Last spring, PEOPLE introduced readers to Tiffanie DiDonato, a woman with a rare and potentially debilitating form of dwarfism, parenting an able-bodied toddler who is quickly gaining on her in size.
Now, DiDonato, 34, and her Staff Sergeant Marine husband Eric Gabrielse, 29, have welcomed a new baby boy.
Tristan John Gabrielse joined his big brother Titan, 3, on September 2 at 20 inches long and 6 lbs., 10 oz. Both boys are unaffected by their mother’s condition. “Titan was the same weight as Tristan!” says DiDonato, who delivered each of her sons by c-section a few weeks early. “It’s like my body automatically taps out at that size.”
Born with extremely short limbs due to diastrophic dysplasia, DiDonato underwent limb-lengthening surgery as a child herself, bringing her from 3’8″ to 4’10” and allowing her to live a more independent life. (She co-wrote a memoir, Dwarf with the author of this story.) But DiDonato’s condition still presents many physical challenges, limiting her ability to perform average day-to-day tasks.
She shared the joyful news of her family’s newest addition with PEOPLE and opened up about life as a mom of two and how she copes with her fears for the future.
How have these first few weeks been going as a mom of two?
It’s been a lot of adapting and overcoming. It’s a good thing we’re accustomed to that! We’re still trying to find that special rhythm of things. Titan started pre-school, continues gymnastics, and Tristan loves to eat, eat, eat. Sleep is a huge commodity, but we do shifts. The trick will be keeping things going when Eric returns to work – it’s going to be a lot for me to handle. Making sure I’m up on my feet despite my handicap and staying physically fit will be a lifesaver.
Walk us through your daily routine.
We get up at 6 a.m., get Ty ready for preschool, I pump breast milk, then make breakfast and feed Tristan. While Ty is at school, I take the opportunity to do errands, do the stepper, catch up on my writing, or just hold Tristan. I get lost in his eyes when he gazes up at me! Then there’s Titan’s gymnastics around 4 p.m. and dinner is usually at 6 or 7. I’d like to say we eat at the table, but right now I’m just happy to admit I get dinner served on the plate without falling asleep. Bedtime is, with any luck, 8 p.m. At midnight, Tristan enjoys his usual snack. Afterwards, I can finally pass out, only to do it all again at 6 am.
How have things changed for you as a mom now from having one child to two?
When Titan was younger, I believed there was nothing I couldn’t do. I had the Super Mom complex. Now with two boys, the hardest pill I’ll have to swallow is the idea that I will need help at times. I can’t do it all, but that’s okay. It will hopefully teach my boys in the future to be humble and thankful and not to be egotistical or delusional.
What are your fears about keeping up with two children?
How am I going to get two kids in the car on my own? How am I going to get Ty to gymnastics and manage the infant car seat with Tristan in it – and safely? How on Earth am I going to go grocery shopping and keep an eye on two kids? How am I going to keep up without succumbing to joint pain and stiffness? These things are amplified by Eric’s demanding career as a Marine. I think the concern I have that mirrors other moms, though, is this: How am I going to give each child the right amount of attention so they feel loved and not left out? One thing is for sure, having two kids will ensure I am active and on my feet (pain or no pain, good day or bad day), which could be a blessing for my form of dwarfism, because inactivity is a sure way for me to regress and end up in a wheelchair.
But my biggest fear is thinking about the day my body simply won’t work. Having diastrophic dysplasia, there’s so much muscle and joint arthritis and pain that comes with the territory. It’s debilitating sometimes. And on those days (I’ve already had more than a few), I look at things like the infant car seat and become so overwhelmed by the idea of going places out of the house. The damn thing is as big as I am, and strapped inside is my precious cargo. I don’t want to fall or trip or worse: drop it. I lifted it today getting ready to bring Ty to preschool. And I nearly busted out into tears thinking, “I don’t think I can do this on my own.” I felt like a failure. But having two kids now forces me to weigh what I want to do versus what I can do.
How is Titan adjusting to being a big brother? You’ve told us before about how he likes to help you – is he helpful with the baby?
When Ty first met Tristan he got all excited and said, “Look! A baby!” We told him, “This is your baby brother.” So, now he calls Tristan not by his name, but “Baby Brother.” Eric and I make sure to tell Titan how important he is to helping us with Tristan and we reinforce that we have to all work together. Titan loves to have a job and to feel important to the task at hand, so I make sure to include him in almost everything whether it’s helping me find a soothing toy for Tristan or just putting bottles away. Already, Ty loves to help me push the bassinette around the house and load diapers in the diaper caddy. We even caught Titan giving Tristan the pacifier when it fell out of his mouth. I know, without a doubt, Titan will be amazing with Tristan as the years go by.
Since we last interviewed you at the beginning of your pregnancy, have you hired help?
The last two months of my pregnancy started to get rough. Making dinner and staying on my feet, unloading the laundry machine, and just keeping up slowly became nearly impossible. Eric’s schedule at work also became more unpredictable and he went from 12-hour days to 14. Despite my personality and attitude to just do it myself, I had to face the facts and acknowledge the list of safety concerns for myself, Titan and Tristan. I needed to finally accept help – perhaps even a harder job than being pregnant. And as a family we were so fortunate to find Kaley, our wonderful nanny. She came every day that Eric worked for 4-5 hours.
And when Eric goes back to work, will you have help again?
Kaley is getting her teaching degree so she may not be able to continue. So the plan for now is to do as much as I can on my own. If it’s too hard, I’ll have to admit that to myself. But I don’t want to say I can’t do it without trying first. The plan is to just admit when I need help, as opposed to being stubborn! Having help is okay, especially when Eric goes back to work.
Do you feel that your family is now complete?
Two and through, baby!