For the most part, young parents Charli and Cullen Adams live very normal lives.
Much of their time is spent working around the sleep schedules of two-year-old Tilba and four-week-old Tully. The pair love a night out on the town and are keen to document every moment with their daughters.
In some ways, their lives are very different to most.
Charli and Cullen are used to standing out. Living with dwarfism, the couple have often attracted curious questions about where they find clothes in the right sizes or how they drive cars; but when Charli began an Instagram account, they were surprised just how interested the public was in their day to day lives.
“In this town, I’m quite desensitised to it. We’re just a local family. My family’s always been here, and people don’t think we’re anything out of the ordinary. We’re just a regular family,” Charli said of Inverell, in northern NSW.
She watched the likes on her posts grow from an average of 300-400 to 4000 and more. One post of Tilba learning to walk has over 183,000 likes. Her account, @charli_kate, has more than 127,000 followers.
“We just found that people were quite engaged with what we were doing in terms of being a short-statured family with children - or our child at that point,” she said.
The couple were interviewed by a UK newspaper, and soon found their story popping up everywhere – with varying degrees of accuracy.
Cullen said the experience taught him that people are more open online. He considered this both a blessing and a curse. He treasures the moments when other short-statured people reach out to thank the couple for giving a voice to their community; but when some followers question their right to have kids, it’s hard to bite his tongue.
“People are braver behind a keyboard,” Charli said.
“When they question us having children, they have this belief that we go through life being bullied or suppressed, but that’s not reality. We just go out there. We don’t feel any different,” Cullen said.
“People with dwarfism, they may have some serious issues, health issues. But that’s the same as the general population. Just because we’re a dwarf doesn’t mean that we’re suffering from some sort of serious health issue or we’re getting bullied. We’re just everyday humans.”
While they come from different worlds – Cullen growing up with average-height parents in Sydney, while Charli watched her mum navigate life with dwarfism in Inverell – both have grown up with a ‘no excuses’ policy.
Charli and Cullen have two different forms of dwarfism. Charli has achondroplasia, which is the most common form.
Affecting the skeletal system, people with achondroplasia tend to have shorter limbs and an average-sized torso. If there are complications, they are usually neck or spine based.
Cullen’s form, geleophysic dysplasia, is much rarer, and those with the condition usually have a more proportionate appearance. Health issues for geleophysic dysplasia tend to be focused on the respiratory or cardiac systems.
“We have a 50 per cent chance of having a child with dwarfism, a one in four chance of having a child that’s inherited both forms of dwarfism and 25 per cent chance, one in four that our child will just be average height,” Charli explained.
“Some of the questions that were posed to us from followers and such were; knowing those odds, why would we choose to go ahead with it and bring children into the world that potentially could have a physical disability like we do?”
Tilba has inherited Charli’s achondroplasia, while Tully takes after her father, with geleophysic dysplasia. Charli said continuing the pregnancies was a “no-brainer”.
“I don’t think either of us ever thought of it individually, the option to not have kids because of a chance that they could be like us, because as far as we’re concerned, we live a kickass life,” she said.
“We just look at our own life and feel that we are totally fulfilled and satisfied and happy, and by no means have we suffered or anything like that. People get bullied or get pointed out because of difference for a million different reasons. Physically being short is just one.”
Although she agreed answering the same questions over and over, and tackling ignorant viewpoints could be tiring, she felt there had been more positives than negatives in opening their lives to the general public.
“Instagram is a platform to answer those questions, and from there, nine times out of 10, it’s positive,” she said.
The pair often see uplifting feedback from followers thrilled to watch their family grow, and said the social media website has given them the opportunity to desensitise people to dwarfism, in the hope that next generation will have better outcomes.
Cullen has found that dwarfism can lead to unique opportunities. When he was five-years-old, he was a popular actor for television commercials, more able to take direction than the three or four-year-olds, but small enough to pass as one himself.
As an adult, he was given the chance to act as a stuntman in the 2012 movie Snow White and the Huntsman in the UK. This led to work in its prequel The Huntsman and CGI work in the Gold Coast for Thor.
“It’s some great experience that I’ve had, to go over there and live in the UK, all expenses paid and working everyday with Chris Hemsworth and the like,” Cullen said.
“It’s really cool. It’s definitely something that I’m proud of and I can show the girls when they grow up, and I’m sure that they’ll appreciate it too.”
Charli said the roles showed that there were plenty of positives to living with a short stature.
“There’s roles there that only we can fill.”
On the family’s ongoing popularity?
“People are quite interested in the dwarfism angle, but in reality the theory of acceptance is the same across the board for any type of difference. It’s definitely something that we advocate and enjoy exploring,” she said.