NEW YORK (CNN) — Christian and Nicole lived an uneventful life in Braidwood, Illinois, a town of 5,000 about 70 miles south of Chicago. He was a truck driver; she was a pediatric physical therapist.
They were busy raising their first born, Aza, when Nicole got pregnant and they went for a routine ultrasound in May 2015. It took just 30 seconds for the technician to blurt out, “Oh, you have two babies in there.” Excitement immediately filled Nicole: She thought about the need for a bigger house, a van. They didn’t have two car seats; they’d need to buy another.
Nicole returned home, intently focused on the October due date, when the phone rang. “You need to come back immediately,” the voice at the other end of the line said.
Nicole responded by saying her husband was at work, and she wasn’t sure if she could get back. “No, you need to come now,” the voice barked.
It was then they Nicole learned the twins were conjoined.
Nicole says, at every doctor’s appointment up to 20 weeks, they were asked if they wanted to abort the pregnancy. “Terminate” is the term the doctors always used, but the couple decided to have the wins.
Anias and Jadon McDonald are 13-months-old now and went into surgery on Thursday, Oct. 13, to be separated. Their birth was rare; science says the boys are one in millions.
Dr. James Goodrich prefers not to dwell on those risks of the surgery, and instead describes a sort of re-birth he hopes to achieve for Jadon and Anias.
“The boys will forever have a second birthday,” Goodrich says, to mark the day they were separated. “They go back to a 1-month-old. They have to learn to sit. They have to learn to roll. They have to learn to walk. They basically go through a yearlong period of a second infancy.”
And while the family is excited to go through those milestones with the twins, they says they would also be OK if the boys stay the way they are.
Nicole says she’s even started “going through a grieving process because I’ve only known them” joined together. She runs her fingers through a swirl of hair the boys share at their foreheads, and says how much she’ll miss doing that.
“It’s going to be exciting to separate them,” adds Dr. Oren Tepper, a 39-year-old plastic surgeon who will reconstruct the boys’ skulls and stitch their heads closed. But the ultimate satisfaction will come when doctors can hand “these individual boys to their parents separately.”
It will be a simple and powerful moment — the kind the McDonalds say they’ve learned to appreciate. Going to the park. Taking a stroll with your kids. Hugging them.
That’s their advice to others — to cherish life’s small moments — even as they approach their biggest.