The U.K.’s shortest couple – two people with different types of dwarfism – were told that their baby wouldn’t survive for long thanks to a “deadly genetic combination.” However, Britain’s only “double dwarf” infant defied expectations and is now a thriving four-year-old who has just started school. And as if that weren’t remarkable enough, in late 2018 the little family welcomed their miracle first son’s baby brother.
Having a baby can be an ordeal at the best of times. But if you risk passing on a condition such as dwarfism, there can be a multitude of complications. Laura and Nathan Phillips, who live in Sunderland, England, have two different forms of the condition. Laura’s type, called achondroplasia, is a more common form of dwarfism than her husband’s pseudoachondroplasia.
The word “dwarf” is usually used to refer to adults who, when fully grown, are no taller than 4 feet 10 inches in height. Dwarfism can have myriad causes, though, and be proportionate or disproportionate depending on the nature of the condition. Proportionate short stature (PSS) happens when there is restricted growth but the torso and chest grow to the same extent as the legs and arms.
The other type is disproportionate short stature (DSS), which results when there is a problem with the development of a person’s joints and bones. This can affect all parts of the body or manifest itself in the growth of individual limbs. And both Laura and Nathan’s conditions are, despite their differences, types of DSS dwarfism.
As a result of their conditions, Laura and Nathan have some other physical hurdles to overcome too. Laura has a curved spine, for instance, and this causes considerable discomfort. Nathan’s condition, meanwhile, affects his hips and in turn means that he walks a “little unusually,” his wife has explained. Nonetheless, the couple are keen to stress that physical difficulties aside, they are just like everyone else.
Going into more detail, Laura’s dwarfism – achondroplasia – is the technical medical term for “without cartilage.” According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders, the condition results in a large head, short arms and a general lack of growth. Those affected each usually attain an adult height of about 4 feet. Brain function, meanwhile, is generally unaffected, and lifespan is close to normal in most cases.
Nathan’s pseudoachondroplasia also affects the length of his arms and legs, and there is disproportionate growth and a lack of height. And, as is the case with achondroplasia, mental abilities are not usually affected in such instances. Meanwhile, osteoarthritis – which is caused by the breakdown of cartilage – is common in adulthood among people with pseudoachondroplasia. And this lack of flexible padding for the bones can make movement very painful.
Historically, however, there was very little care or sympathy for those who have dwarfism, whatever its form. For example, back in the 1860s, some people with the condition were paraded as part of “freak shows” and called midgets. Now, though, according to the Little People of America (LPA), this latter term is considered out of date and unwelcome. Dwarf and little person are both acceptable terms, says the group, but most people just want to be called by their names rather than referred to in line with their size.
There are, in fact, over 200 forms of dwarfism, and some of them have associated difficulties. But according to charity Little People U.K., most smaller people can actually lead healthy, active lives both mentally and physically. How so? Well, the majority of people who have dwarfism are actually born to parents who are normal in terms of their height, as the condition usually arises out of random genetic mutation.
This was certainly the case for Laura. As her dad, Dave Whitfield, told magazine the Radio Times in 2016, he and his partner hadn’t found out about their daughter’s dwarfism until after her birth. And although it wasn’t obvious at first that there was anything out of the ordinary, Laura’s mother had, while cuddling her little girl, had an inkling that there might be an issue. Then a short time later, Laura’s achondroplasia was diagnosed.
Also in the interview with the Radio Times, Dave revealed that Laura had gotten used to standing up to bullies. He explained, “The only time I’ve seen her really upset is when she was young and one group of kids had pinned her up against the wall to take a closer look at her.” In spite of that incident, though, Dave said he isn’t really worried about his daughter since she’s “her own woman.”
What’s more, despite being just 4 feet 2 inches tall, Laura has said that she quickly worked out how to deliver comebacks if there were ever any playground digs about her size. As she told newspaper the Daily Mail, “I suffered a bit of bullying at school because of my condition, but I soon learned how to stick up for myself.”
Biologically, though, dwarfism does present a few obstacles for women such as Laura. You see, unfortunately, no amount of determination or medical knowhow can trump genetics. And not much has been written about pregnant women with Laura’s condition, which means that there is relatively little for doctors to go on.
