(BARNESVILLE, Ga.) — The Johnston family from Barnesville, Ga., is extreme in many ways. Standing no more than four feet tall, they call themselves “the real life seven dwarfs.” They are the largest family of achondroplasia dwarfs, with a type of dwarfism that affects the extremities.
When it comes to parenting, Amber and Trent Johnston go to extremes to keep things extremely normal. They do not modify any of their furniture to accommodate their size. Most parents try to make the world easier for their children. Not the Johnstons; as Amber Johnston told 20/20‘s Barbara Walters, “we strive to raise our children in the world that’s not built for them.”
The Johnstons teach their kids to adapt to their environment and use their resources, some of which are a little unconventional. At the grocery store, Amber sometimes lifts a child to reach an item on the top shelf. At home, step stools help them reach sinks and cabinets, and sticks attached to light switches help them turn lights on and off.
Trent Johnston came from a family of dwarfs. His wife’s experience was the opposite—her parents and siblings are average size. “I always knew that I was different,” she said, “and I was little, but I chose to be positive.”
Amber first met other dwarfs as a teen, when she started attending little people’s conventions. It was at one such event that she met Trent. After three and a half years of dating, they married. Five months later, Amber was pregnant with their first child.
The Johnstons didn’t know if the child would be like them or average size—both were possible. At 31 weeks, they learned the child, a son, would also have achondroplasia dwarfism. They were very happy; they wanted kids who were “like them,” they said.
Two years later, Amber Johnston gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth. It was a grueling, dangerous pregnancy. Amber’s hips routinely became dislocated, and at one point Amber, who is 48 inches tall, measured 51 inches around.
The Johnstons dreamed of having a big family, but they knew Amber’s body could not tolerate another pregnancy, so they turned to adoption. They wanted a family of people like them, and they knew that dwarfs were often put up for adoption. They also were aware of the terrible treatment dwarfs sometimes received abroad, being deprived of education and other opportunities.
They adopted Ana from Siberia, Alex from South Korea, and, in 2010, Emma from China. Those who know them have joked that they are the “Brad and Angelina of little people”—not only because of their international adoptions, but also because of how much they embrace each child’s heritage.
In addition to advocating for little people, the Johnstons are big advocates for adoption. They are quick to point out that they did three overseas adoptions without taking out any loans. They relied on various grants to make it work financially.
One sizable obstacle they face is the stares they get. Jonah, the eldest son, said, “It’s frustrating more than sad. I don’t think they would want us to stare at them.”
When Elizabeth was in third grade, bullies called her a midget. Her answer? “That’s how God made me—that’s how he loves me.”
Supported by faith and family, the Johnstons have realized their dream and are making it work. When asked what they most want people to know about them, Jonah said, “We’re no different than other people. It’s just our height difference.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio