Interviews by Carole Lander
US-born Graci Lynch, 30, met her husband Oliver, 33, on the internet. After a long courtship, they married and now live in Melbourne. They both have achondroplasia, a type of dwarfism, and together face the daily challenge of living in a society obsessed with body image.
Oliver and I met in an internet chat room for short-statured people in 2002. Our first conversation was typed because Skype didn’t exist then and it was about two hours long. I kept thinking, “Is this for real?” We got on well so he came over to the United States to meet me at a convention of the Little People of America association in 2003.
We knew all about each other from the online chatting, phone calls and we’d exchanged photos, but I was incredibly nervous about meeting Oliver in person for the first time. I didn’t have to worry because when we cuddled and shared a laugh, I knew it was meant to be. Oliver is the kind of person that people are drawn to with ease. He’s really kind-natured. He immigrated to Australia from Scotland when he was 16. His mother had recently divorced and she brought him and his brother here to live with relatives.
The girls at his high school in Scotland thought he was cute and funny, but they were nothing more than friends. He’d tried dating average-sized girls in Australia, but that never worked out.
We like to go to movies together and then analyse the plot and characters. I’ve helped introduce him to the theatre, too – we went to a play at the Arts Centre recently. It was a sequel to one I performed in at college in the States.
We tend to act differently in certain situations. If someone is annoying us – like, taking a photo of us in the street – Oliver never wants to cause trouble, but I go up and tell them to stop. He’s a better observer than me – more sympathetic, too – and good at understanding people. He’s taught me a lot. So we’re a good balance for each other.
Children are definitely on our plan. I come from a big family of average-sized children and I know I’d love my kids whether they were short or tall. There can be complications if two short-statured people with different conditions have children, but Oliver and I both have achondroplasia, so the odds are better.
In our internet chats, I thought Graci was very mature. There was an attraction as well, but you can’t be sure when you communicate over the phone and can’t actually be with one another. She told me that she tried dating average-sized guys but it was hard. Of course, I understood. It’s like, “How am I going to be perceived? Am I going to be laughed at?”
It’s not always easy for people with a difference to find someone who can understand, love and appreciate them. Only one child in 20,000 is born with dwarfism and although some have average-sized partners, the main thing is to be with someone who understands the issues that short-statured people face in life.
When we met at the convention in Boston, we found we shared a lot of interests, and we definitely liked each other. It was good to find out who she was as a person. We went to a baseball game and to the movies. Over the next two years, I went back to be with her three times. We still have a lot of fun together now that we’re married.
Graci came to Australia in 2007 for a three-month visit and decided that she’d like to live here with me. I helped her with the application for permanent residency. It took hours and hours of gathering information and photos. She wrote a 25-page essay because she wanted to make sure she could get in. She was accepted in only three-and-a-half months. I think it was because her application was so genuine.
It was hard for Graci to start with. Everything in Australia was new for her – the money, the politics, the way people talk. She got a job as a secretary to a chiropractor. She was worried that he’d be reluctant to hire her because of her short stature. She told him, “All I need is a kick stool and I’ll manage just fine.” He was great and found other ways to accommodate her, like moving things lower around the office.
When you’re short-statured, you have to accept that you’re different. But you’re also perfectly healthy and if you get the balance right, you can give off good vibes and people are more likely to accept you.
Graci has a lot of attributes that I don’t, or are not as well-developed in me. For example, she’s more outspoken than me and if we’re given a raw deal in a shop or restaurant, I would just let it go, but Graci will stand up for our rights.
I play basketball with a short-statured team called the Sspitfires. It’s a mixed team, and Graci enjoys socialising with the women as well as watching the games.
We’d love to have kids, but we’d need to have a house and be more settled. If our children were short-statured, I would know how to help them lead their lives. Geneticists have mapped out the equation. If a couple both have achondroplasia, each carries one normal gene and one faulty gene. If two normal genes go together, the child will be average size, but one faulty gene with the normal gene means it will be short-statured; and when it’s two faulty genes together, that’s a double-dose. We could have a scan at three months to find out if the baby had a double-dose and if it did, then it would be better to abort as the child would die very young. Because we’re planning a trip to the UK and the US soon to visit family, we’re putting off the baby plans for a while.
Link to article: http://www.theage.com.au/lifestyle/two-of-us-20130128-2dfo1.html
(Reprinted from The Age, dated 2nd February 2013)