Website BabyGaga does, however, give an insight into how pregnancy can impact a woman with a smaller frame. The article in question in fact cites 15 ways in which the experiences of such women can be different. There is the chance that a dwarf mother can carry a normal-sized child, for instance, which presents obvious issues. Indeed, the website points out that if you have a smaller frame, growing babies in itself can be “dangerous.”
So when you think that most mothers who are of considerably shorter-than-average height weigh perhaps about the same as a child, then giving birth can be a “scary scenario,” according to BabyGaga writer Erynn Burkhalter. And in her November 2017 article, Burkhalter explains that a mom-to-be can gain up to 30 pounds of added weight. Which of course can put considerable strain on a smaller skeleton.
With all this said, a child being born with dwarfism occurs in around just one in 25,000 births. And if parents have different strains of dwarfism, as in Laura and Nathan’s case, then there is a one-in-four chance that the child will have either one or other of the dwarfism types. In such instances, there is also a 25 percent chance that the child will inherit both conditions, as the Phillips’ baby did – becoming the only known U.K. case of double dwarfism.
Despite the presence of occasionally insightful articles, though, the couple believe there is a lot of general ignorance about what being a dwarf is really like. Speaking to website Albawaba in July 2018, Nathan said, “To some people it’s still a myth. You know, ‘There’s no such things as dwarfs,’ they’ll say. ‘They’re from fairytales.’ And you just think, ‘Well my goodness, that lack of education there… Are we so small that we are forgotten about?’”
Laura, for one, though, decided that she was big enough to make an impact – in film and TV, no less. She’s even been involved in the Harry Potter series of films; plus, she appeared in U.K. TV show Seven Dwarves, which followed the backstage lives of performers in pantomime. And as it turned out, this show was to introduce her to a very special man to boot.
You see, it was in Bath, while working on the production of Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, that Laura first laid eyes on her future husband. And Nathan – who stands at 3 feet 11 inches tall – told the Daily Mail that they had become inseparable very quickly. He said, “We got to know each other before the end of the run, and from that point we haven’t been apart.”
Laura added that the pair got together in January 2013 and became engaged in April of that same year. Then, within four months, she was pregnant with their first child. “It all went so fast,” she told reporters. Laura then found out that Nathan had asked her dad for her hand in marriage. And she decided that rather than wait for him, she would spring her own surprise.
After finding out about what Nathan had planned to do, Laura made up her mind to accelerate the process. So, as the fresh thinker told U.K. TV show This Morning, following a meal topped off with Nathan’s favorite dessert, she popped the question to him. She explained, “I thought it would be nice for a woman to ask rather than a man.”
However, the build-up to the big day was marred by a setback when it came to finding the perfect gown. Laura started the dress search early in January 2016, months before her August wedding. And as she jokingly claimed on her Twitter feed, she was spoilt for choice. She said, “Me and one of my bridesmaids dress shopping; so hard to choose a dress; there’s too many to choose from!”
Things didn’t get any easier, either. Laura recalled her “Pretty Woman moment,” for one. Yes, in a scene like one from the Julia Roberts movie, a shopping assistant reportedly sneered at her for daring to be in the “wrong” shop. Laura had had her heart set on a fitted-style dress that showed off her curves – a touch of Hollywood vintage. However, the assistants seemed to think that they knew better.
Speaking to newspaper The Sun, the diminutive bride-to-be recounted her battle to get store staff to accept her size. “I went into a number of bridal shops, and the store assistants did a double-take,” she said. “They tried to push me towards children’s wedding clothes or ugly simple dresses that didn’t suit me.” One manager apparently didn’t even want to let Laura try a dress on at all.
Laura explained, “I had to almost throw a tantrum before she took it off the mannequin. She was shocked when I tried it on. It fit up top as – surprise, surprise – I have a bust and a waist, and it simply needed shortening.” But Laura was angry at the prejudice that she had allegedly endured and had no intention of buying from that shop. Fortunately, though, she found her perfect dress somewhere else.
Then the big day arrived, and Laura and Nathan got married in style at South Causey Inn, County Durham, with around 50 invited guests. Laura was wearing an £800 ($1,010) white fitted dress decorated with embroidery and pearls. And Nathan, handsome in a grey suit with a rose adorning his lapel, was the dashing groom.
