Laura Whitfield, 21, lives in Sunderland with her father Dave Whitfield, 52, and her three siblings Louisa, David and Kristen
Dave says: We didn’t find out about Laura’s condition until after she was born, although you couldn’t tell there was anything wrong. My wife had a sixth sense, though – I remember her cradling Laura and saying, ‘There’s something wrong with her hips.’ Two days later the hospital’s consultant paediatrician confirmed Laura had achondroplasia.
We didn’t have a clue what he meant, and when we asked him to explain he cited the film Time Bandits, which is a story about a young boy joining a group of dwarves on a treasure hunt. Can you imagine? It was a terrible thing to say, but it was 20 years ago and attitudes were different.
Of course, I felt terribly protective, although at the same time her mum and I felt it was important Laura wasn’t treated any differently from our other kids. The issues came outside the home: when we were out as a family the worst thing of all was the staring. I thought, and still do, that it’s ignorance, pure and simple.
When she got old enough to start playing out on her own she had to cope with name-calling, too. It’s heart-breaking when your daughter tells you she’s had a group of kids laughing at her, although we knew Laura would have to learn to fight her own battles – and she did.
The only time I’ve seen her really upset is when she was young and one group of kids had pinned her up against her the wall to take a closer look at her. In truth, I’ve never had to worry too much about her. Laura always had a great personality — full of fun, plucky and strong-willed, and she’s always been her own woman.
Laura says: I have a vivid memory of the moment I realised I was different. Dad had taken me to a summer fair at the infant school I was due to attend and a group of kids surrounded us, pointing and laughing. I knew I was little, but at home with family it didn’t seem like a big deal – I was just one of four siblings.
Suddenly, out in the world, it was a different story, and I went through a phase of taking it really badly, asking mum why she didn’t just let me die when I was born. Now I’m older I realise how heart-breaking that must have been for her. Her answer was always the same: that I was her special little girl.
That said, I actually learnt to accept my situation relatively quickly. Mum and dad were very open with me, and we talked a lot. I was never wrapped up in cotton wool and I honestly believe that that’s why I am so confident now – they made me get on with it.
People still point and stare at me, but most of the time I don’t even notice – it’s the people I’m with who struggle with it more, particularly my sisters. They get very protective. The reality today is that if someone gave me a billion pounds to change my height I wouldn’t take it. I’m happy with who I am. And I can thank my mum and dad for that.