be scary, but she knew that she had to do it for her babies.
The Results Were Not What They Expected
When the amniocentesis results came back, it confirmed the couple’s worst fears. “Not just one, but both babies had Down syndrome,” Julie wrote. But this wasn’t the only information that the test provided.
“Oh, and they were both boys,” Julie added. “Naturally. At this point, at least that was one small thing we could almost laugh about.” The McConnels wanted one girl, and they ended up with two boys. But they also weren’t sure that they could care for them.
The McConnels Worried That They Were Too Old
Children with Down syndrome require a lot of attention and special care. At their ages, Julie and Dan weren’t sure that they could provide that. “By this time, I was 44 and my husband was 45,” she said.
The McConnels would be older parents, and they worried that they would outlive both boys. “The fear was not so much a baby or even child with Down syndrome,” Julie clarified. “The fear was a teenager, then adult with Down syndrome.”
…And Their Family Would Also Be Impacted
Another concern was how their family–namely their kids–would be impacted by two younger siblings with Down syndrome. “How could we possibly care for two young men who would almost certainly outlive us?” Julie wondered. “How could we put that burden on their siblings?”
The parents worried that, because of the extra care babies with Down syndrome need, they would end up neglecting their current son, Andy. And the older children might have to take care of their younger siblings–yet another challenge.
The Couple Considered Two Options
Julie described the months afterward as being “the most stressful and agonizing time in our lives.” They considered several options for their families and their babies. Although they could terminate the pregnancy, Julie refused to do so.
Instead, the choice came down to two options: put the babies up for adoption, or keep them. But that decision was not easy on the couple. On one hand, they already felt attached to these twins; on the other hand, they worried that they could not care for them.
Instead Of Agonizing, They Educated Themselves
But Julie and Dan did not have to face this dilemma alone. They contacted the National Down Syndrome Adoption Network (NDSAN) and asked if there were families out there who felt comfortable raising two boys with Down syndrome.
“Within hours, we had profiles of several families – all of which seemed to be wonderful people who would be overjoyed to adopt our babies,” Julie recalled. They now had some peace of mind knowing that their babies will have a loving family either way.
One Family Was Ready To Adopt
Julie and Dan felt more hopeful when they learned that multiple families were willing to adopt. “Long before we felt ready to make a final decision, we found out that adoption was a very real option,” Julie later wrote.
The McConnels began speaking to one particular family. The family knew that Dan and Julie had a difficult choice ahead of them, and they patiently waited for that decision. Meanwhile, the McConnels agonized over what would be the best choice for her babies.
Julie Shared Her Story Online
The major turning point in Julie’s journey was when she began sharing her journey on Facebook and Instagram. She shared her concerns, debates, and pregnancy updates with the world, hoping to gain some perspective.
Over time, Julie connected with other parents in Boise who raised kids with Down syndrome. Surprisingly, a family all the way from Scotland found her page! Like Julie, these parents also raised fraternal twins with Down syndrome. They shared their experiences and helped to reassure Julie’s worries.
She Was Honest About Her Struggles
Although Julie was receiving support from fellow parents, she and Dan were still struggling. Since they didn’t know whether they would keep the babies, they could not celebrate the joys of pregnancy that other couples could.
“We cancelled our plans for a big gender reveal party,” Julie recalled. “No plans for a baby shower. No frantic search for duplicates of all the baby items we would need. All of that was snatched from us.” They spent the majority of the pregnancy stressing over what was the best choice for the babies.
The Turning Point: A Picnic
For the McConnels, the turning point came through the NDSAN. A community of parents, who all had kids with Down syndrome, organized a picnic in Boise. Julie and Dan were invited, and they happily accepted.
People at the picnic told them that raising kids with Down syndrome is not as scary as some parents make it seem. Julie and Dan learned that they could give their sons the lives they deserve. “The picnic was the sign I needed to know I had made the right decision,” Julie said.