The couple revealed some snaps of their stylish August 2016 wedding to the Daily Mail. One touching shot shows them exchanging rings; another is of the loving couple becoming husband and wife with a kiss. Perhaps the most romantic, though, is a picture of the new husband and wife striding out onto the dance floor to enjoy the music.
Laura had chosen a navy-and-white theme for her big day and went for bold “love” wording on her invitations and as a theme for her reception. The centerpiece cake also featured cream and blue layers trimmed with ribbon, lace and roses. And one wedding picture even shows the cake next to huge illuminated letters that are almost the same height as the happy couple.
The newlyweds said the wedding was a symbol of how far they had come and that it gave them the chance to exude their strength and optimism. Yes, it seems that the couple’s conditions weren’t going to get in the way of their fairytale. Talking to the Daily Mail, Laura said, “The wedding was a great platform to show everyone how confident we both are within ourselves – and we had the best day of our lives.”
Yet the wedding is only half of the story. Not long after they agreed to get married back in 2013, the couple had learned the overwhelming news that they were going to be parents. But because of their different dwarfism types, the pregnancy didn’t progress as easily as they would have wanted. In fact, scans made them aware that all was not well with the baby.
As Laura told newspaper the Daily Express, “I was having scans once a week because they were a little worried there could be complications. It wasn’t until 24/25 weeks that things started changing. They noticed that his measurements weren’t quite what they should be. They thought that he had inherited two rare genes that could have been dangerous.”
In fact, doctors were so concerned when they found out that the baby had double dwarfism that they urged Laura to have an abortion. The condition can, you see, often be fatal, and affected babies usually only live for hours after birth. This mortality rate is due to various issues – including the size of the baby’s upper body and neurological concerns – and together these make the odds of such infants surviving very low.
Most babies who inherit this “deadly combination of genes” don’t make it. Laura decided against an abortion, however, as she and her husband already felt utterly devoted to their tiny son. So she vowed to see how far she could get with the pregnancy and, in the face of all medical advice, told herself that it would be okay.
However, against all the odds, Nathan Jr. survived and is doing well. And despite his genetic disadvantages, it’s generally thought that, apart from extra check-ups, he should be able to lead a normal life. He even had a special role at his parents’ wedding: he carried their rings. The youngster did, though, get very tired owing to the weight of the cushion on which the rings lay.
“We waited so long to get married so that little Nathan could be old enough to carry the rings,” Laura told the Daily Mail. “But in the end the cushion was too heavy for him. He decided he didn’t want to carry it any more, and he threw it to the side.” And yet the couple found his unique way of stealing the limelight very amusing.
What’s more, in spite of having to face the very real chance that their child might not survive long after birth, Laura and Nathan Sr. decided that it was worth doing all over again. So, in July 2018, having already had one miracle baby, Laura and her husband attended a 24-week scan of yet another incredible bundle of joy. They also told reporters that they were excited and hoping things would “be relaxed and smooth.”
What did the scan reveal? Well, although there were no definitive results, both parents believed it showed strong signs that their developing son had a form of dwarfism. Laura told reporters, “He definitely looked like how Nathan Jr. did on his scan. You could see features of achondroplasia, my condition, straight away. With achondroplasia, we don’t have the bone in our nose, and then our forehead comes out.”
The couple also said that while the unborn child appeared to have some form of dwarfism, there was again the chance that he could have both forms, like his brother, and be a second double dwarf. In July 2018 Laura explained how she was fully prepared for all possible outcomes – but it was a waiting game.
Fortunately, though, fate smiled on the family. The tiny baby boy, Jax Michael Thomas Phillips, made it into the world on September 5, 2018. Laura has since posted several pictures of him on social media. And one pic on Twitter, dated September 26, 2018, shows that the cute little mite is certainly another stroke of good fortune for his parents – especially after all that they’d been through with his brother, Nathan Jr.
The adorable snap shows the baby clasping an adult finger – and next to it, his mother has posted, simply, “His tiny hands.” Small and delicate, perhaps, but Jax – like his brother – has fought to be here. And although the extent of Jax’s condition has not yet been made public, he belongs to parents who apparently want to prove that little people can follow their dreams just like anyone else.