(LONDON) -- The Machin boys are identical twins, but Harry was born with a rare disfigurement: his left eye, ear and nostril never fully developed.
Now that they are 7, Harry's face makes no difference to his twin Oliver, but their mother struggled for two years to love them equally.
"When I cuddled him for the first time, waves of terror swept over me," said Charlene Machin, 33, of Staffordshire in Britain. "How could I possibly love this little boy when he looked like this?"
"People assume that maternal instinct kicks in as soon as you hold your child for the first time -- but mine didn't," she told the Daily Mail newspaper. "I just couldn't love my son when he looked like this. Instead I just felt grief -- grief for a life that I felt had been taken from me, a normal life that should have been Harry's."
ABC News talked to Charlene's husband, Mark Machin, who did not want to participate in an interview. He said his wife was out of the country.
Today, her bond with Harry is loving and strong. But Charlene's initial response, then her adjustment, illustrate the ways in which parents deal with the surprise of having a child who is disfigured. Advocates say that honest stories like theirs help others to accept the disabled.
"Being surrounded or having contact with people with disabilities could have made the transition easier for her," said Lawrence Carter-Long, a spokesman for the National Council on Disability. "Part of the problem is [the disabled] are segregated, if not by institutions, then by attitudes. We don't see them in the work place or in school, so the fears and the worries are more pronounced. It's not an issue of malice, but of proximity."
In the first stroller rides around town, Harry faced unwelcome points and stares. Some even screamed after seeing the child, Charlene said. She blamed herself.
But things changed when the twins were about 18 months old. Charlene was in a mother's store when children surrounded her to look at the twins.
"I felt like the Pied Piper as I walked through the store with them behind me, staring and pointing," she said. "I'd had enough. It was time to help Harry face the world. I swung the buggy round and said, 'This is Harry'. The children asked what was wrong with him, so I told them. And afterwards I felt stronger. Instead of trying to hide my son away, I'd faced it head-on, and I felt better."
Harry has now had three successful surgeries to reposition his eye socket. Next year, doctors will stretch his eyelid and fit it with a prosthetic eye.
His mother said she recently overheard Oliver say to one of Harry's tormenters, "He's my brother. It doesn't matter what he looks like."
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