Julie Let Go Of Her Fear
According to Julie, she decided to keep her babies once she let go of fear. “It was fear that was ruling my thoughts and trying to rule my decisions,” she wrote on Cedar Story. “I realized that I had been refusing to accept the gift I had been given of not just one, but two children who had been created to be exactly who they were supposed to be.”
When it comes to special needs kids, there is a lot of fear-mongering out there. Julie and Dan did not listen to the rumors, but to the facts.
The Pregnancy Was A Go
As soon as Julie and Dan decided to keep the babies, they scrambled to prepare for the twins. They scheduled a baby shower. They bought the cribs, clothing, diapers, and double stroller.
And they were just in time. Julie went into labor early, and the babies were born at 37 ½ weeks. In 2015, Julie gave birth to her twins: Charlie and Milo. But their birth was more complicated than Andy’s had been.
But One Twin Was In Intensive Care
When Charlie was born, he was a healthy baby. However, his twin Milo had some issues. He weighed a pound less than his brother and had a kink in his small intestines. He had to have surgery shortly after delivery.
While Charlie went home with his parents, Milo was in the intensive care unit. Fortunately, everything went well, and Milo could eventually join his family. He had difficulty feeding for the next few weeks, but even that improved with time.
Two Very Different Twins
The twins have very different personalities. Charlie is the more active brother; he was also the first to walk and jump. He loves to play with balls and sumo wrestle with his dad.
Although Milo took longer to sit and walk, he eventually caught up with his brother. He is more verbal than his brother and loves to use sign language. “We always say that Charlie’s our athlete and Milo’s our scholar,” Julie said. “Those are their two distinct personalities.”
The Goofball Brothers
Not only did the family love the twins, but everyone else adores them as well. Julie says that everyone who meets Charlie and Milo becomes smitten with them. They are both adorable and goofy, which earned them a nickname.
“They both love being goofy…which is why we call them the Goofball Brothers, like from the film ‘The Wedding Singer’,” Julie said. But their parents worry that people might not approach them the same way when they grow older.
Andy And The Twins Became Best Friends
Andy quickly bonded with his younger brothers. He always plays with them and excitedly talks about them. “Andy, our three-year-old, loves introducing his twins to everyone,” Julie said. “He even carries around two dolls with him.”
Although her older kids now live on their own, Julie has her hands full with her three young sons. “It’s hard to imagine life without [Charlie and Milo, but I think I’d miss them every day if we had decided not to keep them,” she admitted.
The Older Siblings Love Them, Too
While Andy bonded with his new playmates, the older children quickly took on the “older sibling” role. “Our other kids are so protective of them,” Julie said. They have no problem babysitting while their parents are out.
Hailey, Julie’s youngest daughter who was now 18, bonded with the twins more quickly than her brothers. “Sometimes I think they love her more than me,” Julie joked. But her family members weren’t the only people who became smitten.
Sharing The Truth About Raising Her Twins
After the twins were born, Julie continued sharing her life. On her Facebook and Instagram accounts, she chronicles what it is like to raise her twins as well as the rest of her kids.
“I just wanted it to be more of a way to share, ‘This is our life; and this is what it’s really like to grow up and have twins in your home with Down syndrome,'” Julie said during an interview. “Because that’s what I wanted to know when I got the diagnosis — what is this life really, really, really like?”
But Julie Worries About Her Kids’ Futures
Julie fears that her sons will be treated poorly simply for having Down syndrome. “People can be mean out of ignorance,” she told Caters. “I want them to grow up and have friends and I want them to be appreciated and understood.”
Dan and Julie plan to send the twins to a public school when they get older, as they want Charlie and Milo to make friends and join the community. They are grateful that attitudes toward Down syndrome are improving.
She Hopes To Inspire And Inform Other People
Today, Julie still speaks about life with her twins on her Instagram account, which has over 89,000 followers. She claims that the only reason she does so is to educate people about kids with Down syndrome.
According to Julie, her initial fear about raising kids with Down syndrome is common. She wants to comfort people like her online friends did for her. “I feel like I have [Charlie and Milo] for a purpose, and that I could be for someone else what these twins in Scotland were for me,” she said.